REV. DR. JEROME DEVINE
DAC Director of Connectional Ministries
It was late evening on a recent August summer night. It was that wondrous and mystical time between sunset and darkness. Everyone else had gone inside and I decided to step outside for a final look at the gift of the western sky.Then it happened!
The sound was unique. It was neither breath nor wind yet it was both and more. It was both darkness and light, both shadow and substance.
As I looked to the west the sound and the sight permeated my being. A six to eight foot wing span cast a wide presence at what seemed only 20 feet above me and coming toward me. It took a moment before I saw the white crested head of the large bald eagle powerfully forcing the air beneath its impressive wings as it flew just above my head. My emotions and thoughts were a fluid mixture of awe, trepidation, gratitude, wonder, awareness and humility.
I would be untruthful if I did not acknowledge that for a moment I was startled and unsettled, yet I was given the grace to remain attentive in the moment. It was one of those experiences in life where every second unfolds ever so slowly, yet is over in an instant. In the initial partial-seconds it felt like this eagle was going to land on me because its shadow was so close, yet it flew on even as I turned to watch it soar through the farmyard and down into the river valley below. There have been nesting areas in the valley for many decades, yet we had never had a visitation quite so close. From the moment I was startled into the awareness of this great presence I began to pray in gratitude as well as confused wonderment.
“And God will raise us up on eagle’s wings …”
“I can feel the brush of angels’ wings …”
Normally I would not share this type of experience in a blog, and instead would reflect on it in my journal. However, as I stayed outdoors that evening trying to absorb the mystery of the encounter, I was stirred to think about how we approach God in worship in our local churches and our larger connectional gatherings. Do we expect to be caught off guard? Do we anticipate mystery and awe and allow space for such to take place? As I stood in the growing darkness in that farmyard that night the teachings of Native American Elders and the songs and scriptures of our faith swirled in my mind and soul. I wondered if I and we have too often tried to tone God down a bit in order to remain comfortable.
Two of the songs that started to sing themselves in my head that night were:
On Eagle’s Wings: “And God will raise us up on eagle’s wings, bear us on the breath of dawn, make us to shine like the sun, and hold us in the palm of God’s hand …”
Surely the Presence of the Lord: “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place; I can feel God’s mighty power and God’s grace. I can hear the brush of angels’ wings, I see glory on each face; surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
I have heard these sung hundreds of time, and recall observing many people singing them with a calm gentleness. It struck me after my encounter that such calm placidness is perhaps of our making or wishful thinking, since it takes great power and makes much noise to “raise us up on eagle’s wings”. My eagle visitor was audibly pounding the air, not gently brushing it. I could genuinely “feel its mighty power” as it approached me that night. There was nothing placid about it. I knew I was in the presence of raw power, yet immense grace as it cast its shadow upon me. The words from Isaiah 40:31 came alive for that moment, when he proclaimed that “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…” (NIV).
To rise up on wings like eagles as discipled leaders could be compared to hang gliding. It takes intense focus, keen training and a willingness to risk being carried by the wind (of the Holy Spirit) to a height that allows us to view our reality in new ways.
Is it possible to engage worship in such a way that we are blown off our normal footing in order to be raised up to a new vantage point and discover a new view on life? What might we discover about ourselves and our ministries in our communities and the Michigan Area from a new vantage point? To risk jumping off terra firma in order to soar on the winds in a hang glider is still one of my “hope to do” list items. Yet, every time I think about it I know it makes me nervous. Those of you who have gone bungee jumping or sky diving may have had the same feeling just before entering that adventure.
When was the last time a ministry effort gave us that same feeling? Perhaps it is time for some new wings!