Two things come to mind:
(1) We live near Chicago.
I well recall the reaction of people we met when we visited Europe some years ago. “You are from Chicago? Ah…” and then the smile and the raised arm simulating a tommy-gun. Al Capone has been gone for some time now, but his legacy lives on. The wonderful Windy City still has a reputation for violence, but it does not define the lives of Chicagoans.
(2) I’ve flown into Tel Aviv when bombs were falling in the city.
In the late 90s I had the enormous privilege of making two visits to Israel on trips co-sponsored by Gordon College and the organization I served as a staff member: Vision New England. The first was in March of 1996, and most tour groups that spring cancelled due to intensified violence in the Middle East.
The leaders of our group, veterans of many such trips, knew we had nothing to fear, but our little group of 30 or so was still nearly alone when we boarded a jumbo 747 jet out of Boston bound for Tel Aviv. The plane was so empty that each traveler had a row to herself. In the middle of the night, I gave up all attempts to sleep and sat up to watch CNN on the huge screens placed across the front of our cabin. Big mistake. The images coming live from our arrival city were disturbing, and I started to worry. I had a husband and three still-young children at home – had I been foolish to come? I recall turning around to scan the cabin, but the crew was elsewhere and the other passengers were stretched out sleeping. It was as if I were the only passenger on the flight.
Desperate for reassurance in the darkness, I recall raising my window shade slightly. I’ll never forget what I saw as our plane hurtled eastward: a band of the most intense, pure white light on the far horizon. The thought suddenly came, “It’s the wings of the dawn! I am seeing the same sight that David wrote about in the psalms.”
King David may not have been 39,000 feet in the air when he wrote these words, but they resonated in my soul that dark night:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
The familiar words were from Psalm 139, and they calmed my fears that night as they have many times since.
So are we nervous about boarding a flight to Istanbul this evening? Not at all. But do we pray for safety each day for our children as they travel by car on the highways, or protection for our son-in-law Ben as he climbs into the cockpit of an Air Force jet? Absolutely.
For all those who are traveling this summer, may this portion of Psalm 139 from The Message be your strength and comfort as well:
“God, You know when I leave and when I get back: I’m never out of Your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and You’re there,
Then up ahead and You’re there, too—
Your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful –
I can’t take it all in!
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid Your Spirit?
To be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, You’re there!
If I go underground, You’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings to the far west horizon,
You’d find me in a minute –
You’re already there waiting!
Next stop: Istanbul!