Touching the face of God
After an especially thrilling training flight the following year, young John wrote some verses on the back on a letter to his parents.
His proud father, the assistant Rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church (across Lafayette Square from the White House), published the verses in the church bulletin. The sonnet, named "High Flight," would become quite famous.
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, Hov'ring 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 windswept 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.
A few months after writing these verses, during another training flight, 19-year-old John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed in a midair collision...
...and touched the face of God.
I am reminded of this by the opening verse of today’s first reading (1 John 1:1-4):
This is what we proclaim to you:
what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon,
and our hands have touched
-- we speak of the word of life.
So indeed John, the Beloved Disciple, in an infinitely profound and yet mysteriously literal sense, touched the face of God: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - true God and true man.
As for us, we are not those who physically touched Christ when he walked on this earth, nor are most of us pilots or astronauts who experience the spiritual thrill of which John Magee wrote, nor are we likely to die in the clouds as he did.
Yet all of us, in different ways yet always through Christ, can touch the face of God: in our prayer, in meditating on his word, in the Sacraments, and in his body which is the Church.
And ultimately, by his grace, if we are faithful to him, we will one day stand before that great heavenly throne where myriads of angels serve...
...and we will touch the face of God.