As I gazed out the window with the sun starting to brighten the sky this morning, I noticed the sky full of contrails from aircraft passing overhead. Contrails are those cloudish trails that sometimes mark the path of high flying aircraft. They happen so much we don’t even notice them, but those paths are still there all the time, a lot like “invisible ink” painted by the aircraft, made visible to the naked eye only under particular weather conditions.
Interesting to note they didn’t exist until the 1920s, as they are created by the exhaust of aircraft at high altitudes—which of course weren’t flying that high until then. To those whose interest is piqued by odd things (guilty!), they are fascinating enough just to the naked eye. Without even thinking about it, my mind started guessing at the routes and destinations of the flights causing those contrails this morning, wondering about the lives of those who left those marks behind. But throw a little science in the mix, and spiritual insight becomes as plain as the dawning day.
Contrails form when the exhaust of high flying aircraft, dust particles and water in the air, all come together under certain weather conditions to form a path of ice crystals hanging in the sky. Sometimes these paths of aircraft become visible for many miles around, but most of the time those paths are invisible, despite the aircraft still following the same routes. And of course the conditions making them visible “just happen,” they’re not something the pilot has any control over.
Has the insight hit you yet? Whether on the trail from Easter as we are now, to Easter, or whenever we start straying far afield, we leave our own form of contrails that sometimes becomes visible, while other times no one will ever see the trail we follow. So what trail are we are leaving that at times can be seen for miles around? And is that trail one God would be happy to show off, or one that could lead others astray?
Quite the irony that I had just been reading in a church leadership blog along the same theme as I had just been talking with my son in the past few days about church dynamics. His church is a bit of an oddity these days– it is enviously FULL of young adults and families. Asked I, What about churches attract, and what chases off younger folk from any given church?
In his observations and a young adult insider, it comes down to the trail– the spiritual contrails you might say—that church folk leave behind. Both he and the blogger’s research I follow agree—it usually comes down to attitude, and how attitudes are expressed. Hypocrisy, acting or sounding too “religious,” and a “holier than thou,” judgmental arrogance church folk sometimes express are all key facets of what chases young folk away. And relevance—why waste my time on something that is irrelevant to the rest of life?
The contrails of aircraft–and our spiritual contrails as churchy folk– are only visible sometimes under certain conditions, but those conditions could happen at any time. So how do we make sure our spiritual contrails point in the right direction when they ARE visible? Perhaps by practicing the presence of God, as the book study Karol is leading right now suggests.
That’s probably easier said than done. But next time you see contrails in the sky, make it a reminder that the trail WE leave behind, is also one often visible for mile around—so make sure the trail you are leaving is one you would hope others can embrace and follow too. That’s what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus!
On the trail with Jesus—Rev. Jim