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The Shadow of Your Wings

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgements are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.         (Psalm 36:5-11

This psalm seems to breathe hope and grace, love and graciousness. All qualities in which I feel like I fall short, in these days of confinement. They serve as a contrast to what I feel I can produce on my own, of my own volition and energy.

Here, in this nature imagery, I catch a glimpse of the outside world I am not able to access right now, but have strong memories of and can go look at photos if I want to. I can relate to looking up to mountains that stretch as high into the sky as I can see, and trees that seem to have no tops. Maybe this imagery is more meaningful than ever, at a time when we cannot take these for granted but can appreciate their presence.

The idea of being under the shadow of God’s wings is so, so beautiful to me. It reminds me of a lullaby I was sung since infancy and which I now sing to my own child: ‘Ô que ta main paternelle / Me bénisse à mon coucher / Et que ce soit sous ton aile / Que je dorme, Ô mon berger.’ It also reminds me of Matthew 23:37, where Jesus laments about Jerusalem, ‘How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.’

It’s perhaps not central to the idea, but recently, in singing this song and talking about this idea of a hen gathering chicks under her wing, with my child, I am processing the aspects of God seen here, which have been traditionally identified with mothering, with maternal gestures. The idea that God longs to gather children like a hen gathers chicks has been seen as more feminine than masculine, if we look at traditional roles, however limiting. This is meaningful to me as a mother and a parent, but it’s also an image that has been so profound to me my entire life – this image of sleeping or resting under God’s wings. God, who, in my upbringing, is full of judgement and wrath and love all at once but whose judgement I feared more than whose love I felt safe in, much of the time.

What I’m trying to say is that, having been brought up with the idea of God as Father, as male and masculine, and having this be the dominant image – it’s meaningful that this maternal or nurturing image has stood out and has provided real comfort over the years. It’s something the smallest child can identify with, blotting herself against her parents, snuggling in as close as humanly possible, for warmth, for reassurance. Isn’t this how we as children ought to see our God? And yet, it still seems outrageous to be able to do so, and maybe sacrilegious, and I wonder if I’ve gotten it wrong somehow.

The terms are just so beautiful. ‘The river of your delights’ – ‘Your lovingkindness’ – ‘the great deep’ (in the version I’m reading). I can always count on the Psalms to express things that I can’t quite manage to say, or to inspire me to expand on what is said, in my own way. When I can’t seem to pray, the Psalms are there for me to breathe in prayer the best I can.

If we think of 2 Corinthians 1:1-7, another of today’s passages, with its emphasis on God understanding ALL our suffering and being the God of ALL comfort so we can then comfort others, this passage seems to go so well alongside it, speaking of the larger, overall qualities of God, but God’s nearness, as well. The idea of finding refuge under God’s wings is such a great image of the God of ALL comfort being incredibly near to us, and I can’t think of a better time for this reminder – the days leading up the darkness of Good Friday before we dare to hope in the incredible Resurrection, and in our present reality where we are looking for comfort and hope and meaning in our circumstances or perhaps in spite of them. Just as we hope for our situation to improve and for life to return to how we knew it, we long for the hope and presence that the Resurrected Christ offers and which we can celebrate in a few days. If ever there is a time to look forward to such a celebration, I think it is a year like this one, and I look forward to rejoicing with all of you who will rejoice at that time, too. Separately but in sharing in our joy!

— Sarah Kuhn

[Editor’s note: The lullaby Ms. Kuhn references means, O that your fatherly hand would bless me on my bed, and that I may sleep under your wing, O my shepherd.]

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