Sitting in Atlanta airport and waiting for a plane I am always amazed and disturbed at flight. We climb into these metal cans with wings and belt ourselves in. Then it roars and shudders into flight, and after all these years and all these flights I still grasp the arm rest and clutch my rosary and smile. Below the earth recedes and we are for an hour above the earth and through the clouds to the heavens above.
To earthbound mortals the heavens are empty air, but I am always caught up in C.S.Lewis’ vision in Out of the Silent Planet in which the hero Ransom travels through the heavens and does not perceive it as ’empty space’ but as a place that is burgeoning with life and power and grace and goodness. It is earth that, in comparison, is a dead rock hurtling through space with bits of transplanted physical life clinging to it for dear life. The heavens are thronged with angels and spiritual beings far greater for their invisibility than all the physical realm below.
In that book C.S.Lewis suggests that the reasons angels seem to us to be ethereal and ‘unreal’ is not because they are unreal, but because we are. The angels are not less real than we are, but more real. It is simply a matter of perceptions and expectations. He explains that if we were looking at a wall of fog and we assumed that the fog was solid and substantial, and if a man were to step through the fog and come to us, that we would assume that the man was insubstantial and ethereal and ‘ghostly’. In fact, the reverse is true. It is the fog that is insubstantial and the man solid. That’s why he could move through it with ease.
So, he suggests, the angelic beings (and the resurrected Lord) were able to move through walls and doors and things that to us seem solid and material and physical–because the spiritual beings are more solid and substantial than all we think so solid and physical. And what is matter anyway, but a collection of particles held together with energy? Is this table so solid? Is this chair so solid? I am glad they seem solid, but those who know physics better than I do might suggest that given the right conditions, we would be able to see just how ephemeral all the physical world really is.
This being the case (as I believe it is) then let us invest in the spiritual realm for it is not less real than this world, but more real. And this is what I sometimes feel as I stand at the altar and celebrate Mass–that at times the paten and the host–usually so lightweight–feel heavy. They are hard to lift, and the chalice with the precious blood, and the monstrance at Benediction–these are heavy and substantial things–for they are the containers of Christ the Lord–present in a greater reality than any of us can very often perceive.
So as I finish my beer and leave this little Wi Fi hotspot to board my flight, it will be with thought of the angels who are there–closer than I think and always ready to accompany me in a life that seems to lived in a realm of physicality on this earth, but which already (by God’s grace) has one foot in heaven.