I’ll Fly Away
This morning, I sat on our back porch listening to two cardinals talk to each other. Like many, I’ve felt a real loss in not having birds come to our feeders this summer. The illness that’s killing them is worrisome, and not only because birds bring such pleasure to those of us who notice them. More troubling is the fact that the deaths of hundreds of birds will likely cause a serious imbalance in nature, at least for a time.
It feels like we’re living through yet another plot line in a movie about a catastrophic future. The kind of movie about impending destruction that seems inevitable, until the heroes of the film somehow turn it around. Movies in which animals die en masse from a mysterious disease. Where the world is crippled by record-setting high temperatures, dire shortages of food and water, deadly pandemics.
A topic for another, frankly more depressing blog!
What the birds have me thinking about today is flying.
I used to dream often about being able to fly. Not like a bird, flapping my wings, soaring into the heavens. No, in my dreams, I was just me, realizing suddenly that if I thought hard enough about it, I could lift my body off the ground!
What I remember most is how it felt to be weightless, to rise into the air. And the surprising revelation that not only could I actually do it—but that I’d been able to do it all along.
Flight as a metaphor for a life of faith is easy. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah assures us that our spirits will soar—above the difficulties and challenges of our lives, above the losses and setbacks and worries—if we hope in the Lord.
And Jesus teaches that each one of us is capable of rising above our world, if we believe. In Mark 11:22-24, he says, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I don’t think Jesus is saying that anyone can move a literal mountain simply on the basis of faith. But when I see the mountain as a metaphor for whatever might loom over us, I know from experience that God is willing and able to help. To provide peace within our souls, to help us to cope, even when the mountain stays where it is.
If we can cling to hope.
If we can hold onto faith in the God who is always at work, creating good in this fallen world.
Hope and faith.
In her novel, Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison writes about the African myth that some people could actually fly, a belief brought here by enslaved Africans. One of her characters says, “Some of those Africans they brought over here as slaves could fly. A lot of them flew back to Africa.” The character describes a man who did just that: “He flew. You know, like a bird. Just stood up one day, ran up some hill, spun around a couple of times, and was lifted up in the air.”
It’s easy, here, to see flight as a symbol of hope, of escape. Flying away from slavery, from a place where blacks were seen as property, where cruelty and abuse were the weapons used to keep them in the hell that had become their lives.
But in an interview, Morrison says that yes, the myth is about the dream of physical escape…but it is not only that. “Flight,” she says, “comes up a lot in spirituals. ‘I’ll fly away, O Jesus, I’ll fly away.’ It’s more than just escape. It’s the move away from earth, into things that are spiritual.”
In one of her poems, Emily Dickinson writes: “Hope” is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul.” The thing that inspires us to be more than our circumstances, the thing that lifts our spirits away from the troubles of this world, and nearer to God.
So. Maybe this blog is about the increasingly alarming state of the world, after all. Because the one thing that will save us, that will strengthen us not only to survive but to make the world a better place for all, is hope…hope that flows from our faith in the God who loves us all.
For with that love, we can surely soar.