On the Beam

On the Beam

J. Boyd Nicholson

Twenty thousand feet of cloud lay between them and terra firma.

The moon shone its white luminescence on the whipped creamy toppings of cumulus that spread below. It was breathtakingly beautiful! At least, beautiful from the top looking down, but from underneath it was bleak. Scudding rain threw its wetness over everything. The merciless jagged peaks of the mountains pierced their way upwards and hid their treachery within the folds of those same innocent looking clouds, their sharp teeth bared for destruction.

Then came the calculated time to begin the descent. Somehow that night, the young pilot felt a strange tightness in his throat as he eased back on the four throttles. Afraid? Well no, he wouldn’t admit that. Perhaps there was a better word. Whatever it was called, he had it; a strange feeling that there was something not just right … Perhaps this was it … the overcast, the granite peaks, thirty tons of aeroplane, and flesh and blood; young flesh and blood, too young to die. Johnny, up front must have lied about his age, he was just eighteen now. Tom the navigator, had turned twenty, the other crew members were as young, and the pilot was just old enough to get the key to the house.

They plunged into the cloud, and as the white mist enveloped everything and the flashing of the exhaust flames glowed eerily in the semidarkness, the pilot realized his hands were too tight on the controls, and clammy.

The wireless operator came up with a weather report from base, “Cloud base 300 feet … “ Not much room, thought the pilot and reaching forward flicked a switch. Crackling through his earphones he heard music, sweet music. No, not an orchestra exactly, for no violin could sound so sweet, no organ so melodious as the sound that young aviator heard. It was just a plaintive, hesitant monotone, “daaah-dit … daaah-dit … daaah-dit,” it went, never changing. Oh, how sweet it sounded that night! It was “the beam”, a signal sent out from base to guide the aircraft home without sight.

The beam was only two degrees wide, the signal to one side of that narrow beam sounded, “daaah-dit … daaah-dit… daah-dit,” and on the other side it sang, “dit-daaah … dit-daaah … dit-daaah.” Only down the centre of that narrow path in the clouds did the signal merge and become one clear solid note … “daaaaaah”. The moment the plane began to wander off the beam it entered a twilight zone where underneath the solid note the broken signal could be detected. At once the pilot would adjust his course to bring himself back “on the beam.”

Ever flown “blind” in your Christian experience? Ever been afraid? The writer has, and many others of God’s people have too. Then, when it seemed as though the mists of uncertainty must completely envelop the soul, there came the beam … “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

When, above the interference of other voices, another Voice is heard, faintly, perhaps at first, but as we discern it, sending out its signal from the pages of Holy Writ, we adjust our lives to bring them “on course,” and the indications become clearer and the course obvious.

Should we, because of the winds of opposition or adversity, begin to leave the appointed path, if our ear is attuned, we shall soon catch the gentle undertone of the broken signal, our peace of mind will be disturbed and we shall know again that adjustments must be made to keep “on the beam.”

It is a narrow beam, only two degrees wide. That is, one mile wide sixty miles from home and gradually narrowing until at last the main marker tells us we have arrived.

In the Christian life, it seems, if we are excercised to stay “on course” at all, we are called to a closer adherence to the things eternal as we travel on.

One of the problems a pilot had in those days when he switched on the beam, was to discover whether he was flying towards or away from the main marker. He found this out by “measuring the beam.” He would cross the beam and measure the time it took to fly through it. Then he would fly parallel to the beam, and after a time recross measuring the time again. This way he found out whether it was wider or narrower, and could thus tell which direction was right.

It is a good thing to “measure the beam” now and again. Is it wider or narrower? Do we allow things in our lives today that would have brought conviction a few years ago? Let writer and reader alike measure our lives now and again by the insistent signal out of the Word. If we do, it may indicate to us whether we are getting closer to the mark or farther away. Do not, however, confuse a narrow walk with a narrow mind. A narrow walk is circumscribed by the bounds of propriety, whereas a narrow mind is a wrinkled, withered up thing, bound by the littleness of its own pygmy outlook.

Sometimes the direction of the beam seemed contrary to reason and intelligence; not what was expected. If the flight was to be safe, then the beam had to be believed and obeyed, even against feelings.

The storm may lash the traveller, the winds may be adverse blowing him far off course, but the beam never moves. It sends out its signal, steadily, day and night, and all the puzzled soul has to do is tune in and it is there.

Sometimes, of course, we may pick up no clear signal right away. All we can do then is to travel quietly on, but all the time keep in touch and soonor or later, be it weeks or even months in the Christian’s life, depend upon it, the signal will come and we will know by its quiet insistence,

“This is the way …”
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love,
Here’s my heart, Lord,
Take and seal it,

* * *

“Who can believe that the man lives by faith who lives without prayer which is the natural expression of faith? Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life. To say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every whit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a man lives without breathing.” —Edwards