You know how some airline conversations skip the introductions and you dive right in without even knowing the other person’s name? And then suddenly you’re landing…
The guy in seat B3 served in the Vietnam War and reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones. He’d been a U.S. Marine Corps commander in charge of a lot of soldiers during combat. They were “his boys” and he was fierce about keeping them safe. For two years he lived on two hours of sleep every night, only shutting his eyes at the break of dawn. Even then he said images of combat disturbed his rest.
The memories linger today. He returned home, war-wounded, but alive.
Regardless of any particular political view of wartime, I came away from that flight with a renewed appreciation for our veterans, especially on this Memorial Day.
After a little online digging, I discovered Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The day was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Nearly 100 years later Congress included it in the National Holiday Act of 1971.
My conversation with “B3″ (we didn’t exchange names until the end of the flight) went beyond war and stretched into prayer and our view of God. Nothing like armed combat to either strengthen or test your faith. B3 keeps a regular appointment with God. Doesn’t matter where it takes place, he says, as long as “they talk.”
This got me thinking more about prayer practices.
War strips you of buildings, steeples, and formalities; there’s no Sunday dress or choir or pulpit. Unless there’s a military chaplain, the sermon is strictly between you and God. My airplane companion knew he didn’t need a building or a pastor to reach God. I agreed with him.
In wartime, prayer is about vigilance and protection–watching for the unseen and asking for the opposite of war: life, not death.
That prayer can extend to peaceful times as well. We can each watch for whatever would try to rob us of a present, good, healthy life (including diagnoses of disease or addiction) and protect ourselves from these invaders even if we’re convinced we won’t come out alive.
Prayer is a powerful protection because it affirms God’s presence in our lives and denies the presence of evil. It acknowledges good right where it appears to be lacking, just as the Psalmist, David (himself a warrior) affirmed for generations to follow:
…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. -Psalms 23
Who are you thinking about on Memorial Day?