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.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
It was as a part of a poetry unit that I first read this poem with a classroom of fifth graders. The memory of our conversation, however, comes back in gratitude and wonder as I read the readings for today’s Feast of the Ascension.
We’d watched YouTube clips of how network television would close out the day’s broadcasting by showing a jet soaring in the sky while a voice-over read Canadian RAF pilot John Magee’s words. We looked at the verbs, the descriptions, picked favorites…spoke of some of the hundred things we’d done that we had not dreamed of… The kids LOVED his use of language and the imagery worked equally with boys and girls.
Then, in a moment of educational fervor, I quoted the last two lines and asked a room full of ten/eleven year olds— How many of you have done that? How many of you have put out your hand and touched the face of God??
The hand of nearly every kid was raised. And we spent the rest of class telling those stories… Many of them were moments of beholding natural beauty, some were feelings of “just-right-ness” like running across the soccer field and royally whacking the ball…
It makes me well-up still, remembering that conversation with them. I thought…You are ten. You are eleven… and you walk around with experiences you consider to be “reaching out and touching the face of God.” You believe not only that it is possible to touch God’s face, but that you have partaken of the possibility. We are not so removed from that glory…Oh, please remember that you know that.
I bring their faces to light in my memory again this morning and a multitude of others are in the crowd surrounding them…the faces of so many students I have taught and the faculties of schools where I have been; the regulars on each corner of Spring Garden Road; those people who get “the lonelies”; those in hospital with no one to visit them; shopkeepers; the children who have known only war; the women and men who have had no choice; poets, scientists, dreamers…they are all in my heart. I bring to mind their faces and want to add… Especially in this world of ours….As Frederick Buechner wrote: ~Here is the world. Beautiful and Terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.~ Reach out and touch the face of God.
~Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.~
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I love this poem and the way children identify with it. What a wonderful question for the end of each day – where did I reach out and touch the face of God?