Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Renewing Your Youth Like an Eagles

I'm in bird watching mode these days, since spring migration yields many interesting species in my yard, in the wood, and along the waterways here in Pennsylvania. It's also nesting time for many birds. On a recent walk I spotted a bald eagle's nest along the Allegheny River.

So when I read  Psalm 103 this morning (Office of Readings), my eyes lingered on verse 5 and I recalled an old post I'd written about that several years ago. Here's a rerun of that.

Reading Psalm 103 during Office of Readings today, I remembered this 2011 post wherein I satisfied my curiosity about the eagle verse. Have you ever wondered why it's an eagle's youth that is renewed, as opposed to that of, say, a chickadee?   I finally looked it up and here's the result:

Psalm 103 comprises the psalter for today's (Wednesday, week IV) Office of Readings.In verse 5, after listing some of God's blessings--forgives guilt, heals your ills, redeems you, crowns you with love and compassion, fills your life with good things--the psalmist adds, renewing your youth like an eagle's.

Every time I read this line, I first give the little happy sigh with which I respond to beautiful  biblical nature imagery, a mini Hallmark poster of the image flashing in my brain.

Then I stop and say, Wait!...  what?

 Because I can't figure out what's so special about an eagle's youth.
Not his strength, power, beauty, far sight, but his youth.

My first guess--could it be there was a phoenix-type myth going on about eagles that the psalmist had picked up on?

I did a search and found that many people share my question. An interesting "biblical birdwatching" site gave a lengthy description of how many times a bald eagle molts until he acheives the mature, white-head-and-tail plumage at 5 years of age. The evangelical writer considered this molting a kind of renewal. Not bad, but 1. this would teach a lesson about the desirability of Maturity, the wisdom of old age, not about youth. and 2. the bald eagle is a North American bird.

Luckily, I remembered that the Fathers of the Church have commented at length on just about every verse of scripture. Good old New Advent has St. Augustine's comments. Augustine claims that an eagle's beak tip never stops growing, and that after many years have gone by, it curves down and around the lower mandible such that the eagle would be unable to eat.  He grows weak from hunger, and then, in desperation, bashes the end of his beak off against a rock. Once again able to eat, his strength, vigor, and plumage are renewed, and he is once more like a young eagle. Augustine concludes:

 ...the eagle is not restored unto immortality, but we are unto eternal life; but the similitude is derived from hence, that the rock takes away from us what hinders us. Presume not therefore on your strength: the firmness of the rock rubs off your old age: for that Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:4 In Christ our youth shall be restored like that of the eagle....

My own knowledge of birds tell me that eagles don't really need to break off their beaks. I have seen crows and pet parrots rub their beaks against hard material.  And I've known pet parakeets to need a beak trim when they haven't had something hard to chew on. Probably eagles wear their beaks down by tearing at the bones of their prey.   But as St. Thomas points out, an analogy does not have to be true to be a good analogy.

So it looks like Christ, our rock, rubs off or breaks off our weary, aged sinfulness, and restores to us the youth of our baptismal purity. Enabling us to soar to heaven. On eagles wings  the wings of eagles.


  1. But... today is the feast of St Mark with its proper OOR psalms of 19A, 64, and 97...

  2. Oops! This is what happens I get up too early in the morning. Not enough mental awareness to check the calendar first.

  3. Dear Daria,
    I’m still very new to the divine office, and have only just acquired a printed breviary, having used an online version thus far. My new copy is the 1983 edition of ‘A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer,’ as I thought an abridged version with a simpler layout and less complex proper of seasons would be easier for a beginner to use. However, I have already stumbled across a problem: in the abbreviated proper of seasons, I am told to ‘(select) a hymn suitable to the season and time of day’ for my hours during Easter, Christmas, Advent and Lent. However, having looked both through my breviary and online sources, I still have no idea how to choose a hymn which would be correct for both season and time of day. Do you know if my breviary will provide this type of information? If not, where can I get the correct hymns outside of ordinary time? Shall I just use the hymn from the Psalter for the week of which I am using Psalms and Canticles? For instance, say it’s Sunday of the fifth week of Easter. My breviary tells me to use the antiphons, reading, intercessions and concluding prayer provided, and get all other elements from the first week of the Psalter, together with a ‘Hymn for Eastertide.’ What can this be, is it in my breviary, and will it vary in Vespers, Lauds and Compline? Thank you in advance and God Bless.

    1. Hi, Don't get too worried about picking the "correct" hymn. These choices are not "official" the way the readings or psalms are. Make yourself a little written list of hymns that you sing at church during the Easter season (and next year do this for Advent, Christmas and lent). For example, Jesus Christ is Risen Today; Alleluia The Strife is O'er, Ye Sons and Daughters, Alleluia, Sing to Jesus, etc. Use one of these for each of the hours during the Easter season. As to time of day, that only means to NOT use hymns which speak of the evening or the close of the day as morning hymns, and NOT to use hymns which speak of the morning or the rising sun as vespers and compline hymns. Hymns which don't reference any particular time of day are fine for any hour. Furthermore, you would not be wrong to simply use the all purpose hymns provided in your psalter, since all of these fulfill the purpose of the divine office, which is the praise of God.

    2. Thank you very much Daria, that’s very helpful. I hope I can continue to recite the Hours for many years to come. God Bless!

  4. Are the hymns located in the back of the book?