Grace at 36,000 Feet
August 26, 2008
Rev. Bonnie J. Berger
Really, I like my vacations to be easy. I like to get to the airport in plenty of time. By now I pretty much have the security routine down—what to take off, how to put it into the bin, what to keep out to show the TSA people. I have my favorite part of the airplane I like to sit in. I come prepared with reading material or something to listen to on my iPod.
Now some of you may remember my trip to the Bahamas last year. How my first attempt to go was thwarted when I became so engaged in conversation with a Baptist minister from the Bahamas that, together, we missed our flight. I then invited him to stay in my home for a night until he could get a flight out the next day. And I was, eventually, able to see the blessing in that—building bridges, connecting across differences, sharing our cultures and our traditions with one another. I did make it to the Bahamas—not on my second attempt which was cancelled due to a tropical storm and the evacuation of the resort. But, my third attempt went just fine—of course I didn’t speak to anyone at the airport and put the Weather Channel on my computer’s favorite places to keep track of any tropical disturbances.
I just figured that all of the occurrences of that trip were an anomaly. I have been traveling once or twice a year to the Caribbean for ten years for personal and spiritual restoration and renewal, and that was the first time that there had ever been any glitches. With my metaphysical training I was able to see the blessings in that delayed trip, and I made the choice to see those events as evidence of God’s humor and abundance.
Without any hesitation I booked my vacation for this year. Ah, St. Croix. Beautiful beaches, wonderful people, relatively close by. Seven days, away from computers and cell phones, and patients wanting to see the chaplain in the hospital emergency department. And I arrived easy and effortlessly. God’s presence was everywhere on the island—in the beauty of nature that surrounded me, in the hearts of the people I met, in the sights, sounds and smells of the island culture that I so love.
Vacations, alas, must come to a close. I boarded my flight to Miami. Once in Miami I would catch a connecting flight to Baltimore. I was sitting in Row 17. Since the flight had been 20 minutes delayed in leaving, and since I had minimal time to connect to my next flight, I asked the flight attendant if there was a seat closer to the front of the plane. There was—I was reseated in the middle seat in the first row—the bulkhead.
I was set for the three hour flight. I had an easy-read novel with me, but mostly I was looking forward to watching a movie that I had downloaded onto my iPod. The movie? The Bucket List! Some of you may be familiar with the movie—two men, who have been diagnosed with cancer, make a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”. Now, if I had thought about it—I might have decided that it wasn’t a good airplane watching movie—with the notion of kicking the bucket and all. Nonetheless, I was very engaged in watching my movie when about one hour into the flight, a voice crackles over the PA system:
Ladies and Gentlemen, this plane will be making an emergency landing on the island of Providenciales. The cockpit windshield has shattered. Please fasten your seat belts, secure your tray tables, and bring your seats back to an upright position.
Well, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. The flight attendants busied themselves in the airplane cabin picking up drinks and latching things down. It was at that point that I decided that if I were single, I would never ever date a flight attendant. They are so trained to make like everything is just fine and dandy—and meanwhile—the cockpit window has shattered!!! Talk about keeping stone faced!
About five minutes later the captain gets on the PA and repeats that we are making an emergency landing because the windshield has cracked. Cracked? Shattered? My mind started to picture the pilots being sucked out of the aircraft, waving as they fly by, and the plane going into a free fall nose dive. It didn’t matter which it was—I just knew it wasn’t an ideal situation.
So I say to myself (or perhaps it was God saying to me), “OK Rev. Bonnie---let’s see how you handle this one!” I’m sure there are those of you who have been on flights that experienced turbulence or you have seen lightening out the window or something else that makes your hair stand on end and gets your palms clammy. So I don’t pretend to be unique here. But I want to share with you the three steps I used to keep me from jumping out of my skin.
Step #1: Attributes & Affirmations. I needed to quiet my mind. I needed and wanted to move out of fear and panic. I felt called to be a source of calm for those around me. So the first thing I did was to repeat to myself all that I know God to be. I brought to my mind the attributes that I know God is. God is peace. God is love. God is mercy. God is grace. God is good. God doesn’t make mistakes. God is the master healer. I let those characteristics flow through my mind and breathed them into my body. I focused on my breath and allowed it to bring in love and calm. Next, I took those attributes and turned them into affirmations. “I am safe in God’s loving presence.” “I feel peace knowing that God is merciful.” “I am grateful for God’s grace and love.”
This goes back to the basic metaphysical principle that our thoughts create our reality. I certainly could have focused on the thought “This plane is gonna crash in the water and I stupidly packed my snorkel in my suitcase!” or “Darn, now I wish I had paid more attention to that video about using my seat cushion as a flotation device!” I made the conscious choice to keep my thoughts positive and to bring in the presence of God—for myself and for all passengers on the plane.
This reminds me of a story... about a man who went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber started to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about many things and various subjects.
When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said, “I don’t believe that God exists.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the customer.
“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God existed, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, nobody would be in want, nor would there be suffering or pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”
The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument.
The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.
Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, filthy hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barbershop once again and he said to the barber, “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And, I just worked on you!”
“No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like the man outside.”
“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people don’t come to me.”
“Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, does exist. That’s what happens when people don’t go to God and don’t look to God for help.”
So, Step #1, use attributes and affirmations to remember all of who God is and to help move our minds from fear to love, from alarm to calm.
