Friday, Dec. 20, 2013
Free fallingPosted Friday, September 14, 2012, at 1:44 PM
Last weekend I spent all day Saturday "manning" an unmarked table at Airport Appreciation Days.
Still in my two year waiting period after having several surgeries for skin cancer, I had layered myself with so much sun screen and sun block that I must have looked like a zombie! I tripled up on my allergy medication and had even driven down to Bloomington the day before for an extra round of allergy shots.
I sat there with a large hat that blocked the sun from hitting any skin. And I wore my new prescription sunglasses. And I carried three coats to keep me warm and protected (it was COLD that morning and the wind never did die down).
Why would I do all that? Well, Ms. Ginger Scott asked me too. If you know Ginger then you know you just can't say no to whatever she asks of you!
My table was on the far north side of the Putnam County Airport, down a concrete lane of activities designed for the enjoyment of children and those who are still young at heart. A few hundred feet away was a scaling wall, a bounce castle, and a bounce house with some sort of inner-tube slide in it. There was a booth representing the United Way and an Angry Birds game for young children to play. There was a man who kept cutting logs with a power saw who somehow created figures of bears, owls, and animal scenes.
Right in front of my table was The Bungee Trampoline! Imaging bungee chords all strung together with safety hooks in the middle and you've got a good picture of it. There was a west set and a north set so that two persons could be simultaneously bouncing on the trampoline parts while hydraulic poles eventually carried the occupant as high as fifteen feet.
Over the course of eight hours I saw few "adults" who tried jumping and spinning on it. But I saw scores of children who had the time of the lives!
Each jumper had to be strapped in to a tight harness and the adult crew would patiently but firmly make sure that each child would be safe. Then, attached to those safety hooks in the middle, the crew would somehow intuitively know how high and how far each child was ready to go.
Some simply jumped up and down for five minutes. Some rose above the poles as they learned how to propel themselves or receive the occasional boost from the crew. Some learned how to turn themselves completely over or even roll two, three, or four times in circles of laughter.
And all had that sparkle of freedom as they flew in the air with joy!
With nearly every jump there would come a two second period where it looked like the jumper was just floating in the air before gravity regained control. Whether a young child of four or an adult near forty, they would rise to the farthest height and then be suspended in the air before coming back down.
And during that two second period the expressions on each face remained the same: glee, exhilaration, triumph, abandonment of their worries and cares, contentment just to be, just to exist. Joy in the very experience itself. Peace.
I saw nearly a hundred people floating in the air that day. I began taking pictures of some of them, their expressions priceless until their five minutes were over and they had to return to the real world. Not only were the children in a state of euphoria but their parents and grandparents somehow caught that same joy while simply watching. You could say that their joy was passed from one person to another and families would walk away speechless but happy.
I had a lot of thoughts about the children who jumped on The Bungee Trampoline that day. I, too, caught a glimpse of what they experienced as I watched from the sidelines. In some regards I was jealous of each one of them for I am too heavy to be safely strapped in that harness and attached to the bungee chords on the hydraulic poles. I am at least too old. But that didn't matter. Their public display was contagious enough so that at closing time I left content and happy.
That evening I spent a couple of hours making last minute re-writes to what would be my sermon the next day. And then it dawned on me. What those free falling jumpers experienced are the same expressions I see on the faces of those in worship from time to time. Sometimes it happens when I cheat and look out on the congregation during prayer. Sometimes it happens during a message I'm preaching, or a hymn that's being sung, or during a special in music that touches the soul. Often times it happens during the sharing of a sacrament.
I'll see people who, for a few seconds, are filled with glee, exhilaration, triumph, abandonment of their worries and cares, contentment just to be, just to exist. They'll have joy "written" all over their faces. They are overcome by peace, a contagious peace that quickly spreads.
It's as if they know they are in the hands of God. Eventually they have to return to the cares of the world but for a few seconds or even a moment they release all their troubles and simply ... float on the love of God.
P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.