Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Flying by Instruments

During World War II, a pilot was attempting to land through dense clouds.  Not able to see the runway, he of course had to depend on the instrument panel to tell him whether he was level and what his altitude was.  Not a big deal for seasoned pilots.....until he developed vertigo, a condition in which a person's equilibrium system shuts down.  He grew increasingly dizzy and unable to sense when he was upright.  His mind and body could no longer tell which was is up.  This pilot began to have a compulsive belief that the plane was no longer horizontal and was listing into a disastrous roll.  Everything about his sensations, everything his body and mind were telling him was that his wings were rolling to vertical which meant they would lose altitude quickly and crash.  However....  The instrument panel was clear that the plane was maintaining altitude with wings horizontal.  The pilot, a tribute to his training, relied completely on the instrument panel, ignoring everything he knew within himself to be true, and flew the plane in and landed.
Several friends of mine - and I myself - have gone and still go through this experience spiritually.  It is very disconcerting to have everything you normally rely on, worthless against a spiritual vertigo.  God is absent.  You honestly can not discern which way is up.  It is a dark night of the soul where nothing comforts, nothing reassures, nothing about God makes sense.  One's mind and heart seems to have turned against you, trying to convince you to change your course, to quit or rethink your understanding of and relationship with God.  The experience, as extraordinarily confusing as it is, is actually a sign of maturity and testing.  It is a test against relying on what you are getting out of this God deal or believing thinking you have figured everything out.  It is, hopefully, in the end a reaffirmation that you believe not in you but have actually surrendered your ego and submitted yourself to God and His control - again.  Submitted to His story instead of yours.  The crushing doubt of spiritual vertigo is a major step in embracing God's story rather than your own.  You are forced to fly by His rules and abilities.  Flying by instruments is a painful, humble, giving up of your belief in yourself and an opening to a deeper, more profound faith which over time excises doubt and despair.  It is an experience which, if not circumvented but explored, allows you to hear God's voice in a new and richer and more radicalized (root finding) way.  Flying by instruments against the chaos of our culture's, our own, and at times even our church's imposed vertigo is a blessing as challenging as our blessing of freedom.  What are our instruments as we fly in this "cloud of unknowing"?  The Bible, holding hands with someone else, ritual/routine, biographies of saints, duty, the Office of the Hours, the Book of Common Prayer, authentic dialogue with God and the fellowship, Psalms (e.g the 40's) - and prayers to a silent God. 

No comments:

Post a Comment