“Beginning Anew. Gradually.”
Ponderings of the Spiritual Life Director
Oh bless the lord my soul! He clothes thee with his love
Upholds thee with his truth. And like an eagle he renews
The vigor of thy youth. Then bless His holy name
Whose grace hath made thee whole
Whose love and kindness crowns thy days
Oh bless the lord! Bless the lord my soul
These were words I sung over and over again in a youth outreach choir I belonged to in high school. We did a small production of Godspell every year and sang at retirement homes and assisted living facilities. I can honestly say that, besides recognizing it as a song of praise and gratitude towards God, I didn’t give much thought to any deeper meaning. I just kind of liked it’s jazzy feel. I was at a place in my faith development where I was caught between the foundational ideologies of my United Church of Christ congregation- that God is love and we should seek a relationship with Jesus in order to better ourselves- and my very rebellious group of agnostic friends (it was the late 80s- think funky hair and skateboards). They didn’t understand why I would sing in a Christian choir if I was questioning my faith. Well, as I stated in my last article, I like to try things out before I figure things out. I think many UUs might be pretty good at that!
So, here I am, pondering the concept of renewal, and I came across Psalm 103.
1 A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Naturally, my brain went straight to the jazzy Godspell tune and hasn’t left my head since! But, the 5th verse of the Psalm, that line in the song that says “and like an eagle he renews the vigor of thy youth”, that’s what I’m focusing on this week. As an avid birdwatcher, I’m familiar with the fact that birds molt, or lose their old feathers and replace them with new feathers, every so often and at different speeds, depending on the species. Thus, the reference to eagles as a symbol of renewal makes sense. However, the story that is generally told by preachers and online bloggers alongside this verse about what happens to eagles when they molt is a bit, well, not true. One such story tells us that every 100 years an eagle loses all its feathers at once and hides on a mountaintop or in a cave or some such isolated place until it grows new feathers and becomes young once more. What a transformation! If we were to embrace this story as inspiration, we might enthusiastically jump into a mountainside lake that’s well over our head. Can we really shed all our old behaviors at one moment in time and expect to grow all new habits thereafter? I think life patterns are harder to get out of than that. And I don’t really like to be isolated and away from you all!
Indeed, the story is a reminder that humans need renewal- of the mind, the heart, and the spirit. But, there may be more to learn about renewal if we take a look at how an eagle actually molts- and that’s gradually. Eagles can live for about 30 years and generally molt annually. But it doesn’t happen all at once. If it did, they would not be able to fly and would be unprotected from the elements. They’d probably starve to death! Rather, it happens gradually and in balance. If a primary feather on the left wing molts, then the same feather on the right side molts, too. Once some new feathers have grown back in, some other feathers are molted. This ensures the eagle can still fly and hunt for survival. I think this is more at my speed of renewal. I’m happy to embrace change, but I do so with a bit more caution and perhaps a well thought out plan. We all need to continue to fly and survive as we renew and transform, so if we get rid of all we are familiar with, we end up too far into the unknown to know what we are doing. Therefore, changes we make in our hearts and our minds and our souls need to be attended to in a thoughtful and balanced way, otherwise we’re left too vulnerable for there to be hope for the “vigor of youth” to return to us. Let’s progress slowly, a few feathers at a time, and see what youthful enthusiasm and vision we may find.