Today’s passage: Psalm 91
Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans topped with Justin’s Almond Butter
Yesterday God was a mom. Today God is still a mom, but he is also a bird. A bird made out of rocks.
Psalm 91 features several well-known verses, such as “He will give His angels charge concerning you” (11), which the devil himself famously quotes to Jesus during his temptation. Another verse with which you’re likely familiar is “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge” (4). Here, God is a metaphorical mother bird covering his chicks with his wings. The author of this psalm isn’t identified, and some commentators hypothesize that it may be Moses, continuing from the previous psalm–but given David’s fondness for the image of God’s shielding wings (Psalms 17:8, 57:1), the author might well be David. In any event, the image is part of a broad tradition in the psalms, and in the Bible in general. Jesus himself dons the mantle of the protective mother bird when he mourns over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37).
Here’s where the metaphor gets weird. The psalmist has just referred to God as “my refuge and my fortress” (2), and in the same breath as the bird image he says, “His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (4). He freely mixes metaphors, juxtaposing the organic and motherly tenderness of a mother bird with the rigid, inflexible strength of a stone wall. A bird made of stone, a flying fortress, is a picture of the impossible itself, something straight out of fantasy. I’m reminded of the fifth colossus, Avion, from the video game Shadow of the Colossus.
I don’t believe that God’s nature contradicts itself, or that God is an impossible being in the vein of a stone bird or a square circle, hopelessly riddled with paradoxes. But I do believe that, in using such contrasting images, the psalmist intends to get our attention–and he’s certainly gotten mine. Finally, though, his aim is to convey that in our dangerous world, God is both compassionate and strong, perhaps like a mother bear.
But that’s an image for another time.