When I was in my early 20s I had a few opportunities to go up in a small plane. Jets are fine, but have you been up in a small plane? I mean a real small plane that’s got you just feet above the cracked tarmac: A plane with windows you crank to open so you don’t smother in the wavering heat while your butt wriggles on the cracked leather seats, waiting for the pilot to finish the preflight checklist.
Those little planes are magical. The thundering rattle of the little craft as it picks up speed down the runway, the world and its weights dropping away suddenly like a tether you didn’t know you had, the neat roads and perfectly-cornered buildings which are almost unrecognizable from the air. The sensation of falling and being held, both at the same time.
I reread Lord of the Rings from time to time; that time is now, again. Right now, Sam and Frodo—who have thought much about their story’s small part in the bigger, unending story of everything—are seated on the king’s throne because they’ve saved the world. A minstrel stands up to recite their tale, and all the people gathered “passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”
The minstrel’s song is a celebratory act, but it’s a time for tears, too. A communal remembering, a communal rejoicing, a communal grief, a communal perspective. I bawled like a baby, reading it. These people are so lucky, I thought, to share their collective grief and joy. The minstrel’s song would be something to hold onto—for all of them—when fear loomed again (because of course it would).
There’s pain and there’s joy and we get to choose how we will hold these, don’t we?
It makes me think of Moses’ song after the people of Israel passed out of slavery miraculously, and Miriam the prophet’s song. The miraculous and the tragic were intermingled, and right on its heels the people paused to tell the tale of God’s overcoming goodness.
I don’t know about you, but it’s not the good ending I remember in the middle of the night, it’s the pain. And I’m beginning to realize the vital necessity of stopping to remember and commemorate the good, so that I have something to cling to.
There’s pain and there’s joy and we get to choose how we will hold these, don’t we? We get to choose to remember how they looked from the tarmac or to remember how they looked from the higher perspective.
We get to choose to remember how they looked from the tarmac or to remember how they looked from the higher perspective.
I think about Mary and her song. Surely, she could see ahead to trouble and pain—the pain of being ostracized (or worse) by her people, the pain of missing out on “normal” motherhood and life, the physical pain and reality of death that pregnancy and birth would bring, the pain of losing a baby . . . or a child . . . or a grown son.
But she prophesied to herself in a way she wouldn’t forget later: This is what’s important here. This is the bigger story. This is the pain and this is the good and this is how good is going to triumph. It’s the ultimate act of a free will: facing pain and joy, life and death, despair and hope, evil and good, hate and love—and choosing love.
And so remembering is important and prophetic—but only if we can really, truly see the story. And I think we’re struggling with that right now.
In the Old Testament, Yaweh says: “They will soar on wings like eagles.”
Eagles fly at enormous heights and because they’re clever enough to catch high, spiraling drafts of air, they rise to these fantastic heights almost effortlessly. This, I think, is an Old Testament way of saying “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” the way Jesus speaks about religion more than two thousand years later. But the wind is also a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, the comforter and companion of believers, and I think this is a word for us, today: The Holy Spirit will catch us up, effortlessly, if we’ll learn to catch the wind.
And what will we see from thousands of feet above?
Remembering matters. Perspective matters. May we find the grace today, before today ends, to catch the wind, and find the arms of love that are both falling with us and holding us throughout.