Wednesday, October 29, 2014


"When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"
--Luke 18:8

Increasingly, everywhere I go I'm imposed on by a talking screen. As I put gas in my car, a used car salesman blares at me from a screen above the pump. As I'm seated in the back of a cab. what looks to be a streetwalker-cum-newscaster brays from a screen about Ebola.

And when flying, no sooner have I braved traffic, the baggage line, the Starbucks line, and the line to get on the plane than I reach my place, heave my purse beneath the seat, and look up to find a screen:  flashing, moving, screaming for me to buy, watch a movie, root for a team, anesthetize children with mindless "entertainment," book another flight.

Frantically, I locate the Off button and start jabbing. Jab, jab, jab. Off! Off, for the love of God!

We have the "right" to own an assault weapon, but have we no right to silence? Must our minds, senses, and person endure this relentless, incessant assault of motion and noise?

Apparently, yes. For until well after takeoff, I can't turn off the screen. I can only close my eyes. I can resort to a litany of Hail Marys. I can pray for the pilot, the flight attendants, the other passengers.

The fact is I have never lost my child-like wonder at flying through the air, high above the world. I don't begrudge anyone his or her entertainment. I just feel by rights we should all fall silent, the whole flight through, out of simple astonishment.

Last Sunday morning I flew out of Omaha at 6:25 a.m. Great little airport. TSA-Pre, thank you. Seating Group 2, easy. All was well. I had a window seat for the hour and a half flight to Denver. I was tired. I said Morning Prayer from my travel breviary. I read the liturgy for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Magnificat.

I turned off the obnoxious screen as soon as I possibly could and dozed for a bit.

I got up to use the aft restroom. It was still pitch black outside. The cabin was dark

Walking back down the aisle, I saw that on the back of every single seat, row after row after row--three on the left, three on the right, all the way down to the front of the plane--was an identically lit and moving screen. Before each sat a fixated, or possibly sleeping, passenger. It was as if the entire cabin were sucking at the breast of a mother whose milk was laced with morphine.

Then I glanced to my left, to the east, and saw a heart-stopping sight: a stupendous sunrise that the above photo doesn't begin to capture. A long, narrow trapezoid with lines so straight they could have been drawn by a ruler: blood-red below, a layer of dark dove-gray above, and above that a sky the saturated, celestial blue of the cloak of the Madonna.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,and night to night imparts knowledge.

Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.

--Psalm 91

Back in my seat, I twisted around and observed the unfolding dawn, transfixed.

I thought of God the Suitor who, as Meister Eckhart said is "like the man who, while hiding, coughs in order to give himself away."

I thought of the reconciliation between men and women we've all been awaiting since things went wrong in the Garden of Eden.

I thought about the marriage of heaven and earth, and of how the sky itself melded the masculine and the feminine: that strong solid gray; the blue cloak of the Madonna.

I glanced once more around the cabin, then down to my hands, the floor, my seat. I thought of this passage I'd read the night before from G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man:

"The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of [the Christmas] story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor."

armrest, united airlines flight 1266, october 26, 2014


  1. Beautiful article. Can you tell us what a travel breviary is. Thank you.

  2. A one-volume relatively slim 4-week Psalter--I use Shorter Christian Prayer--as opposed to the 4-volume (each weighing a ton) I use at home.

  3. Hi Heather. Reading this post, I am reminded of an observation made by Thomas Merton about how watching television is the antithesis to contemplation:

    "The life of a television-watcher is a kind of caricature of contemplation. Passivity, uncritical absorption, receptivity, inertia. Not only that, but a gradual yielding to the mystic attraction until one is spellbound in a state of complete union. The trouble with this caricature is that it is really the exact opposite of contemplation: for true contemplation is precisely the fruit of a most active and intransigent rupture with all that captivates the senses, the emotions, and the will on a material or temporal level. The contemplative reaches his passivity only after terrific struggle with everything that appeals to his appetites as a half-animal member of the human herd. He is receptive and still only because the stillness he has reached is lucid, spiritual, and full of liberty. It is the summit of a life of spiritual freedom. The other, the ersatz, is the nadir of intellectual and emotional"

    This quote is used by Michael Casey, O.C.S.O. in his excellent book on Benedictine spirituality called Strangers to the City in a chapter on the virtue of reading.

    1. I'm sorry... The last sentence of the quote should read:

      "The other, the ersatz, is the nadir of intellectual and emotional slavery."

      It didn't copy-and-paste completely.


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