Our psalm appointed for today, Psalm 103, speaks of “our youth being renewed like an eagle’s.” The scriptures make reference to the eagle more than 30 times as an image of strength, deliverance, and protection. An eagle became the emblematic symbol for the Gospel according to John because of the eagles’ soaring into the skies pointing us to the heavens, from where “in the beginning” God abides and creates. And soar they do, with a wingspan upwards to 8 feet and extremely keen eyesight, eagles fly into the heavens from which they look upon earth, observing, then hunting with great speed and power. They also typically nest – they abide – high up in rocky ledges or in trees. In the scriptures, eagles appear as one face of the four mighty cherubim who attend the throne of God.[i]
Many centuries after the psalmist, the Prophet Isaiah would proclaim: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”[ii] The image of the eagle’s renewal of strength (and therefore our renewal of strength) is twofold: for one, eagles live to a relatively old age for birds, upwards to 30 years: the renewal of our strength in older age. And then, that eagles molt their feathers, so that they are freshly clothed, as it were, with a new garment of plumage, a seeming youthfulness and exuberance regardless of their age.
This image of an eagle may feed your imagination and inspire your prayer: about your eyes and the eyes of your heart being able to see deeply. The eagle, and its image of strength, deliverance, and protection. The eagle’s molting of its dead feathers, and your own need to detach from or surrender ways you practice your life and present yourself which are less than the dignity, beauty, newness of life God has for you.
And then, finally, a tiny qualifier. As majestic as are eagles – it is true – they were also remembered in the Hebrew scriptures as marred, along vultures and hawks, because their hunting habits can seem so cruel. So it is, with every strength there is a shadow… true also for us, about which God is well apprised, and which Jesus has come to heal.
[i] See Ezekiel 1:10-14; Revelation 4:7. The other three faces are the lion, the ox, and humans.
[ii] Isaiah 40:31.
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