Friday, 30 July 2010

Lay of the Land

A strange thing happens when you become airborne! It is a bewildering thing the first few times, but is a constant feature of flying and the behaviours that support.

The land becomes flat and look nothing like you know it to look. From the ground we use very frequently use landmarks that are higher up or taller than we are to get around - but standing height largely becomes invisible to the one flying above it.

The effect of this flattening of the landscape is that those who fly have to reply on other signs to guide them. The things that we once took for granted cease to be of value when navigating from place to place. Buildings tall and short become mere rectangles, hills and fields become as one.

In prayer too we are guided by familiar landmarks. We often rely on the landmark of our own emotion to guide us into or out of prayer, and for some of the 'flight' that is good. Those landmarks are often 'those old familiar things' - books, images, words, music. The thing about prayer is that at its best we soar in the heights, and at that point we notice that our familiar landmarks are superceded by a wider angle or a wholly new perspective. The learning process that pilots of all breeds have to pass through is a useful lesson for all spiritual people - the lesson that states simply but powerfully that the lay of the land always changes when we take to the air, that to read new signs and more importantly to trust in the forces of God is the new way to proceed. God will teach us about trusting in Him more and in our old landmarks less.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Praying Deliberately

Those people who enjoy 'free-flight' (flight without motors) will tell you that to get the best of the experience, you have to fly actively. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but it is quite possible, once airborn, to fly passively - to bimble along almost accidentally. Such flying has its place, though active flying increases enjoyment, augments satisfaction and is the safest way to fly. 
Scripture offered me an interesting word in the last few days: 'deliberately'. I was already pondering the similarities between flight and prayer, and into this pondering fell that word. As I think about it, I believe you can approach flight and prayer in different ways:
 - you can look up and marvel at the pilot above you engaging in the perpetual tension between lift and gravity, exploiting the loop-holes in the laws of physics that allow flight in the first place. You can look up and be dazzled by the razor-line of a supersonic Jet as it screams across your view. In the same way, in prayer you can look on and seek inspiration from the prayerful - those people who inspire us to draw closer to God by their very presence.
 - you can climb into a plane, or strap yourself to a pilot in a tandem flight, and achieve the unknown, visiting places in flight that you could never dream of alone and by your own efforts. Surely this is the same as trusting God, letting Him lead you where you may find new amazement and joy, a new view of the world!
 - you can strap into your harness or strive to be a pilot and fly yourself actively. This stage requires some influence of the other two, but in the end, you fly deliberately. Flight is not accidental, it is not a thing of pure chance - we choose to fly, and we choose to pray. To fly and to pray requires the pilot to compete against forces and influences that would seek to stop them. Being an attentive student of the art of flying and prayer will assure both of greater meaning and, dare I say it, success. 

We can approach prayer in different ways. Each has its rightful place, but in the end the only way we can get the very best from our prayer life is to do it deliberately - allowing time, seeking opportunities to train, practice, the odd gamble, in good weather and bad, and then finding the courage each time to launch into the unknown.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Joy of Hopefulness

The thing about flying is that it is inherently hopeful. To fly without hope is perhaps the most foolish thing to do. In flight, we as humans defy the pull of gravity at every moment, and we harness improbable forces outside of ourselves to achieve the lift that we need for the flight to take shape. 

Having sat patiently, as a paraglider pilot, on hillsides waiting for conditions to become right, I have noticed how hopefulness overrides boredom, and maintains focus of mind. Waiting for that moment when it is possible to enter the air is a wonderful thing, and free-flyers will know that such times can last hours at a time. When we take off, of course we hope to land. We also hope to have a wonderful flight, hope to see wonderful views, hope for good flying conditions - all these hopes are indeed a joyful thing. Perhaps that is why Icarus waxed some feathers in the first place. The joy of his hopefulness drove him into the sky. 
This particular brand of hopefulness has been brought into relief this St. James' Day, when we hear of the 'pushy mum' Salome, James the Apostle's mother, make a bid for her boys with the Rabbi. I think that if every Christian could take something of that absolute hopefulness that Salome demonstrated in her sons, and then applied it to their life in Christ,  we would know that joy. Like pilots, we need to harness the impossibility of the invisible to make the visible possible.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Great Hope

...hide me under the shadow of your wings... Ps 17:8b

This line from the Psalms featured in today's set readings for Morning Prayer, and as I read it allowed earlier it reminded me of the most important thing of all: whatever we do by our own efforts, we do under the protection of God. It offers a warm image of young chicks and their mother, protecting her young jealously but loosely. So many natural history films have demonstrated to me how gaggles of waddling duckling or cygnets will do as they wish. They find their own way in their life, but always safe in the knowledge that, in the end, the safety of their mother can be counted on. I have seen no coercion from a mother to her young, just tenderness and availability - enabling not forcing.
A factor about wings that is perhaps less well known (or thought about) is how they change the very air that surrounds them when they are in flight. Wings cause the lift, they split the very air around them so that the conditions for flight are met to a gretaer or lesser extent. Wings are flight, but wings are also sanctuary. Wings are dry places for sleeping bird's heads. Wings carry the necessary energy for mechanical flight in the case of big passenger jets. To paint God as one with wings is such a wonderfully helpful image, and teaches us that in God we find safety, warmth, and the ability to lift to heights beyond our dreams - but never alone!


I am embarking on something a little more 'spiritual' than The Vernacular Curate. In that blog, I approach my writing from a host of angles, so you will get all the shades of my mind. 

For some time, I have pondered the benefits of writing a sort of 'spiritual direction' thing, something for which I am wholly unqualified, but for which I still feel strongly about doing. This may fizzle and die as quickly as it starts, but then again, perhaps it is not wholly my idea!

I have chosen the title in accord with my own spiritual outlook - and if you don't know me, you will know that I am passionate about flying, flight and all things associated. I use the whole world of flight (writing as a paraglider pilot) to outline my own models of prayer, and my descriptions are loaded with analogies that largey involve this most noble of passtimes.

Another reason that I have embarked on this journey is that being The Vernacular Curate is fine, up to a point, but doesn't fully tick all the boxes. I love that blog and the expression it gives me, but I pray that this might afford me a different dimension. My head is full to overflowing!

So, in the words that we use on hillsides before we 'lob off' into the air ahead of us:

Helmet: check!
Harness: check!
Takeoff: clear!

Go, go go!