Stairway to Heaven

Published 4:50 pm Sunday, February 13, 2022

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Some dormitories at Virginia Tech are grouped in quads: four buildings in a square with a grassy area in the center. That grassy area was a place to hang out when the weather was warm. Windows were often open and at least one dorm window would have music blasting. Often, you would hear this:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…

“Stairway to Heaven” originated in 1970 when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time at a cottage in Wales. Page kept a cassette recorder around, and the idea came together from bits of taped music. Jimmy Page strummed the chords, and Robert Plant wrote lyrics.

There are lots of theories as to the meaning. One theory mentions “Lord of the Rings.” But according to the authors, it’s more about shallow materialism and greed: “a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back.”

Sometimes simplest is best. Our lady in the song is trying her best to buy her way through life yet there are choices: “There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run. There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” Two choices: you can try to buy your stairway to heaven or…

Your head is humming, and it won’t go, in case you don’t know

The piper’s calling you to join him

Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know

Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

Here is where I get creative: “You can’t buy your way to heaven. That’s why your head is humming with confusion. But the piper’s calling you to join him. The appropriate path on the stairway lies on the whispering wind.”

Who is the piper? For me, it’s Jesus, and he is calling. The wind of God’s Holy Spirit is blowing all around. If you follow the Piper, your stairway to heaven will be guided by the whispering wind of God’s Holy Spirit.

If Robert Plant, the writer of the song heard this, he would likely deny it, but I think it’s a great way to interpret the song, especially when you start to understand what Jesus teaches. In many ways, each of us are on a stairway to heaven and because we are different, the path may look different, but the stairway is before us and Jesus is the piper calling us to join him.

But as we approach and climb those stairs, there are challenges along the way but as the last verse of “Stairway to Heaven” proclaims, “if you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last. When all is one and one is all. That’s what it is.”

Susan Kirton recently sent me an email about her husband, Sam: “Sam received a lifesaving double lung transplant this past summer and his recovery is nothing short of miraculous. There is no doubt God has been with us through this journey. What many people don’t know is our backstory. Both Sam and I were raised in faith, but I can’t say we were diligent about it. We took it for granted in many ways. Sam was diagnosed in 2017 with a rare terminal lung disease and given the prognosis of 2-5 years to live.” 

“Like many people do in their hour of greatest need, we turned back to our neglected faith. Together we prayed for a cure or a lifesaving transplant while “secretly” I prayed for strength and peace for each of us, no matter what happened. We spent the next 4+ years preparing for Sam’s death by getting our affairs in order and checking off that bucket list, as best we could.” 

“We planned his funeral. I wrote my husband’s eulogy. Sam’s health began a rapid decline in late 2019. We both said that whatever happened would be OK: we’ve prepared as best we could, and God would hold us in his care. Of course, we still prayed for a transplant and that we would have many more years together here on Earth.”

“On the day we got the call that they had a set of lungs for Sam, we sat in the hospital for over 12 hours waiting for them to take Sam back to surgery. I told Sam what I thought he most needed to hear: “I promise I’ll be OK no matter what.” In that exact moment I knew it was true. During the eight hours of Sam’s surgery and the following days when he was still in critical care, I felt a sense of peace I never thought possible when we began this journey. That was when I knew God would never leave me.”

“Of course, Sam’s surgery was a tremendous success, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to celebrate these lungs that were a beautiful gift from the donor family. And we know, no matter what, no matter how much time we have, we’ll both be OK.”

What an amazing miracle but equally amazing was her testimony that whether the transplant happened or not they both knew they were safely in God’s care.

And the song says, “If you listen very hard. The tune will come at last. That’s what it is. Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

As Susan and Sam discovered, there is still time for all of us to make changes along the road, but the choice is ultimately ours. But know this: “The piper’s calling you to join him.”

Near the end of the song, there is a plea: “Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind?” Ah but she doesn’t follow the piper or listen to the whispering wind.

So, the final agonizing words of the song: “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

That is her choice, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Susan and Sam Kirton found a better way: “Follow and trust the Piper: Jesus.”

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at