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Hallo again to all.

A few days ago we celebrated Christ's unique departure from this earth, in his bodily ascension into heaven. This peculiar mode of transportation speaks not only to his divinity but also to the human fascination with flying, of ascending, of moving upward. Isaiah writes that 'those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles' and John the Divine reports seeing an angel 'flying in midheaven.'* Perhaps it is the idea of being closer to heaven, to God, or gods. The appeal of flying has captured our imaginations since ancient times. Daedalus of Greek myth built wings to fly himself and his son Icarus to freedom.

He laid out feathers in order, first the smallest,
A little larger next to it, and so continued,
The way pan-pipes rise in gradual sequence,
he fastened them with twine and wax, at middle,
at bottom, so, and bent them, gently curving,
So that they looked like wings of birds, most surely.
He kissed his son (Good-bye, if he had known it),
Rose on his wings, flew on ahead, as fearful
As any bird launching the little nestlings
Out of high nest into thin air. Keep on,
Keep on,
he signals, follow me! He guides him
In flight — O fatal art! — and the wings move
And the father looks back to see the son's wings moving.†

Like Daedalus, people have been imagining ways to fly for centuries. Hot air balloons are believed to have been used for travel in third century China, and Leonardo da Vinci sketched elaborate flying machines in the fifteenth century. Modern jet planes and privately funded space exploration continue to demonstrate how we have spent an unending amount of time and money to soar to the heavens.

In the 1170s, a young Belgian woman, following illness—likely a severe seizure—was assumed dead. At her funeral her body was reported to have reanimated and flew into the rafters of the church. Christina Mirabilis, as she became known later, claimed to have visited hell, heaven, and purgatory, before being offered the choice of returning to life or remaining in heaven. She made that choice, living a life of charity and suffering for the sins of others. The rest of her life contained rather astonishing circumstances—rolling in fire and not burning, climbing to the furthest limbs of trees, and falling into pools without drowning. She lived an obedient life in the Dominican Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sint-Truiden until dying at age 74.

There is a rather large subset of saints who are believed to have levitated, including Catherine of Siena and Joseph of Cupertino. Even St Francis of Assisi was recorded as being suspended above the earth. From another tradition, a Hindu yogi was credited with levitation abilities.§

Yet, when we have come as close to achieving flight as we are humanly able, our fascination, like that of Daedalus, is often balanced by a fear and trepidation. That same freedom that seemed to be gained by hang-gliding, para-sailing, or aeroplaning, awakens deep fears and fills us with uncertainty, especially when the flying machine is at the mercy of the weather. While people have varying degrees of comfort in air travel and with the devices used for it, it seems to us that everyone, at some deep level, wants to fly.

Thankfully, we will remain right here, accessible from the comfort and security of your computer.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

1 June 2014

* Isaiah 40:31; Revelation 14:6
† Daedulus, looking back at Icarus in Ovid's Metamorphoses 8.183-235, trans. Rolfe Humphries
§ For a slightly quirky article with more information about, and a more complete of saints and levitation, visit Flying Saints or read the Wikipedia article.


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