ECCE – Helsinki Talk 2
Last October Rosemary and I went to Andalucía on holiday. One day we drove high up into the mountains. We saw an amazing sight of eagle after eagle soaring above us on the thermals. Within minutes we had seen 40 or 50 of them. It was awesome. Eagles are magnificent birds to watch, no wonder Agur says that the way of an eagle in the sky is wonderful for him, and beyond his understanding (Prov 30:19).
Under the food laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy the eagle was an unclean bird (Lev 11:13 & Deut 14:12) but other references to the eagle are rather more positive; indeed God likens himself to an eagle. In passing this must make us pause to reflect on how all creatures are good – the unclean/clean foods has something else lying behind it.
When Israel is gathered at Mount Sinai the Lord speaks to Moses and says “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4).
The eagle here is strong and powerful, able to carry others along. God, like the eagle, is strong and carrier of his people. This picture of strength comes elsewhere; Isaiah 40:31 “They who wait for the Lord shall review their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Psalm 103:5 (God) “who satisfies you with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
There is too something dangerous about the eagle; its ability to swoop suddenly and carry away its prey (Dt 28:49; Jer 49:22; Lev 4:19). It is the most powerful of all the birds.
Yet the image of the eagle on which I want us to dwell mainly today is that which we find in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. Listen to these words from that song:- Deut 32:10-14
10 He sustained him in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
guarded him as the apple of his eye.
11 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions,
12 the LORD alone guided him;
no foreign god was with him.
13 He set him upon the heights of the land,
and fed him with produce of the field;
he nursed him with honey from the crags,
with oil from flinty rock;
14 curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
with fat of lambs and rams;
Bashan bulls and goats,
together with the choicest wheat—
you drank fine wine from the blood of grapes.
Here is God deeply caring for his people; loving them keenly.
Eagles would never nest in the confines of the Temple like the swallows and sparrows – not only would there not be enough space but the wary eagle would not see their young as safe so close to the ground.
The eagle nests high up, in the mountain tops; in the tree tops. Here the young are hatched; food is brought to them to nurture them. The eagle will at times sit on the young to keep them warm; to offer them rest but there will come a point where from this lofty place the eagle will pick up their young in their strong talons and fly away from the nest. They will soar high, the young safe and secure. Then suddenly the eagle will loose their talons and let the fledgling bird go free. The young will immediately start flapping its wings; it may have a little success but before long strength will fail and the young bird will lose control and begin to plummet towards the earth. All this time the mother eagle will have her watchful eye on her young. When it begins to plummet then the parent will swoop and catch the young in her talons once again. After resting in the talons the parent will soar again, let her young go and the process will be repeated. After a while it will be time to return to the nest for food and rest. A different young may then be taken from the nest to be put through the same process.
Day after day this will take place until the young eagles are developed and strong enough to sustain their flight. They grow in strength and ability day after day until a level of maturity is reached where the young no longer need their parents’ protection.
Now all images break down; we never develop beyond our need for God’s provision and protection. But we do grow and develop in ways where how he provides for us and protects us does change.
I find this eagle imagery very powerful in reflecting on how parents understand their role with children, and how all of us with responsibility for children understand how we might view our work.
The parent eagle judges the time when the fledgling eagle is to be lifted from the nest and the risk is taken of letting them go. It is a risk-taking love. For growth and maturity it is essential; without it the fledgling would never learn to fly. But the parent has to take the risk; they watch over carefully and step in when it is becoming too much; offering rest and recuperation before taking the risk again.
Our love for children and young people must long for them to grow and mature. This must involve risk-taking. Children do not mature by being kept hidden safely away in a nest, protected from all the dangers of the world. They have to be dropped into danger zones. They have to be allowed to try their wings, discover how they work – and when they don’t. Parents and leaders have to take loving risks to help children grow. The risks that are taken have to be done thoughtfully, at appropriate times, and with an ever watchful eye for dangers; knowing when to leave apparently at risk, and when to step in and rescue or protect.
The Lord is the strongest, most powerful of all; hence the allusion to the eagle. He lovingly rescues us, carries us on his wings and watches over us “we are the apple of his eye”. However as the parent eagle he longs that we learn to fly – so alongside nurturing and protecting us he takes risks with us; he drops us into the void and lets us flap our wings, patiently teaching us to fly.
Since he is like that with us all He expects us to be like it with children for whom we have responsibility. He expects us to engage in risk-taking love.