I can’t seem to forget that day.
Friday 8th of November 2013.
It was just another day, another flight. That evening I boarded QF460 from Melbourne to Sydney however that flight quickly turned into a nightmare, not just for me but for all passengers.
Extreme turbulence hurled luggage, laptops and a guide dog around the cabin. The pilots declared a fuel emergency and diverted to the Williamstown RAAF base. The plane tried to land but violent turbulence slammed into the aircraft. I can honestly say I thought I was living the final moments of my life. Eventually, after a great deal of panic and long delays the plane finally landed safely.
I didn’t make it home until 3am that night, but I seemed to be surprisingly composed at the end of what had been a long and treacherous day. However come Monday the whole experience hit home, and boy did it hit hard. In the few days that passed my anxiety started to grow. What surprised me the most, was that it wasn’t the next flight that I was worried about, rather I could not shake a nagging question…
What was my final prayer?
Did I even pray?
I fretted over the kind of prayer that I called upon in what seemed to be my final minutes. I couldn’t help but try to remember and critically analyse my last thoughts.
What hurt me the most in the wake of this traumatic experience was that I could not pray. I tried all the prayers that I learnt from my childhood. Nothing worked. I had no peace. You see when I have dreamt of my last minutes my imagination takes me towards a peaceful and prayful death, where I would feel complete intimacy with God.
I spent weeks in agony. The tears flowed, the anxiety grew and the questions continued to eat deeper. I could not believe that in the face of death I could not feel God’s presence.
I felt abandoned. I felt forsaken. I was in a bad place.
The feeling of being abandoned when you need God the most is torturing. It may only last a short time but it is like being in a desert without water. How many times do we feel that way in our daily lives?
I can’t help but recall the diaries of Mother Teresa that were published ten years after her death; they revealed her long periods of doubt about the existence of God. She spoke of the darkness and abandonment that she felt from God for decades of her life. Yes, Mother Teresa!
This experience made me revisit some false beliefs that had festered in me for years. The most prominent being my obsession to ‘feel’ God. My false belief was and still is, that when I don’t FEEL God is present, it means that he is not with me. How wrong am I. How quickly I forget that God is beyond my feelings. A God that is accessible only to my senses is not a God that is worth worshipping.
St. John of the Cross says that ‘to go to a place where we do not know we must go by a way where we do not know’. To seek God, the ultimate unknown mystery we are unable to do so by using only the vehicle of our senses. They help at the beginning, but as we go deeper in our faith, we must go in unchartered territory without relying solely on our senses. Hence we experience that awful feeling that He is not present, that He has abandoned us.
This is where faith and trust come in regardless of what we feel. Yet how does this translate into the society we live in, where every day we are reminded, go with your feelings.
I want to continue to fly; I have done so twice since that infamous day, hopefully each time with a greater degree of trust. I am sure those false beliefs will come back. But I must trust, and learn from Jesus who called upon his Father with trust on the Cross with the cry ‘My God, My God, why did you abandon me?’ (Ps 22:1), a cry that begins with despair and ends with hope and a prayer for all of us: ‘O Lord, do not be far away!’ (Ps 22:19).
Nehme is a former student of a Marist Primary School in Mount-Lebanon. He grew up in the war and spent a considerable part of his childhood adjusting to the sound of bombs, sometimes taking refuge in a shelter in the basement of his building. He migrated to Australia, studied Commerce at Sydney Uni and later chose to become a Teacher. He enjoys reading; playing and watching sport. He is a St George Dragons supporter and enjoys watching the boring game of Cricket. Nehme has a passion for the Gospel and loves connecting with young people. He is currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Theology and is the National Coordinator for Marist Youth Ministry.