I love this exchange between Katie Couric and Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River:
Couric: “Did you, at any point, pray?”
Sullenberger: “I would imagine somebody in back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane.”
If you google “Sullenberger pray”, the first link is to atheist blogger Hemant Mehta who suggests it is an “important point” that Sullenberger (whatever his beliefs may be) “didn’t stop to pray”:
He didn’t think about God. He focused on what actions he could take. He eliminated any other “distractions” from his mind, including thoughts about God.
Thats what saved the passengers’ lives.
I’m not entirely sure what Mehta’s point is here. I assume either (a) this suggests Sullenberger is an atheist, and hence that atheists are better in a crisis because they are less distracted by religious concerns; or (b) this shows that people don’t really believe that strongly in God, because at moments of extreme crisis they think of other things rather than God.
However, my reaction to Capt Sullenberger’s words was to reflect on what a great example this is of the doctrine of vocation in action. The doctrine of vocation is one of Luther’s great insights, that overturns the conventional Christian distinction between “secular” and “spiritual” activities, and affirms our everyday tasks and responsibilities as “masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things”.
So it’s not that “praying” is the “spiritual” thing to do, and concentrating on using one’s skills and experience (not to mention one’s personal qualities such as courage and unflappability) to safely land the plane is the “secular” or “unspiritual” thing to do. The most “spiritual” thing that Capt Sullenberger could have done in that situation – the action most in keeping with God’s will, and through which God could work most effectively – was precisely what he did: give no thought to praying, but concentrate on doing his job.
I’ve no idea whether Capt Sullenberger is a Lutheran, any more than I have any idea whether he is an atheist or has any other form of religious faith. But his reply to Katie Couric was very Lutheran.