John Gillespie Magee was a WWII fighter pilot, who wrote these words three months before he was killed in a mid-air collision. The poem is entitled, “High Flight.”
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air –
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Most likely, every one of you reflecting on this week’s devotion has at least one veteran in your life. Whether a close relative, a distant relation, or a friend or companion in life … it seems almost impossible that you are not connected to at least one of the eighteen million veterans in our country (U.S. Census data). And so yesterday was a day that most likely invited you to think about those you knew who served the cause of freedom in our lands and others.
I often think of the burden some of our veterans must bear, especially if they served in active theaters of war and had to face the atrocities of walking in landscapes where life and death stood side by side. I think about the sadness created by that experience, and the deep sense of loss that must accompany being connected to, or at times responsible for, the death of another human being due to the requirements warfare places upon our soldiers. But thanks to one veteran I knew years ago, I also think of the privilege that some veterans may have experienced due to the remarkable circumstances they sometimes found themselves experiencing. This veteran was an Air Force man, and he shared this poem with me as a reminder of some of the blessings he experienced, which helped to balance his encounters with death.
So, as you pray this week, let’s depart from our typical fare of faith cultivation and searching for strength in the face of troubles and challenges. This week, let’s simply think about those many people who have made sacrifices for us, whether they be veterans, or other persons. Consider what your life would be like without the gifts these persons have helped to procure for you. Ponder the strength and courage it must have taken to accept those risks on behalf of others. Give thanks for the spirit of selfless love — agape love, as the Bible calls it — that comes from the Spirit of God active in human lives. Recognize that the world — your world — would be a vastly different place, if people did not regularly make sacrifices in and with their lives for the sake of you and others. And … consider what sacrifices God might be calling you to accept for the sake of persons you may love and cherish. And see if those sacrifices can open you up to the blessing made known by touching the face of God, in ways unanticipated and yet to be revealed.