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Hot Air Balloons and the Posture of Hope

January 22, 2024

Amy Lee

Cultivating the Kingdom in Our Midst is a column that invites readers to look for “eye-level” signposts of God at work: shots of beauty that accost us during ordinary hours, scenes of “low art” that unexpectedly make us cry, details right in front of our faces that awaken us to the mercy that bears us up day after day. We’ll explore the underlying truths that are often first signaled by our tender silence or our wondering tears, the better to see the evidence of Christ’s present and approaching reign all around us.

When I drive, I take on a concave position. The headrest tilts my head slightly downward; my elbows rest below my wrists, and my feet extend forward more than they would at a desk or table. On this September morning in 2016, I am on the interstate heading to an early coffee date and, inwardly, buckling further in half. 

Everything I once counted on to run smoothly in my daily life has gone haywire in the past three months, after a long-held burden of fear and anxiety exploded in the form of several panic attacks. Sitting still without disrupting my parasympathetic nervous system, avoiding triggers as I weigh what to read or watch, and walking a few steps on numb feet into another room all require conscious attention. These days I am capable of making meals and writing short pieces once again, but in the noiseless intervals between activities, I feel the weight of my own frailty, of the care I must take to help keep my mind from shattering again — even when that care primarily comes in the form of dependent prayers. If souls have postures, mine is perpetually downcast; wherever I go, there is very little oxygen left to feed any sense of hope in the tenuous air I breathe. 

Still, my car is a fairly soundproof studio as it rolls along the road, and that makes it a good place to spend some of that oxygen in music. Rend Collective’s As Family We Go album is playing, as it has on multiple trips in the past few months. I’ve been listening to it mainly for the sake of “Every Giant Will Fall,” “Your Royal Blood,” and “Coming Home”; each line in these songs has brought a direct shot of comfort to these days so besieged by fear. They’ve given me words to sing when I have nothing but the song to give to my Lord. If I cannot hold steadily to old truths in the core of my being right now, maybe I can sing them, and push against the chokehold in my soul by filling my lungs to carry a tune. 

The band plays, the singers sing; I harmonize, I break off. The sky is a just-born blue that promises to deepen, but its light is yet too thin to carry warmth. The dry skin on my fingers rasps like drum brushes against the steering wheel. A lump in my throat seems to be connected to a tiredness I feel in my shoulders, where the muscles are constantly contracting these days, and soon I leave the rest of the song to the professionals.

It takes energy to sing that nothing is impossible with God — that there will be an end to the tightrope of mental struggle — when none of my senses says that it is coming. 

And so the next song starts: a quiet verse, for which I’m thankful. Its lines invite me to consider the One who holds all things in His hand: Maker of the light-riddled universe, Artist who molded man from dust, Pursuer of His people. When the chorus comes I join in, still feeling small, my wan spirit borrowing the proclamation and standing upon the steadiness in Chris Llewellyn’s voice to try to catch a glimpse of the glory of God. Meanwhile my concave body leans back, releasing some of its tension in a slack acknowledgment of my own helplessness. 

The chorus comes around again, attended by a double-thrum that calls to mind a cardiac beat. But this time, in the last line, the music picks up in intensity. The drums give the impression of an accelerating pulse, as if the song itself is beginning to absorb the momentum of the truths it has carried in its verses. I know what is coming: a musical stretch of exhilaration, filled with the contagious exuberance that Rend Collective brings to so many of its songs. 

At this exact moment, I turn on a bend on the highway. 

In the center of my field of vision, with cars speeding back and forth beneath, a cluster of hot air balloons floats suspended above the skyline: orbs of bright color against the pristine blue, imperceptible in their movement but breathtaking in their scattered arrangement. The difference in their sizes from my vantage point reveals just how deep and wide the sky is. 

Their sudden appearance is a three-pronged shot through the heart.

The serenity, the vividness, and the sheer height of these vessels stun me so thoroughly that for a second it seems I am in the presence of utterly impossible things, of beauty so unexpected that I am jolted out of my caved-in recesses of thought. 

“We will watch the Bridegroom come,” the song declares then, as if it has been choreographed to match the scene unfolding above my head, “and heaven breaking like the dawn.” The surety of this statement comes as another blow of near-unbearable glory. All I can do is nod. 

Tears are pooling along the bottom rim of my sight; I have to stay focused on the road, but my eyes take in as much of the sky as they can for as long as possible. The posture of my body is still as exhaustion has left it, an open curve of relinquishment, but my face is tilted upward now — only the slightest shift in angle, but one that signals a seismic change from emptiness to expectation. Somehow He has met me here. The return of the Lord will happen like this startling display, impossible to miss (Luke 17:24); we who await Him will see Him arrive in the same way that we saw Him go (Acts 1:11). We shall not reach Him by effort or by offering; as He has since the beginning of time, He will come to us. This beleaguered mind, this weary heart, this downcast soul, this addled body: they will not always be so weighed down. Someday they will dance.  

This is the posture I will remember seven years in the future, when I consider how I would respond if asked to give a “reason for the hope that is in [me]” (I Pet. 3:15, ESV). All the hope I hold stems from the forfeiture of my life — and the redemption of it by Christ. That day was not the first time I knew this truth, but I remember vividly how it felt to sit bowed and hollowed out, to witness the wonder of grace gently raising my head. Receiving surprise reminders of His fathomless love time and time again have strengthened that posture in me, and I think of this today, gladdened to know that my stance of hope is an accomplishment of the Spirit, and not my own. For this is a hope kept and guarded by the willing Bridegroom of a broken people, a Shepherd with particular watchfulness for the weary and heavyhearted — a King who, when all of the way forward and backward looks bleak, nevertheless finds a way to tip the chin of His Beloved upward. 

The featured image, “Kenyan Sunrise,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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