For reasons that no amount of therapists, counselors, or doctors have successfully rid me of (so far), I have had an irrational fear of flying since I was twelve years old. It has not stopped me from traveling extensively with my husband who never heard of a place or country he didn’t want to visit, and I am abundantly thankful for the trips we had.
Nearly all of those trips involved airplane travel, which meant that over the years I have developed a kind of ritual to try to douse the anxiety which has become as familiar to me as my old carry-on bag: deep breathing, tensing then relaxing muscles, meditation, writing, repeating affirmations such as ‘all is well in my world’; ‘I am calm and at peace’…you get the picture.
Recently, as I was dealing with jitters before an upcoming flight, I remembered a poem that Marcus Borg read as his opening prayer before a Lenten sermon.
Entitled The Avowal, by Denise Levertov, it goes like this:
‘As swimmers dare to lie
face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
free-fall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.’
For many reasons and on many levels, that poem has become a prayer, and not just for flying. I love the images of swimmers daring to lie face to the sky, of hawks resting upon air. The idea of learning to attain free-fall and floating is quite a challenge for someone like me, for who has trouble giving up control. But then comes the key: ‘knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace.’
Believing that all-surrounding grace is not earned, that it is a gift freely given from the heart of a generous God, is the truth I have overlooked in my zeal to conquer fear and anxiety.
Frederick Büechner, God rest his mighty soul, wrote, ‘Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
‘A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace; have you ever tried to love somebody? (Listening to Your Life, 288-9)
Like any gift, the ‘only’ thing we have to do is to reach out and accept God’s all-surrounding grace and then live with it, believe in it, enjoy it, and be thankful.
Why is that so hard for some of us to do?