Astronaut's Faith

High Flight

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

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.

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Upon returning to earth as the first human to orbit it, Yuri Gagarin was quoted as saying that he saw “no evidence of God or angels while in space”. Given the fact that he was reared in an atheistic society, that’s hardly surprising. It might interest contributors to this Forum to comment on the contrast with excerpts from Magee’s poem cited in memory of the U.S. astronauts lost in the Challenger disaster.

I have experienced neither space flight nor the thrill of aerobatics described in the poem above, but, perched out on the brink of Half Dome or Glacier Point or the Upper Yosemite Falls, I could relate to the two lines: “I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace/Where never lark or even eagle flew” –-except I could look *down" on the eagle’s flight. (A highlight in my historical novel featuring Yosemite.)

Magee’s words have a slightly different connotation for me as I proceed in my 96th year of life’s journey. Soon I will ‘slip the bonds of earth’, but for me they were anything but “surly”. I have been priveledged to enjoy and appreciate so many of the wonders God created on planet earth, and fortunate to enjoy 70 years of companionship with a woman in whom I could always see the Image of God.

So…leaving this earth is not something to regret. Rather it becomes the opportunity to “touch the Face of God”.

Stay well and safe,
Al Leo


Al, it’s a pleasure to hear the joy and gratitude with which you encounter God. Your sense of wonder is an inspiration.

God bless,

Dear Al, My heart lifted as I read the poem, and then your testimony. It sounds like you have known how to live - I attempt the same. Bless you.


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