I catch a ride on an airplane. Mine is 17D, a window seat, and I doze against grey-patterned paneling. There is kind-of sleep. The earnest entreaties of a four-year-old in 21D wake me steadily from a half-nap. I listen to the images outside my window and look upon the dull buzzing sounds of life within the cabin.
Air and vapor landscape billows below in grey-blue valleys and bright plateaus. Pools of shadow and winding streams of air carve irregularity into the sunny-side surface of a low cloud cover. The light and air and water form and gather and disperse and collect and recollect according to unseen rules that govern such dance and density and display.
The gentleman in 17C flips one page and another. He sighs, gives up on the SkyMall. I remember when it was a heftier catalog, and maybe he does too. We silently consider the replica wizard wands and novelty voice recorders and car chamois/dog sweaters that no longer grace the pages of the publication. At least I do. I remember absorbing each novel offering in the magazine as a requisite highlight of earlier flights. I peruse the peculiar offerings and feign the discerning gaze of a worldly consumer. This: yes. Those: certainly. That: absolutely not. I wonder when the high-flying past-time lost its appeal.
Dark water appears in patches beneath the surface of the clouds. 17C takes out Candy Crush Some-such on an iPad. He sighs and shrugs; his score progresses. He switches games. The persistent chirp and whirr of accumulating in-game currency is just audible above the hiss and roar and ear-popping.
Near the horizon, chaotic patterns of cloud and space merge in softly curved monotony. Passengers peek at perspective-skewing proportion outside the window and compulsively pick through pictured-pages and rack up in-game ratings and seek solace in distractions that instill a passing sense of superficial control and reward. But how unconcerned are the clouds and their invisible rules with the number of coins I crush, and how inconsequential are the coins to the fantastic shifting landscape below.
Clouds thin. A great-lake-crescendo swells into view. We’re lower now; perspective changes. The water is frozen, or mostly so. An expanse of crumbling white-blue-grey winter ice engulfs pockets of deep blue-black-green water. Streams of snow and dust skim and bite and skip and fly in shimmering bands across the dark patches of water, apparently insensitive to the rising tones of frustration in the voice of the tired mother in 21C or the recalcitrant impulsivity in the actions of her young child. It’s time to sit. Look, we’re sitting now. Sit down. Listen.
We’re descending. The vast imposing grey-white span gives way suddenly to the grubby complex monotony of a sprawling city-scape birds-eye view. Traffic on a highway inches slowly along through morning hours. Other early commuters fly by side streets and miniature half-lit billboards. A bright-painted rose assumes the form of a water tower. It grows beyond and between and above bored buildings and flies by my window. Look at me. Here I am. Here.
We’re much lower now. Closer. Cars take on detail. Numbers take on asphalt. Touch-down. Bounce. Shudder-roar. Taxi to a new local time. Feedback in the intercom, a buoyant ring on each syllable: “It’s one degree. Enjoy the warm weather.” Dry humor. Moderate chuckling. Murmuring cell phones.
We travel through a season of Lent. We practice ascetic restraint or more disciplined religiosity or simple self-denial. Pings and pages and games and worries pull us away from life-changing world-view truths expanding around us, just outside our windows, teeming beneath the surface of our existence. A rose reaches up to us from bustling streets and dingy byways in our distracted lives. We take on Lenten resolutions. We seek out chocolate-coated re-de-caffeinated-coffee-colored sacrifices to draw us more fully, more clearly, toward a message with life, death, and resurrection. We pray. We worship. We focus, falter, rededicate. God’s Spirit clears the dullness from our hearts. We journey toward a table, a garden, a valley, a cross, a tomb. A rose reaches out to us.
Justin Langford – Director of Music Ministries