“You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life. Say to the Lord: My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!” —lyrics from the song On Eagle’s Wings, written by Michael Joncas based upon Psalm 31 and Isaiah 40:31
It began last weekend. I first perceived a sore throat Friday evening after dinner, but thought nothing of it. After all, I am a teacher; I use my voice all week long. Most likely, my throat, like the rest of my body, was just tired from the week’s work. Saturday morning, however, unable to breathe through my nose, throat feeling as if someone had poured scalding water down it, head aching, and wads of discarded tissues increasing in the trashcan led me the conclusion, I had acquired a minor cold.
When you have a head cold, at least for me, my thinking can be a bit foggy at times. Ironically enough, I couldn’t help but notice the mornings, this past week, were similarly foggy. Early morning, as John, my husband, and I traversed to the local gym, we drove through fog as dense as my grandmother’s chicken and dumplin’ gravy. Similarly, this is what I envisioned my head cold was doing to my brain, blurring my thinking the way the fog was muddling the our view of the road and surrounding landscape.
“The snare of the fowler will never capture you, and famine will bring you no fear; Under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield.”
Nonetheless, I persevered well enough through the day, but by evening was more fatigued than usual. Along with that fatigue came the fact, I felt a bit more stressed, a bit more overwhelmed, and a bit more “behind.” In fact, I cannot tell you how often I stated or thought, “I am so far behind,” or “I can’t keep up.”
Piles of papers, in need of grading, were in constant stack on my desk. Likewise, my inbox of email was growing. Tests needed typed. Equipment/technology wasn’t working the way it should. I had this deadline, and that deadline; this request to fulfill, and that request to honor. I felt like the box turtles I often see sluggishly moving across our backyard as I slowly, but steadily made my way through each moment, each situation, and each day. Still, fog clouded my sense of accomplishment—altering my perception.
“You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day; Though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come”
Of note, though, was a conversation I had with a student and her parents one evening during the week. John and I ran into this family during dinner out a local favorite, La Famiglia. Somehow, in the course of our conversation, the student was sharing with us some of her favorite songs she sang in our school choir, and one of those songs happened to be On Eagle’s Wings—one of my personal favorites. I shared with her how it always reminded me of my maternal grandmother, with whom I had the honor of living for two years.
Grandmother Helen read from her large print Bible every night before going to bed. Some nights, if her eyes were tired, she would ask me to read to her. Isaiah, Chapter 40 was a frequent request. She especially loved verse 31.
In the meantime, Friday finally arrived, and my cold was beginning to dissipate in the same manner fog is gradually burned off with the morning sun. With Friday, comes school mass. If I am to be totally honest, when I first arrived at St. Joseph Catholic School five years ago, giving up class time every week to a church service was not an easy adjustment. Now, however, I see and appreciate the beauty and reasoning behind it.
“For to his angels, he’s given command to guard you in all of your way; Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot again a stone.”
First, there is the powerful image of seeing our entire K-8 staff and students, of diverse faith backgrounds, respectfully gathered together in church filling nearly every pew. To this day, it never fails to stir me, and honestly, make me smile. I love seeing the students actively participating in church and observing their growth from year to year.
Secondly, and more personally speaking, I often feel more receptive on Friday. Perhaps, it is because I am tired; maybe it is because Father Dean’s message is simple; maybe it is hearing the voices of children singing; or, maybe it is the image of all students raising their hands during the recitation of Lord’s Prayer; and, maybe it is all of it combined. Whatever the reason, Friday church resonates within my being.
This week was no exception. As Divine Providence would have it, the communion hymn was On Eagle’s Wings. As I knelt in prayer following communion, my mind, for whatever reason, became filled with various images in rapid-fire succession: Sitting with my Dad and three siblings as he read to us the Christmas story from Luke every Christmas Eve when I was a child. My mom fitting me for a dress she was sewing for my high school graduation—the same dress that would be cut up some 16 years later to become my daughter’s baptism dress. Watching my husband, napping on the couch, with our daughter curled up on top of his chest when she was only weeks old. Attending my daughter’s matriculation ceremony as she began her college career as an eagle dipped and darted above the gathering. Sitting on the couch beside Grandmother in her recliner, reading to her in the low lamplight of her family room. Sitting with my mom during my grandmother’s last night on earth as I kept rereading Isaiah 40 aloud as my way of saying good-bye. Standing with my Dad, Stepmother, daughter, and other family members when I saw my paternal Mamaw take her last earthly breath.
“And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn. Make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hands.”
The work, the deadlines, the requests, and the emails—all of that could wait. Maybe this is why Friday mass is so good for me. In the same way I had sipped broth this week for my cold, perhaps mass was the soup for my soul– clearing brain fog—often brought on my loss of perspective rather than a cold.
**Afterthought not written in the newspaper edition of this:
As I waited with the Middle School students for our turn to exit from Friday mass, the same student with whom I had had the conversation at La Familigia, regarding On Eagles’ Wings, came down from the choir loft and walked straight to me, mouth stretched in a broad smile.
“Mrs. Hill, I thought of you the whole time I was singing. I know I much you said you loved the song,” she exclaimed with twinkling eyes as she gave me a hug.
That hug and smile felt as if I were receiving a second helping of soup for my soul.