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God as a Mother Bird.

2014 March 8
by Gordon Reid

Tomorrow, the first Sunday in Lent, has one of my favorite psalms as the Tract between the Epistle and Gospel, and in it God the Most High is compared to a bird. I say this psalm every evening as part of the Office of Compline, and it is full of good things, but here I just want to  concentrate on this extraordinary metaphor.

The Psalmist says “He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers” and his picture is of a bird with little chicks hiding in warmth and safety, nestling close to their mother. And in the first verse of the psalm, he says: “Whoso dwelleth under the defense of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”, and here his picture is of an eagle, stretching out her wings so that the fierce desert sun , beating on the eyrie high in the mountains, will not burn the chicks.

By the end of the psalm, the metaphor has changed to one of angels who – amazingly – have hands, not wings. “He will give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone”. The one who takes God for his defense will be carried over many an obstacle by God’s messengers, the angels.

Jesus must have loved this  psalm. He echoes it when he weeps over Jerusalem, saying “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, …. how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and ye would not”. And at the beginning of his public ministry, the devil quoted this psalm, tempting Jesus to throw himself from the Temple tower , saying of the angels “on their hands they will bear thee up”, to which the Lord quotes Scripture back at the devil “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.

In the beginning of Genesis, we have the picture of the Spirit of God brooding on the waters of chaos, like a bird bringing life from eggs with her warmth. And the first three Gospels all picture God the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, while he stands in the waters of Jordan. New life from new waters – as in every Baptism.

This just scratches the surface of this wonderful psalm – there is a  sermon for the middle-aged in “the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday”! But I still have 36 days to go!


2 Responses leave one →
  1. Garth permalink
    March 8, 2014

    If anyone is wondering, the good Father refers to Palm 91.

  2. Todd Lane permalink
    March 10, 2014

    I love this Tract as well and find the words to be incredibly moving and comforting. To me, the psalmists remind us that it is God alone who can provide the comfort we seek – not the trappings, wants and desires of our mortal lives.

    The choir at my church no longer chants the Propers – the practice was discontinued 8 years ago under their formal rector. I hope and pray that at least some of them are reinstated under our yet to be appointed interim or priest-in-charge.

    When the Propers were discontinued (to shorten the mass), so much was lost.

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