Step #2: Be of Service. Remember how I asked to have my seat changed from Row 17 to the bulkhead? In the window seat next to me was a 13 year old girl—an unaccompanied minor. Her mother lives on St Croix and her father lives north of Miami. I figured if I was having some challenges with this situation, perhaps this girl traveling alone was as well. (Of course, she might have been tuned out of the whole thing listening to her iPod, but I went with my first response). I started chatting with her, told her I was a minister, and reassured her that all would be well. And, yes, I know that metaphysically all that I was saying to her was what I needed to hear myself! I took out the flight magazine from the seat pocket and turned to the route map. I showed her where we had taken off from, where we had intended to go, and where instead we were now going to land. Boy—it sure did look like some tiny speck. Providenciales—the main airport used for the islands of the Turks and Caicos—part of the British Virgin Islands. I thought I knew the Caribbean—but this was a new one for me.
Marianne Williamson writes in her book Everyday Grace, “Should we wish to feel God’s mercy, we must choose to be merciful. Should we wish to feel God’s peace, we must extend God’s peace.” (p. 26)
So, I chose to be of service. I listened for sounds of anyone in the plane who might be having a hard time (people were still in pin drop silence mode). I got out of my fear’s way and allowed my higher self to stay with love and in love. And once in that realm I was able to be present to others. It’s pretty much what I do every day as a chaplain—I get out of God’s way so that I can be used as a vehicle to bring God’s love, grace, and healing to others. I held the vision of the plane landing easily and effortlessly. I had put my “oxygen mask on first” by bringing in God’s peace, and now I was ready and able to assist others with their masks. I comforted the girl next to me—and in so doing gave comfort to myself.
Being of service of course can be interpreted in different ways. This reminds me of a story… There was a couple who had been married for 30 years. One night they were lying in bed when the wife felt her husband begin to touch her in ways he hadn't done in quite sometime.
It almost tickled as his fingers started at her neck, and then began moving down past the small of her back. He then caressed her shoulders and neck, slowly worked his hand down over her chest, stopping just over her lower stomach.
He then proceeded to place his hand on her left inner arm, caressed past her side again, working his way down, passing gently over her rear and down her leg to her calf. Then, he proceeded up her inner thigh, stopping just at the uppermost portion of her leg.
He continued in the same manner on her right side, then suddenly stopped, rolled over and became silent.
As she had become quite aroused by this caressing, she asked in a loving voice, ‘Honey that was wonderful. Why did you stop?'
‘I found the remote,' he mumbled.
Being of service to oneself or to others? Guess it depends on where you lay on the bed!
No matter—Step #2—be of service to God and to others.
Step #3 Allow Grace to Unfold. Paul Ferrini in the book Grace Unfolding writes how surrender invites grace. He says, “As we surrender to the truth of our being, we learn to relinquish the need to control our lives, figure things out, or predict the future. We begin to let go of our judgments and interpretations and accept life the way it is. When we can be fully present with whatever life brings, we are guided to take the next step on our journey. That is the way that grace unfolds in our lives.” (back cover)
I knew that it was time to surrender. To give it up to God and allow whatever was going to happen to happen. I have found that to be true in so many aspects of my life—I can choose to kick and scream and raise a fuss and be a victim and shout “why me? Whew!! Or, I can save myself all of that drama and energy and give it to God. Ferrini further states, “As we surrender more and more deeply to the truth of our being, each one of us becomes a channel through which the divine presence flows. The clarity and wisdom of the divine expresses through our open minds. The love and compassion of the divine expresses through our open hearts. The grace and abundance of the divine flow through our surrendered lives.” (p. 62)
So there, at 36,000 feet I invited grace into my life. Isn’t it wonderful that God is not afraid of heights?
The plane was steadily descending. Looking out the window I saw water and more water. And it was getting closer and closer. Then, I saw land, houses, and soon, in the distance the airport runway. Along the runway were ambulances and fire trucks, lights whirling, engines running. And, you know what? We landed easily and effortlessly, the passengers breaking out in applause when the wheels touched ground.
I waited with my new friend until all the other passengers had deplaned. The flight attendant who was in charge of the unaccompanied minors came over to where we were sitting. I identified myself as a minister and told him I would stay with the young folks inside the airport. With passengers off the plane, the attendant let his guard down some. I asked him if this shattered windshield event had really been a serious matter. He replied that in his ten years of flying and in his colleagues twenty years, they had never experienced this before. He was visibly shaken. He invited me to look into the cockpit. There, across the pilots window was a huge spider web of cracks. Chills ran up and down my spine.
And, even though I said there were three steps, there is always a fourth. That step is to always give thanks and praise to our higher power for bringing us safely through the storm. You can bet that I did.
So if you find yourself at 36,000 feet or at sea level, or anywhere in between, and you have a sense of impeding doom or crisis, I offer these three steps that helped me to know that all was well.
Step #1: Attributes & Affirmations. Tell yourself what you know about your God and surround yourself in the presence of the Divine. Affirm to yourself that all is well and that God is with you and has your back.
Step #2: Be of Service. As we find our centers and bring calm to our being, we allow ourselves to be the vehicle to spread and share this presence with those round us. We become bigger than our fear and allow love and peace to flow through us.
And finally Step #3: Allow grace to unfold. We are always in God’s favor. God is always working with us and through us. Grace is ours just because. See it. Believe it. Intend it to be so.
May you all fly the friendly skys!
© Bonnie J. Berger All Rights Reserved
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