Eagles’ Wings

From time to time we are all affected by ‘Elijah sickness’ — the temptation to lie down and give up. We become tired, scratchy, fed up. It is no good trying to hector ourselves, still less hector others, into going on. We have instead to resort to a little trickery, stepping to one side rather than meeting a difficulty head on, even retreating in order to advance. Better still, we can rely on another to give us the necessary oomph. I love the imagery of eagles’ wings used in today’s reading from Isaiah (Is. 40.25–31) and elsewhere in scripture to convey the idea of being supported, lifted up, by God when we are wont to droop. It is especially powerful at this time of year when even the most equable can feel torn in many different directions.

I don’t think, however, that we should ignore the fact that the image is not an entirely comfortable one. The eagle is not a tame bird. To be close to one is unsettling (at least, for me it has been). The power, the unpredictability, the amazing beauty and sheen of the bird are a  little frightening — in a good sense. We can also see eagles’ wings as a metaphor of God’s otherness. Throughout Advent we are called to explore this otherness and resist the temptation to domesticate God. Babies in cribs are easy to coo over, but the desert imagery of Isaiah and the other prophets confronts us with something stranger and more terrible: a God who is beyond human understanding, whose love is searing. We have a bad tendency to project onto him our own ideas, as though God should conform to our version of perfection, conservative, liberal or whatever it may be. In our foolishness, we ignore the question Isaiah poses.

Today’s gospel (Matt 11.28–30) invites us to yoke ourselves with Jesus, to walk with him, work with him and, ultimately, die with him. It is not something we can do by our own efforts. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are but mortal — but with what a destiny!

At your bidding, Lord,
we are preparing the way for Christ, your Son.
May we not grow faint on the journey
as we wait for his healing presence.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Note
This Advent I am deliberately using the daily Mass readings as the basis for my blog posts. If you would like to know more about Advent itself, see our main website here.

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9 thoughts on “Eagles’ Wings”

  1. Super post:

    “We have a bad tendency to project onto him our own ideas, as though God should conform to our version of perfection, conservative, liberal or whatever it may be.”

    I’d like to add that we also project on Him our experiences of human relationships, for example, viewing God as Father is problematic for me, but viewing Him as parent is liberating.

    • You make an important point, Stuart. How we experience personal relationships does affect the way we view and talk about God. However, I think there is a saving grace in that God, at some stage in our lives, seems to break through every category and limitation we have imposed. All the same, it can be hard for many to relate to God as Father or perpetually masculine or whatever.

  2. Last Sunday morning on the way to church I was driving along a country road when a large Buzzard flew down onto the road and snatched up some road kill carrion from the road. It was so engrossed and eager to get its food that it had not noticed my approaching car and I had to slow down. The Buzzard lifted the road kill and with a powerful beat of its wings flew to the side of the road. It was a wonderful moment. Your Blog brought it back vividly to my mind. Something for me to meditate upon throughou

    • When I lived in Oxfordshire, I loved watching red kites; but it was a sea eagle, blown off-course, and flying low overhead that gave me my first real sense of the power and majesty of the bird and made the scripture image come alive.

  3. Writing as one with a chronic illness, it’s all too easy for me to misread this text and make it a whip with which to lash myself. Surely if I were really a good Christian, I would be filled with zeal;energy with which to serve Him. This, I am sure, is a false reading. It’s the word ‘wait’ in the final passage that tells all. ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength’. For some that waiting may be a vigorous, active process. For others, like me it has to be a patient yearning; a moving toward in tiny incremental steps. Like Milton, we also serve who only stand and wait.

    • Patricia, never underestimate the contribution you make by your prayers. In this fast paced, crazy world of ours, where some can’t find/don’t care/won’t make the time to pray, those who wait patiently to renew their strength and pray for themselves and the rest of us do indeed serve God and mankind.

  4. As one who lives by a river where eagles fly up and down, fishing, I can attest to what Sister has written about them. They can be dangerous and unpredictable. I’ve seen people walking on the footpath, under a tree where an eagle roosted, unaware of its presence, the eagle looking down, watching them pass. If they would only look up, see what they’re missing, something magnificent and beautiful. Just so with us.

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