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From the Dean

The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler

I’ll Fly Away

When I was a child, the old country-bluegrass-whatever song, “I’ll Fly Away” was a regular on our family’s song list. When we gathered with our guitars and banjos, and occasionally with my rather out-of-place piano, we almost always sang it:

Some glad morning, when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away,
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.

Later, when we began to examine the actual religious message of songs, some of us questioned the song’s theological intent. Is it really our goal, in this life, just to get away from it? Is our dream simply to leave this world? Shouldn’t we rather be working to serve the world we live in, rather than wishing to get to heaven? Shouldn’t we want to engage and not escape? Yes, we declared, “thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven!”

But I learned later that the song’s author, Albert E. Brumley, was, indeed, stuck in an occupation that he wanted to flee from. He was picking cotton on his family’s land in Oklahoma. He said he was dreaming one day of an earlier song about getting out of prison. (See “The Prisoner’s Song,” and its line, “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.”)

Okay, well, I get that. Yes, there are plights in our human life from which we long to escape. Maybe it is the type of work we are in. (Brumley was not an African-American slave.) Maybe it is some prison that we are bound to, whether through our own fault or not. Or maybe it is just a psychological stuckness, a bondage, that we want to flee from. It certainly does make sense to long to be set free from those types of prisons.

A few days ago, I was listening to the morning prayer lectionary as I took my morning walk. When you see me walking around the Cathedral on early mornings. I am almost always listening to the day’s lectionary readings in my ear pods. That day, a Saturday, Psalm 55 was the lesson:

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness. (Psalm 55:4-7)

Once again, the psalmist expresses our deepest psychological challenges even as the psalm expresses spiritual truth. There are times when our spirit reminds us that we are not supposed to be in a particular situation. It is not mere escapism that we long for. (One of our society’s most severe illnesses, it seems to me, is that there are so many people who want to be somewhere different from where they are!)

What we long for is a celestial shore, a place where heaven is! But that place can be here, on earth. That place can even look like a wilderness (Psalm 55:7). Ultimately, it is good to long for that place, both physical and spiritual, where we can know holiness, where we can know God. In God, our spirit can be free to know holiness even in the same physical place we once tried to flee. So, take a break right where you are one day. Say a prayer. Take a walk. Sing a song with your family. Your spirit might indeed fly away, to a celestial shore that has been near you all the time.

The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip

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the Dean’s Forum Podcasts

The Very Rev. Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral, leads the Forum from September through May, including special guest speakers, current topics, and striking conversations. There is always something for everyone. The Forum meets in Child Hall at 10:10 a.m. on most Sundays.

The Episcopal Church: Where We Came From and Who We Are (Part 2)


The Episcopal Church: Where We Came From and Who We Are


Jesus and the Devil: A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine


Canon Lauren Holder: Credo


Annual Parish Meeting


Is Jesus the Only Way? Part 1 (January 13, 2013)


More Podcasts

Good Faith and the Common Good

Occasional offerings from Sam Candler on issues of faith, church, and the world.

General Convention Reflection: Offering and Letting Go

By Dean Sam Candler
It’s hard to get 880 strong-willed and highly-qualified deputies to agree on the precise statements of our Church on sensitive issues. But I took that challenge as my role during this past 2018 General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I was asked by Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, to chair a Special Legislative Committee this year, not one of the regular committees, which would consider any resolutions having to do with revising, or with revisions to, the Book of Common Prayer. I was honored to accept the invitation!
All sorts of proposed resolutions came to our committee, and all sorts of committed Christians came to testify in our open hearings. We prayed. We listened to people. We honored people. The range of issues came down to two: 1) Whether and how we might engage the process of Prayer Book and liturgical revision, and 2) whether and how we might allow same-gender couples to be married sacramentally in their...

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