(Image: Spitfire airplanes – the type of plane John Gillespie Magee Jr. flew)
When my oldest son was 8 years old and newly baptized, my parents bought a collection of classic poetry for our children. One night, I sat next to my 8 year old’s bed as we read a poem titled “High Flight” from that book. This poem was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, only months before he died in combat over England (at only 19 years of age). Here is his poem:
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.
Hovering 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 even 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.
In this poem, the author writes of the feelings of liberation, dancing, dreams, peaceful silence, hovering, seeking, grace, meditation, sanctity, and God. Note last line of the poem:
“[I] put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
I paused and asked my son, “What do you think the poet meant, that he ‘touched the face of God’?”
To get him to see beyond the obvious literal interpretation, I rhetorically asked him, “Does that mean he just put out his hand and slapped God’s face as he flew by Him?”
He laughed at the absurdity of the question.
I then asked him, “What words did the author use describe how flying made him feel?”
He then listed off a few of them.
“Interesting.”, I said. “But what does that have to do with touching God?”
He wasn’t sure what I meant.
So, I asked, “Describe how you felt when you were baptized?”
He did so listing a similar sentiment as the poet did here.
“Maybe feeling those things is how we know God.” I suggested.
“Yeah.” he replied.
I asked, “But have you ever flown an airplane before?”
“No.” he said.
“Well then, besides your baptism, what gives you these same feelings?” I asked. I genuinely wanted to know.
He thought for a moment and simply replied, “Reading.”
“Reading?” I asked. “Why is that?”
“Well,” he continued, “when I read, I feel these same things. I feel like anything is possible.”
Totally blown away, I simply said, “That’s right. You can feel those things when you read. So then, reading is a way for you to come to know God.”
“Yeah.” he smiled.
“Well, you keep on reading.” I said.
Now, I’m not saying that every evening is like this (many are far from it). But in this moment, I felt as close to my son as I have ever and it inspires me to try to enjoy opportunities similar to this with all of my children in the future as often as I can.
One of the Mormon articles of faith states:
If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
I think the Spirit of God teaches us truth and beauty. And when we seek the people and things in this world that are true and beautiful, we will find God.