by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister
Spring is such a hopeful time of year. The trees are now out in full leaf. Annuals and perennials are blooming. Garden centers are filled with plants that promise bountiful baskets of tomatoes, peppers, beans, and strawberries come the warmer days of summer. Even those of us who lack a true “green thumb” share in the optimism that our efforts will amply be rewarded come August.
Spring is also a hopeful time of year because of all the high school and college graduations. It’s time to celebrate, especially after almost two full academic years affected by the pandemic. Graduation is a significant milestone in life and one that we remember for a lifetime. At BCCUCC, we’re looking forward to celebrating our high school graduates during our June 6th Baccalaureate worship service when we can extend our heartfelt congratulations to all who are graduating this year and moving on to college or new jobs.
This Spring once again, is a time of looking forward to all the new beginnings that lay before us – whether we are graduating, or tending our gardens, or starting to think about delayed vacations. It’s a time of renewed hope that is particularly welcome this year.
We are excited for the new. And yet, we may also be feeling some sense of trepidation because, by its very nature, “the new” contains within it the unknown. For our high school graduates going on to college, there may be questions about what it will be like as they meet new people, navigate dorm life, or find the financial resources to make all of this possible. For graduates entering the job market, there may be questions about navigating the search process, and/or finding an affordable place to live. And it seems like all transitions such as these involve concerns about meeting new expectations and getting along with people we’ve never met before.
I don’t want to overemphasize the sense of trepidation or anxiety we may feel during times of transition because these are also times when we have opportunities to grow. We have opportunities to learn more about who we are and what we’re capable of doing. Stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zones can be both enriching and rewarding as we develop new skills and see more clearly our strengths and abilities. During such times of transition, we may also be more aware of the ways that God is working in us and with us to help us grow. We may become more aware of the ways that God is supporting us as we navigate “the new.”
Scripture writers often used the image of God as a parent bird, even an eagle to convey this assurance, such as in Psalm 91 where we find the promise that “God will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4). And we have the image of God providing us with the strength of eagles in Isaiah, where we are assured that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Is 40:31). And in the book of Exodus, we have the following image of God as a strong protector as God directs Moses to reassure the people who have just crossed the Red Sea: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:3-4).
When I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor was talking one day about this last passage, and to elucidate the text she described how eagles teach their young to fly. As she explained it, the mama eagle coaxes her young one out of the nest and then flies under her eaglet to provide it with the security of knowing that should the little one falter, it will not fall very far because mama will catch it on her back and carry it to safety. It was a beautiful image and a wonderful metaphor for God’s protection that as we try new things – as we stretch our wings and take off into new horizons – not only is God with us to encourage us, but God is also with us to ensure that we won’t fall.
I was so taken with this imagery that I decided to use it to illustrate a pastoral prayer a few years ago. And it was a wonderful metaphor for my prayer of assurance that God is always with us. It’s a beautiful image. Unfortunately, it’s not accurate. A doctor sitting in church that day pointed this out to me. It seems that eagles teach their little ones to fly like most other birds do. They don’t force their young ones out of the nest, but they start bringing food to nearby branches, and the eaglets then test their wings as they “hop” to these branches for the food. They hop first to the closest branches and then, as the parent birds extend the distance by bringing food to further branches, the eaglets hop and flutter further. They do this until their wings are strong enough to get them airborne. Then they learn to hunt with the adults and will leave the nest for good once they become adept at this.
Of course, this is still a nice image of a caring parent teaching their young how to navigate the world beyond the safety and security of home. And it’s a good metaphor for how God is at work in us, nudging us into new beginnings where we too can exercise our gifts in the world. It’s a good metaphor for how God stays with us as we learn more about our strengths and the gifts God has given us. It’s also a good metaphor for all the ways God knows us and what we are capable of doing, even if we’re not so sure just yet.
It’s a nice image, and a good metaphor. But, I still prefer the image my professor painted in class that day. And, even if it’s not accurate, I think it’s valuable because we do know that parent eagles soar with their young. They do keep an eye on them as they take to a first flight. They don’t leave their little ones alone in the world should they falter and fall. So, maybe there is something to the image that corresponds to God’s description of bearing the people of Israel on “eagles’ wings.” Whatever new beginning you are entering this Spring, may you feel the assurance that God is with you, keeping you safe while encouraging you to soar on your own eagles’ wings.