4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
So far, over the past couple weeks, as we have explored the different metaphorical images for God from Scripture, we have looked at two conventional images of God – God as Rock and God as Shepherd. This week, however, we look at my personal favorite, which is a tad unconventional – God as Bird. It might seem odd to think of God in such a way, but this is a metaphor employed by the biblical writers repeatedly for God. In some places, God is even referred to as having wings that provide protection for the people of God.
I have long loved birds. As a child, the flamingo was one of my favorite animals. As an adult, I have come to admire everything from penguins to cardinals. One thing I love about birds is their dual communal-individual nature. In that way, they are a lot like us. If you have been around a bird-feeder, you will notice that birds like to congregate. Sometimes they will sing together on the various branches of a tree. They are familial animals, caring deeply for their young. Yet, when they want or need to get away for awhile, they are equipped to happily fly away by themselves for some restful solace. Before long, though, they are back with the flock, perhaps even leading a V-shaped flight group.
Flying is the most enviable of all the bird traits (except when we are talking about my beloved penguins and a few others!). Perhaps this is why at times God chose to reveal Godself as a bird. We all, at some point, have dreamed of flying, I suppose. It has always been my great desire – though I have had to settle for planes and high rollercoasters. God flies us into unreachable places of grace and love that we would be unable to discover on our own. And when we find ourselves in seemingly impossible struggles, God can swoop in and lead us to safety.
This is what God did for the Israelites when they were enslaved in Egypt. At least that is how God described it when talking to the Israelites in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus. God desires to put you on God’s back, so to speak, and carry you through difficult times. Will you let God do that? If you go along for the ride, you never know what land of promise God might take you to. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you have strength for the flight or not. As the prophet Isaiah said:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but 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. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
This passage was prominently displayed throughout the campus of my college, Asbury University. Our mascot was the Eagle, and this passage was used to remind us that God, in our weakness, would carry us and lift us up to him and his loving grace. God certainly lifted me on the “wings of an eagle” during some difficult times throughout my four years there. And God continues to do so today. So, ask yourself, how is God giving me wings to reach the seemingly unreachable? What difficulties am I facing that God can cause me to soar over in safety? Where might God want me to fly through his presence today? Remember that God undergirds you the whole way; you fly not on your own power, but in God’s power.
Prayer Focus: The Holy Spirit descended…
Pray for the Holy Spirit to fall upon you and upon your church this week. The good news is that God does not expect us to climb to the heavens to reach God. As one of our hymns states, “to us He’ll condescend” (Come, Christians, Join to Sing – UM Hymnal #158). This means that God will come down to our level to reach us. However, when God descends to us, the result is that we will ascend with God to spiritual riches untold. Trust the Holy Spirit to come down to you in order to lift you into the presence of God. May this be your most fervent prayer throughout the week.
Meditation Focus: The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
Begin by stilling yourself, finding a comfortable place and posture for reflection. Breathe in deeply through your nose, taking in the presence of God’s Spirit and letting the Spirit fill your mind. Breathe out deeply through your mouth, releasing all of the confusion or preoccupations of the mind. As you continue to breathe deeply, pray silently to God: “God and Creator of my mind center my thoughts upon you.”
Look at the four photographs above. Where do you see God in these images? Is God the soaring eagle, majestic and strong? Is God the giving parent bird, feeding from God’s own mouth the many open and hungry mouths in the nest below? Perhaps God is the regal and pure dove, perched upon the roof of the building in which you sit now. Maybe God is the mother duck, nestling closely to her curious but vulnerable ducklings.
Imagine yourself in one of these scenarios – riding upon the back of the bird of prey, safely hovering above all dangers and protected by the talons and beak of this raptor; settled in the security of your nest with your mouth opened wide expecting to be filled with the tasty offering provided from above; suddenly aware of an otherworldly presence through the coo of an overhead beauty; or being ushered underneath a wing with a loud quack, as you are calmed and warmed within a feathery bundle of acceptance. Feel the winds flow freely over your face as you fly. Taste the goodness, freely given to you, that satisfies your hungers. Watch in wonder as the presence of purity swoops down to rest upon you. Listen to the voice of birdsong that calls you home.
Know that you are in the presence of God. What do you notice about God? What do you realize about yourself? How do you feel? What is God communicating to you? God is a gentle, yet powerful, bird, who causes you to soar, who feeds you within a home built especially for you, bringing you beauty and peace, and overshadowing you with grace.
Journaling Focus: I bore you on eagles’ wings. // The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
In the two passages above, we witness God appealing to the image of a bird to describe Godself, and yet God does not use the same type of bird in both scenarios. In fact, elsewhere God (through the person of Jesus Christ) employs the image of a mother hen to describe Godself. Why would God choose to reveal Godself as a different type of bird depending on the scenario? What different truths might God want to communicate through the images of an eagle, a dove, and a mother hen? In what ways is God like other types of birds? Explore these different avian images and metaphors as you reflect in your journal this week.
Spend some time outside observing the birds, or some other gentle, humble creature (or, if it is too cold, look out a window and observe). Notice the movements, interactions, and vocalizations of this creature. Imagine yourself as a creature like this, dependent wholly on God for your survival. How would God provide for you? Just take a moment and observe and ask God what you might learn from these small creatures whom God loves so deeply.
Breath Prayer: Father, lift us to you.