Journeys have a way of bringing focus to life. They concentrate our attention on the present in ways everyday living does not. Think about it. I travel almost every day of my life – to work, to the grocery store, to church - most of the time without paying particular attention to the trip. But take me out of the familiar and put me in a new place on a “journey” and I’m noticing everything. No longer can I rest on my assumptions about the world around me. Danger (or at least a missed turn) seems to lurk around every corner. I find myself fully engaged in the now.
If that journey happens to include a flight on an airplane, then that heightened sense of the now takes over my entire body. I hear every noise. I feel every shake. Now, I’m not overly afraid of flying. I usually fly somewhere once or twice a year and actually enjoy the view from thousands of feet up. I know all the statistics – I’m more likely to die in a car wreck on my morning commute (which I do without thinking) than I am in a plane crash. But statistics can’t remove the truth that overwhelms me every time I buckle my seat belt and prepare for takeoff – I am no longer in control. I am at another’s mercy. Usually, a pilot I’ve never met.
So what do I do? I pray. Usually all the way through takeoff and then again through landing, I catch myself reciting a centering prayer I learned in seminary, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Again and again, I silently repeat the prayer; it calms my heart. It reminds me that I am always at another’s mercy – not just on the temporary journeys of this life, but on the journey that is life. I am not in control, even when I’m sitting behind the wheel of the car on my way to work and think I am. Sitting there, thousands of feet in the air, I promise to try to remember that simple truth even when I get my feet on the ground and the familiar once again dulls my senses.
I hear the Psalmist’s benediction to the traveler . . .
“The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm –
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
. . . and I find peace.