Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Magee was 19 when he wrote this sonnet, just a few months before he died. He was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. During his training, Magee flew up to 33,000 feet, and shortly after landing he wrote “High Flight.” This poem is a favorite among pilots and astronauts, it’s the official poem of the RCAF and the RAF, and cadets at the US Air Force Academy are required to memorize and recite it. That’s quite a legacy for a mere teenager.
I believe that John Magee, Jr. did touch the face of God. He flew across the heavens and experienced the unbearable majesty and glory of God in a way that only a few in the whole of humanity ever have. That encounter marked him indelibly and he gave voice to it as best he could. I can’t think of a better destiny than one that stands as a testament to the vast and glorious expanse of God.
It reminded me of another teenager whose words I’ve read.
“The Perfect Revelation of the Lord”
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4 NKJV
Written by David
According to Dr. Jack Hyles, David wrote this Psalm when he was out in his father’s fields, watching over the flocks of sheep. There in the lonely, dirty work of a shepherd, David’s spirit nonetheless managed to “slip the surly bonds of Earth” to take in “The Perfect Revelation of the Lord” (as the Psalm is so-named) and experience the heavens as the ever-present declaration of His glory.
I always seem to forget that the Sovereignty of God is inextricably connected to that indefinable “otherness” of Him. Glory and majesty are just the paltry words we use to convey the indescribable experience of meeting Him. There’s no going back once you’ve met God as GOD.
I met God as Love, and my spirit awoke. I met God as Grace, and my heart was touched. I met God as Light, and my eyes were opened. I met God as Hope, and my mind wondered. But when I met God as GOD – Sovereign, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Infinite – my life was over. I died. I could no longer live as I’d lived. I could no longer think as I’d thought. I could no longer BE as I’d been.
And that’s when God saved me.
I’ve never flown in silent, solitary wonder across “the face of God” as John Magee did. And I’ve never sat in the deep stillness of ancient night under a canopy of blazing starlight like David did. But I know what it is to break free from the clinging tentacles of torment and drudgery and soar into the great Unknown. I’ve known the weightless bliss of being completely unafraid, and I’ve watched the horizons of my little life stretch farther than I ever dreamed.
There is a very real and daily struggle with the Sovereignty of God, and it can be messy and painful. But that’s not all there is, and it’s needful to remember that. “The heavens declare the glory of God” and they are a constant reminder that the earthbound responsibilities are balanced with the shocking beauty and soul-shattering wonder of our Eternal Father. In the bliss of God’s Mystery, I can see why Paul said,
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 HCSB