A blanket of clouds below contrasts with the reddish orange horizon and setting sun. At 30,000 feet, en route to Kansas City to play piano for a close friend’s wedding, I am disconnected from the world as it is accessed through my “device.” Would I have noticed the beauty of the setting sun had I not been in airplane mode?
A few moments earlier the flight attendant said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have closed the door for departure. We do ask, at this time, that you stow all large electronics, and switch your handheld devices to airplane mode.” I complied. I often see people who don’t.
Why don’t flight attendants say, “Choose beauty by switching your device to airplane mode?” While making the switch marks the time when we can neither send nor receive messages, why not take the opportunity to engage with what was the norm for most of human history? Why not take the opportunity to open ourselves to beauty?
Beauty is like airplane mode in two ways: it is quiet and (to paraphrase a Brad Paisley song) it helps us “get where we are going.”
Hearing Better: A Gentle Whisper
I love to travel because of the relief from the constant tug of my phone to reach out and refresh. For a second, I admit, it is disconcerting. The fear of missing out, even for a few hours, looms and lurks. However, just like jumping into a pool of cold water, the shock subsides and gives way to invigoration.
In Kings 19:11-13 we read, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart, and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
How can we hear the gentle whisper when we are inundated with a flood of constant information? The din destroys our peace, disturbing the still water of our souls with stormy waves. Airplane mode dials down the volume of the wind, earthquakes, and fires in our lives. So does beauty.
In moments of beauty, our souls are calmed and quieted. When we encounter the beauty of nature, art, or relationship, the Master in our boat — the boat of our heart — has been awakened. He calms the storm because the waves obey Him.
Beauty is like airplane mode because it lets us hear His whisper.
Seeing Better: A One-Way Ticket
When we fly, we arrive in a different place than where we began. That’s the point—to get somewhere. Beauty does not physically transport us, but it is still a one-way trip. Think of it. Can you ever undo the influence beauty has on you? Can you undo the way it stirs your heart? The way it stops you in your tracks? The way it clears your vision and envisions your desires? Whether subtly or significantly, beauty always changes us. It leaves us newer, different, and more refreshed than we were in the moment before the encounter.
In a way, beauty restores the panoramic vision our phones have robbed. On any sidewalk, we will encounter many people with tunnel vision, engrossed in the phone screens inches from their faces, oblivious to everything else. Suppose a person’s phone battery dies. Instantly the person’s vision will expand and encompass the people and surroundings they were ignoring just a second prior. Metaphorically, beauty, too, kills the battery on those things in life that keep our heads down, buried in the sand of our screens. Beauty helps us to look up, look out, and look into the eyes of the people and world around us.
Beauty is like airplane mode because it moves us from a moment of tunnel vision to seeing more fully, more broadly.
Beyond the catchy comparison, why does it matter that beauty is like airplane mode?
Think of your time in flight. Your vantage point changes. Your view becomes broader and farther as the plane ascends. Beauty, too, gives you a new and higher perspective, one with more breadth and depth. Both instances empower you to step back reflectively so you can step forward more renewed.
In this way, airplane mode and encounters with beauty are a retreat, a temporary withdrawal from the world in order to return and reengage with a new perspective.
Think of music. One of my mentors spoke of Anthony, a Franciscan priest and musician who reflected on the importance of the rest within music. Without it, we have noise. Music — its beauty — is made possible by the silence of rest. Melody is magnified by the momentary silence.
In the melody of our lives, we need these rests. We know we do. Thankfully we don’t have to board a plane to engage airplane mode in order to rest. Moments of beauty are moments of rest in the cacophony of life.
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