When I was a boy, people used to say that my head was always in the clouds. Looking skyward, I wondered what was up there. I watched airplanes, birds, clouds, the colors in the sky, and the breezes in the trees. When I heard an airplane or bird, my head turned upward until I spotted it. At night I dreamt about flying.
I would build a big kite out of bamboo and plastic, go to a field after school and test it, write some notes, take it home and rework it, then return the next day to test it again. At some point, I visited the kite store in San Francisco, California, and came away with a kite magazine and a few kites. The kites were fighter kites, now called “single-line maneuverable” kites. They go in the direction they are pointed until you put slack in the line; the nose shifts direction, and you pull on it. Off it goes in that new direction. “Wow! This is cool!” I thought. I began building my own. That’s about the time I discovered the American Kitefliers Association (AKA), a national kite organization full of grown people flying kites!
Kite flying has almost always taken my worries away. Once that kite leaves my hands, my worries go with it. I think it is tied to mindfulness. Many people who have hobbies or meditative activities feel stress and worries drift away, once they begin. Their stress is replaced with a sense of joy, and that joy goes with them when they leave the kite field to continue their lives.
A Quaker friend once told me that he felt that my soul was somehow tied to the great beyond, to that outer limit. At one of the Friends General Conference Gatherings in Blacksburg, Virginia, co-clerk Peggy Spohr suggested that I consider presenting a kite workshop for FGC. I started with my yearly meeting, then signed up to present at the Gathering. This past summer, I conducted my third FGC Gathering workshop.
One reason kite making fits in so well with FGC is the joy that is expressed while making kites and flying them. There are so many metaphors relating kites and flying them to the Spirit and our relationship to the Divine. Even the Hebrew word for spirit is the same as the word for wind: ruack (pronounced “roo’-akh”).
We make about four kites in our five-day Gathering workshop. The first is always an Eddy bow kite, the more stable version of the diamond kite. Then we decorate the kite before going out, where we tie the kites together and fly them cooperatively. This brings up all sorts of discussion about working together and how we need each other to “fly high.” I am reminded of the Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus. Not only were they escaping prison, but I can’t help but think that they were flying toward God as they flew higher and higher. But they needed each other, and had Icarus stayed closer to his dad, they would have made it. Recall, Icarus flew too close to the sun; the wax holding his feathered wings together melted, and he plunged to his death.
We also learn how to tie several knots in the first part of the week. (This, of course, also has metaphors in life.) By learning these early in the week, we can use them throughout the week while making the other kites. We have made delta kites, indoor “floaters” made from dry cleaner bags, Rokkaku kites (Japanese hexagonal kites), box kites, and fighter kites. Typically I design my workshops so that the kites we make can be flown indoors or in very light winds, because we are usually around buildings and trees which create turbulent conditions. Our kites can be flown indoors by simply walking backward, but they can later be rebuilt with heavier sticks to fly in stronger winds when the participants get home. Also I design the kites to be dismantled so they can be safely taken home. And there is usually time to decorate the kites using permanent colored markers or acrylic paints. We always try to make time to fly them as well.
The final days of the workshop are spent building what I call the “mystery kite.” I don’t tell the workshop participants ahead of time what that kite will be, as a way to add some suspense. Really! It depends on what people want to build, in addition to what kites are more suited to that year’s participants. I always bring enough supplies to build six or seven types of kites. This gives me leeway to change throughout the week. The mystery kite tends to be more complicated, requiring skills acquired by learning throughout the week. Having a mystery kite is not unlike our life in the Spirit: oftentimes surprising; always mysterious; and, if we approach with an open mind, joyous.
What do people mean when they tell you to go fly a kite? Typically it means to get lost, go away, or leave them alone. But I find it to be a welcome invitation. Kite flying is about being joyful and loving, fun-loving and conscientious. In flying kites, like in our spiritual journeys, we must have hope, faith, and love.