Menu of Meditations

The Model Plane

When I was a child, I loved to build model planes. It was during World War II and I knew every type of combat aircraft being flown, friend and foe. I remember receiving a Lockheed P-38 kit one Christmas. It was enormous; the photo on the box clearly showed the four-foot wingspan of the finished airplane. Inside were all the parts necessary to build this beautiful model, as well as detailed plans. The plans! I could spend hours studying the drawings-the cut-away views, the full-size fuselage layouts-dreaming of holding the completed model in my hands.

I built dozens of models on the ping-pong table in our basement during those years: a Japaneze Zero which I set on fire and flew off the garage roof, pretending I had shot it down; a Curtiss Jenny with a joystick which actually moved the control surfaces; a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with four propellers, each powered by its own rubber band. Each new kit was an adventure to be savored, to be dreamed about, a challenge to be overcome, and a frustration to be endured. Because the finished product was never as beautiful as it had been in my imagination.

When I was thirty, I learned to fly. I flew a Piper Tri-Pacer, a Cessna 170 tail-dragger, and a Cessna 172 tricycle-gear with a rear window. Without a doubt, taking off and landing solo are the most exciting things I have ever done. There is nothing to compare with the thrill, the beauty, the absolute freedom of flying. I think it was Richard Bach who said that God does not deduct from a person's allotted lifespan the hours he spends in the air. You can't fly very long without becoming a visionary, a mystic, a more spiritual person.

Religion is a theological kit which contains a model of true spirituality. It comes in a box containing all the pieces necessary to assemble a particular worldview. Included are detailed instructions on how to, and how not to, put those various pieces together. But those directions limit it; it can produce only one very narrow viewpoint. Just as you can't make a B-24 out of a Jenny kit, neither can you fit certain spiritual experiences into a religion which has been drawn up specifically to exclude them.

True spirituality is as free and wide as the sky. It knows no limitations, it realizes that God is capable of everything, it remembers that Jesus said he has much more to tell us. In short, it is eager to discover as much as possible about creation, about the plan of God.

Why would anyone want to build models of the spiritual world in the basement of their life when God has given us the whole of creation to embrace? Don't get me wrong. Model-building is not a bad hobby, but its very existence points to a much larger reality. Only a child would claim that a model Spitfire is the ultimate expression of that idea.

The difference between the model and the real thing is simple: the model is fragile and tiny; it cannot contain our body or our soul. The real thing, by contrast, is capable of bearing us aloft, helping us transcend our earthly limitations. Model-building teaches children certain creative skills. But some of us never forsake the box, never go outside and look wonderingly at the sky. We are afraid, afraid of the unknown, afraid of adventure, afraid of losing control. We are afraid of God.

Life presents us with a choice between fear and love, between the model and the real thing.

Posted Nov. 15th, 2003

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2003