And so we are here, Holy Week. Some of my Lenten practices are holding firm, some are wobbly and I confess that March Madness has been taking more brain space than is healthy and holy. Thankfully my Lent hasn’t taken quite the beating my bracket has. But today it begins, the Palm Sunday walk down the Mount of Olives to Jesus’, and ultimately our, fate.
My general goal this Lent has been to improve my prayer life and part of that has been seeking advice both old and new, from saints and friends alike (two separate categories, to be sure) and one practice keeps sticking out at me–put yourself in the story. I’m more likely to read a history of 1st century Jewish life to try to understand Jesus than to meditate on how it would feel to walk with him, so I’m trying to be less intellectual in my prayer life. I think I have spent more time praying TO Jesus, rather than trying to be WITH him. With a few fits and starts, a little lectio divina I thought I made a few steps in the right direction. Then something happened that showed me how small my baby steps really were.
Saturday morning I found out we lost a friend in a small plane crash. I didn’t know him long, but we bonded during our pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Lou was a man of faith and a career military pilot–because my son is currently in flight school and also an Air Force Academy graduate, I felt the loss in both our pilgrimage family and in the Academy family as well. How downright wrong it seemed for Lou to live through war zones only to die just miles from home. He left a wife widowed too young and two daughters the ages of my sons without a father.
So it was in that reflective frame of mind that I entered church for Palm Sunday. As the proclamation of the Passion began, a story of pain and fear and death, my mind was still swirling with another loss of life, two millennia later. And there it was, what I needed to see, I guess what I needed to feel, really. I was experiencing the same emotions as those around Jesus on that Friday. Pain, confusion, fear and maybe a fair amount of anger. They were human and He was fully human, too.
Yes, there were tears.
I pray for Lou, and thank him for his service to our country. I pray for his family and friends. And I pray that his memory, this experience, will always help me be WITH Jesus in prayer. Because I’m sure Lou is with Him now.
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 ever 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.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.