By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 10, 2009
The first time I set foot on a plane I was 16 years old, and I was thoroughly traumatized.
No one had warned me that the engine makes an extremely loud noise just before take-off. Although other passengers seemed unconcerned, I was sure the plane was about to explode, and so I sat there, cringing and praying, until we were finally airborne. From that moment on, I would only venture on board after taking a tranquillizer.
Over the years, my fears of flying have gradually vanished, but there is still something about the experience that I despise with all my being. No, it’s not the infinitesimally small package of peanuts handed out when you are starving. Nor is it the teeny-weeny bathroom the size of a closet.
What I hate is the gigantic Atlanta anthill, which is cheerily billed as the “world’s busiest airport” as if that were a medal of honor. There is something inherently daunting about moving sidewalks, crowded trains with mechanical voices, and the endlessly long, snaking lines. I always feel like I’m entering one of the lower rings of Dante’s “Inferno.”
One day, I was flying to Oklahoma City without my husband accompanying me. After he dropped me off, I dove into the sea of people in the airport and immediately felt my heart lurch in fear. There were herds of people dragging suitcases, and the sounds of robotic voices lecturing about security measures.
Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos, I envisioned God’s big hand reaching down from the sky to gently clasp mine. I saw him leading me through security, down the elevators, and onto the train. A sense of peace descended on me. And for once, the Atlanta airport wasn’t so bad.
The mental image reminded me of crossing the street when I was a child. Invariably, my mother or father would grab the children’s hands and hold us tight. Even when I was in college, I would instinctively reach for my dad’s hand at crosswalks.
Reading the psalms, I discovered some helpful passages: “Thou hast held me by my right hand.” (Psalm 72) “In the days of my trouble I sought God, with my hands lifted up to him in the night.” (Psalm 76)
On Sundays I think of these passages as I see fathers leading toddlers up the aisle to the pew. Sometimes the little ones are straining at the bit, eager to run around, but dad keeps a steady grasp on the plump little hand.
There is also an adult daughter leading an elderly mother by the hand as she makes her way to receive
holy Communion. Perhaps the mother thinks she would do just fine by herself, but the daughter keeps a tight hold nonetheless.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ hands bring healing and life. St. Matthew tells us about Jesus visiting a little girl, who has died, and when he takes her by the hand the girl is revived. In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus touches the bier in a funeral procession, and the young man comes back to life.
So many things in life happen that we would never choose: the aches and pains that slow us down; various disappointments at work; the loss of relatives and friends.
What a blessing to realize that our loving God is in control. He truly has our lives in his hands. What a blessing to realize that Jesus Himself on the Cross said to the Father: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
In two days I will be back in the big anthill known as the Atlanta airport, threading my way through the crowds. I will envision the hand of God reaching down, while I reach up. And I pray that He will keep a very tight hold.
Lorraine’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” and “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set in Decatur. Her Web site is www.lorrainevmurray.com and her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church, Decatur.