Life Lines – “Volcanic ash”

by Ian Robinson, MajorBut the most remarkable thing happened on the ferry crossing from Belfast to Troon. The sea was calm and when we looked up all we could see was a clear blue sky. There was no sign of the ash—not a speck.

by Ian Robinson, Major

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I was in Northern Ireland for my dad’s funeral, and on the morning of the service I was sitting in the hotel restaurant at breakfast with my younger brother.

“This is a really bad day for you,” I started. “Here it is, your birthday, and we have to go to dad’s funeral service.”

He nodded grimly in agreement.

“Not only that,” I went on relentlessly, “But today is also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.” All the more ironic because we were in Belfast where the Titanic was built.

Again he nodded, even more grimly. Then he looked at me and said, “And now all flights within the U.K. have been canceled!”

I laughed, “That’s a good one!”

“No, I’m serious,” he said. “A volcano in Iceland erupted and is spewing ash all over Britain.”

“Come on,” I said, “Pull the other one.”

Another hotel guest at a nearby table overheard our exchange and interjected, “He’s right. It was on the news this morning. All flights within U.K. airspace have been canceled today.”

“How on earth are we going to get home?” I asked, but we had no answer.

Dad’s funeral went well. It was a good old Army celebration of his promotion to Glory after 88 years of life. Following refreshments at the corps we set about planning our escape back to the mainland. Flying was out of the question—the ash caused all flights to be canceled for several days. In the end we caught a ferry to Scotland then rented a car to drive back to Stansted Airport, where our own car was parked. The return journey, which should have been a 60-minute flight, took 24 hours.

But the most remarkable thing happened on the ferry crossing from Belfast to Troon. The sea was calm and when we looked up all we could see was a clear blue sky. There was no sign of the ash—not a speck. And, of course, not a single aircraft of any shape or size. Irving Berlin once wrote, “Blue skies smiling at me, Nothing but blue skies do I see.” He was right that day.

Strangely, it made me think about sin. Sometimes our sins are very plain to see. We wear them like a badge. When someone gets caught in adultery or with a hand in the till, everyone knows about it. You can’t hide these things. But sometimes our sins are so tiny that no one can see them, not even us. We just go on living with apparent happiness and ease and the outside world thinks we’ve got it all together. People will say, “He’s lucky, he doesn’t have any problems,” or, “Isn’t she the greatest? Such a good person.” And no one can see those tiny specks of sinful ash dangerously floating around in our lives. “Nothing but blue skies do I see.”

When Jesus confronted the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he told them they were like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean (Matt. 23:27). Is that you and me? Are we guilty of parading our religious righteousness for all to see when it’s really just make-believe? Inside, are we phonies, fakes and charlatans? Do we create an image of living constantly under blue skies in some religious utopia when behind closed doors the reality is a life full of ugly sin and wickedness?

Maybe the time is right, at the beginning of 2011, to take a critical look at ourselves. Is there any ash floating around in my life? Something that others cannot see but that is holding me back, grounding me, slowing my spiritual progress? Then maybe we can ask, like David, Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23, 24).

Happy New Year!

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