Once when kayaking on a remote river in Maine, we were visited by an eagle. He lived downstream, at the mouth of the river on the edge of a lake. My friend and I had stopped by some rocks to rest and eat our sandwiches. All was quiet, a mid-afternoon stillness in the woods. The only sound was water rippling past the banks. Into the stillness came a great sweeping bird, flying up the middle of the river, just at the height of the trees. We had the distinct feeling he had come to check us out, since we were in his territory. He was as big as a we were, his wingspan wider than a man’s outstretched arms. He was so low, I could see distinct feathers on his underside. They were the strongest wings I’ve ever seen. I’ve never forgotten them, and now, when we sing the song “On Eagles Wings,” I think of that eagle, in his solitary home on the river, guarding the edge of the forest.
This week, on Sunday, we’ll be singing a hymn version of the beautiful Psalm 91. The Psalmist speaks of God as refuge, as fortress, as a mother bird, under whose shadowed wings the believer takes shelter. One of the commentaries on this Psalm calls it God’s “bold invitation to live in the divine presence with protection, safety, and love.” (Katherine E. Amos).
Yesterday, I suggested we take a look at the world from the perspective of a child. Here in Psalm 91, we are invited into another perspective: here we see God as loving parent, sheltering presence, who offers us refuge in our frailty, in the midst of sorrow and troubles.
Psalm 91 is not a magic incantation casting a protective mist around us. It describes the comfort of faith: where do we go for hope, for help, for refuge? Here, in the Psalm, is a heart that clings to God; it flies to God as a small bird seeks the warmth of its nest, the shadow of great wings. (Large Catechism: 1st Commandment). God is the shelter of the broken and contrite heart, the creator of the clean heart, the renewer of the right spirit within.
The Psalm speaks of the reality of what Rabbi Barth often calls the “canopy” of shalom. This is the kind of Psalm that offers gospel comfort, a promise of grace, love, and peace. Recall Jesus, wishing to shelter all Jerusalem under his wings.
Having looked at the world for a day through the eyes of a child, rest now in the shelter of God’s grace. Come back to that holy peace, bring yourself back, when your attention leaves it.
That is a spiritual practice: returning to the center, to the inner refuge. Stand under the canopy of shalom. Live from there.
Return, repentance, penitence, or metanoia, that amazing transformation of the mind, begins with a return to a God who promises to shelter us, to restore us, to make us a watered garden, or a spring of water whose waters never fail (Is. 58:11).
Meditate, as scripture tells us, on the Word. Many people study meditation, myself included. One of the aims of meditation as a daily practice is developing fortitude : meditation strengthens and trains the mind and body to live with equanimity, to be able to stand in the midst of pressing events and stay centered, calm, and focused.
A spiritual discipline is just a practice to be done like any other exercise. It tones the mind, spirit, and body. Spiritual disciplines are worth doing, not for the glory of one’s own spiritual achievements, but because they make us better servants, able to respond to others’ needs because we are relieved of the clamor of self-concern. Take refuge under God’s shelter. Put yourself in the way of the Word. Spend a week meditating with verses of Psalm 91, and see what happens.