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Eagle’s Wings

You saw for yourselves what I did to Egypt, how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. If you now listen to my voice and keep my covenant, then out of all people you will be my cherished ones. ~ Exodus 19:4-5

As any Mainer can tell you, Loons will carry their young on their backs, more between than on their wings, but definitely carrying them. Some other waterfowl will do the same. There is no record of a bird in flight carrying its young. In an age before powerful optics, it is easy to understand why the people of the Ancient Near East would think that eagles carried their young on their wings. If you have ever seen an eaglet on the nest ready to fledge, you will have seen a lot of hopping with the parents near by. It would be easy to interpret that as the adults stirring up the nest and carrying their young. The simple truth is that the young are just practicing getting some air under their wings while not straying off the nest since the tumble could prove fatal if they are not yet quite ready to execute actual flight.

If eagles were to actually transport their young, Mount Sinai would be among the places they would go. So it is appropriate for the mythological imagination of Hebrew storytellers to picture God carrying them to this holy residence. It would, indeed, be the location from which they would spread their wings and soar. That is, once they were able to sort out proper understanding and identification. While Moses was up on the mountain, encountering the uncontainable divine, the people were making their best effort to both contain and misidentify God. They built a golden calf to receive their worship because they could not imagine touching and being touched by divinity in boundless ways. Like their acceptance of misinformation about eagles, they were content to limit their experience of God to tangible intermediaries like an idol made of gold.

But let us not be quick to condemn, for we, too, are eager to create our own graven images. When we rely on the economy to provide our needs and to save us, we make gold itself the idol we worship. And in a great irony, the tablets of the commandments on public display becoming more important than the laws they contain is a prime example of containing God to our rituals instead of being borne on those mighty wings to heights beyond our short-sightedness.

Prayer: Mother Eagle, you know the flight we are capable of, give us a shove. Amen.


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