Fearless flight

Adapted from an article printed in the Christian Science Sentinel

The ground whizzed by beneath us in a blur of earthy tones as we lifted off from the Los Mochas airport, aboard a twin-engine Piper Senica - a plane just big enough for six people, counting the pilot. My close friend manned the controls, and although I occupied the copilot seat, I was clueless about all the instrumentation before me.

Since it was too noisy to talk, I passed the time sightseeing as we made our way north from Mexico toward California and home. In its final moments, the flight suddenly lurched from pleasant journey toward nightmarish debacle. Instead of touching down smoothly, the plane bounced violently along the airstrip. The end of the runway - and the lake just beyond - rushed at us.

Then ... wham! On an extra hard bounce, one of the propellers smashed into the airstrip, and the plane arced off over the end of the runway and toward the lake. Somehow our pilot managed to pull the now damaged aircraft out of that plunge and circle higher. Then the pilot lined up with the longest airstrip available, and within minutes we were safely, gratefully, on the ground.

A later investigation proved inconclusive, but apparently a spider had crawled into the Pitot tube, a device used to monitor the airspeed. The partially-blocked tube had registered a dangerously false reading. We'd come in at the wrong speed. Oh, and one other thing: The brakes had failed.

When I think of that flight now, it stands mostly not as near disaster. Mainly, it's the proof of the Almighty's presence and care that warms my memory. I've looked at that proof again after recent tragic events. Of course those situations are so different, and the fears they've spawned so sprawling.

On my flight I knew everyone (except the spider). But now, people boarding commercial flights eye one another in suspicion. The concerns are less about mechanical malfunction and more about some unknown evil intent.

Yet maybe the prayers for protection and for freedom from fear aren't so different. Maybe the divine assurances needed are largely the same.

In those final, critical moments, we on the plane had prayed. I was glad I'd prayed earlier, too. There was so little time, and we so greatly needed some sense of the Almighty's presence. What had those prayers done? They hadn't suddenly made me a skilled pilot. They hadn't cleared the Pitot tube, extended the runway, or drained the lake. They hadn't even stopped the plane from bouncing. However, the things that needed to happen happened. The pilot stayed focused, unparalyzed by fear, and had expertly made the right moves with split-second perfection.

That's just one of the countless ways prayer has a saving effect. During the many times I've flown since, in planes large and small, I've continued to pray. Why? For one thing, prayer tends to prevent fear from swamping other people, as well as the person praying.

The Bible brims with passages that defeat fear and promise protection. Some verses are even assuring for when we board airplanes.

For me, one account in the Hebrew scriptures has become central in the quest for fearless flight. It tells of Elisha, then the target of massive and irrational hatred. At one point, he and a servant, Gehazi, are surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered. But Elisha is more aware of God's presence and power than most people. And through his spiritual awareness, the hidden enemy - an army of Syrians - is uncovered, temporarily incapacitated, and foiled. Elisha and the servant are delivered from death, and no one is harmed - not even the attackers.

A pivotal moment comes just as Gehazi slips toward panic. Elisha says, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (II Kings 6:16). That is key. Knowing that, no harm could possibly ensnare them.

"They that be with us ...." Who was with them? Physically, they were cut off from aid. But spiritually, they were joined with divine power. That was what counted. The advantage with them was not people or weapons. What was with them was the presence of God and God's own law, holding them above danger more certainly than the laws of aerodynamics hold a plane in the air.

The presence of One, of the God that is the Principle and Parent of us all, outnumbers all else. As we gain even the slightest spiritual awareness of this truth, it upholds us in meaningful ways.

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