It was one of those white-knuckle flights with updrafts and downdrafts tossing us about like rag dolls in our Flying Cigar—a long, slender head-banger at the best of times that gave you a crick in the neck after being cooped up for a couple of hours in one. With just window seats either side of a pencil-thin aisle, you couldn’t help getting up close and personal with your neighbour. At least everyone had a perfect view of the razor-sharp ridges rushing up to meet us as we plunged a few hundred feet in yet another air pocket, then cork-screwed wildly with the pilot wrestling the controls to the delighted cries of Ride ’em cowboy! from the back, while other passengers probably contemplated their fate, seeing their lives flash past. For me, it was a typical return to work straight after church, and the only time I might have some peace and quiet before arriving back home the following Saturday. So, there I was flipping through my Prayer Book when the plane went into another exciting aerobatic routine and the big burly bloke next to me grabbed my arm crying You think we’re going down don’t you! No, I said, I’m just preparing the prayers for next Sunday. If I thought we were going to die I wouldn’t bother.
Preparing to celebrate the Reign of Christ, I had a few flashbacks myself having heard today’s readings so many times, that certain phrases spark memories and carry definite associations—do you find that? Like lines of poetry, well-loved hymns or lyrics of pop-songs that stick in our minds, they seem to seep into our psyche, shaping our attitudes and responses—words that unconsciously guide our countless decisions, give us hope, help us steer a steady course through all life’s ups and downs, even when buffeted by forces beyond our control. If you are not convinced, or think I am crazy—join the queue! I can only tell you what I’ve found, and for folk who don’t feel familiar enough to recite bits of scripture, no worries—bottom line, we just need to let God take the controls and manage what we cannot. If we believe that on the cross Christ did what was necessary for us to be redeemed and reconciled with God, and we cling to that, we can enjoy the benefits of faith like knowing we are loved and accepted for who we are, feeling forgiven and finding it easier to forgive if necessary so we can start afresh as often as we need, tapping into the strength to carry on and a hope that helps us cope by drawing from resources deep within us where Christ rules and God dwells.
Our readings, hymns and liturgy speak of such things more eloquently than I can, but it does not end here—that’s the great thing about Christ’s kingdom. You see, the more time we spend in Christ’s company, wherever we are, the more Christ can work wonders by affecting our moods and attitudes, changing our perception of things and other people, giving us the wisdom and power to choose a course that spreads the Good News of the kingdom that Christ rules over through the goodness and love that we take wherever we go.
They say that when we pray coincidences happen, so perhaps the more we pray, wherever and however we do that, the more coincidences occur. As a morning person, my mainstay is Morning Prayer. Over the years it has taken various forms, but I have always said it in the place I am going to work—my office, a construction trailer, art studio, kitchen—all kinds of places, including planes. That is why the incident I described was pretty commonplace—in fact, I have found life peppered with all kinds of funny (and not so funny) encounters, especially working in engineering when I travelled all over the world. Airports and planes were perfect places for prayer, bible-study and reflection—before cell-phones and laptops what else was there to do? Instead of fellow students to bounce ideas off, the hushed tones of libraries or hallowed halls of a seminary, most of my theological studies took place on the road—in truck-stops, canteens, remote mining camps, motels and endless meetings, so any truths I discovered were tested in the rough and tumble of what others seemed to relish as hard-nosed business situations.
While I loved the people and creative side of my work, it could be very stressful if I let it get to me—operating in a macho milieu where some blokes seemed to thrive on bullying tactics, trying to intimidate. And rising through the ranks didn’t help—it just refined the language of implied insults. That’s when I clung to words from the The Song of Zechariah with God’s promise ...to set us free from our enemies, free to worship him without fear, because some guys were so fiercely competitive, they treated the workplace more like a war-zone, forgetting we were all on the same team. Rather than retaliate, usually, I would just quietly hope and pray that ...In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high would break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness... and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Despite raised voices and even raised fists, I found that patience and persistence paid off. Some actually accused me of playing mind games because they found it hard to quarrel with kindness. When my all-time nemesis came to apologize for his belligerent behaviour, he wanted to know my secret to survival. Simple, I told him, I sent out positive waves, constantly repeating Christ’s words like a mantra—Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. For me, it was never about who won or lost, but about letting Christ take control and the kingdom come. Sometimes it was really tough.
One of my worst days was when I had barely slept because I was having to lay off people I had worked with for years—folk I regarded as friends and whose families I knew—top-notch professionals who had become the A Team. We had struggled to keep them, but with metal prices plummeting and no recovery in sight, what choice did we have? It was small comfort that I had secured good redundancy packages for them and would speak to each, thanking them myself rather than delegate it.
From habit I went in early to say Morning Prayer with their fateful envelopes locked in my desk drawer. But as I reached the familiar words about the ...dawn from on high breaking upon us... I had an idea, so did something quite daring and unprecedented—crazy really. Without prompting or permission, I phoned the most senior person I knew in the industry—another early-riser and devout Christian. Knowing his company was also hurting financially, I simply stated the obvious—mines do not materialize overnight and good ones take years in the making, but in the future the best would demand more care and creativity than ever before. Convinced few teams could match mine, I argued that if we were to champion a better approach in the mining sector and succeed, the time was ripe to take advantage of the hiatus and invest in totally new thinking. Who put you up to this, who knows you are calling me? he demanded. Just God, I said. Just God! he repeated slowly. Silence. OK hold off for an hour he said. The layoffs never happened, and the rest is history as we took our places in the forefront of revolutionizing an industry that now talks in terms like sustainability and consideration for all stakeholders.
Jesus showed that righteousness and the proper use of power is to save and serve others, to promote reconciliation, peace and right wrongs. If love is to rule every sphere of human engagement and endeavour, and not be limited to little pockets of goodness, we all have a job to do in whatever we do with our days. Instead of just venting our fears, frustrations and anger, and maybe risk vilifying others, perhaps our first order of business needs to be to open the door to our hearts and minds to let the love and light of Christ pour in. If, like me, you are tempted to shut the door on some people, one answer (and the best one I know) is to find a spiritual routine that suits you to help pry it open—even the smallest crack can let light in.