The Wings of a Dove
June 23, 2002
Give ear to my prayer, O God;
And hide not thyself from my supplication.
Attend unto me, and hear me.
I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise
Because of the voice of the enemy,
Because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they cast iniquity upon me,
And in wrath they hate me.
My heart is sore pained within me,
And the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me,
And horror hath overwhelmed me.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove!
For then would I fly away, and be at rest.
Lo, then would I wander far off,
And remain in the wilderness.
I would hasten my escape
From the windy storm and tempest.
Reading from Swedenborg
This Psalm is about temptation, and the distress that comes with it. "Fear and trembling" means this distress. Our search for truth at these times, and looking around to discover which way to turn, is meant by, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest." "The wings of a dove" mean a love of spiritual truth. "Flying away to be at rest" means saving our lives from destruction by that love. Having no hope yet of deliverance is meant by, "I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness." (Apocalypse Explained #282.6)
O that I had wings like a dove! Then would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6, 7)
A cry for rest amid the storm and stress of temptations has seldom found such perfect utterance as in this beautiful figure of speech: a dove, tossed and beaten in violent winds and rain, flying for safety into the distant plains of the desert. Often has it been repeated by the singers of all lands and all tongues in expressing deep longings of the soul.
But when read in this Psalm, it is more than a beautiful bit of imagery. Every Christian who reads the Psalms knows that they are written for him and of him. Many people feel that no other part of the Old Testament comes so near to us as the Psalms. Other parts of the Old Testament tell us about the Lord and the spiritual life, but here the Lord is speaking to our hearts.
In the Psalms there is written the life of the Son of Man, who put on our life with all its aspirations and struggles and made it his own. When a human being cries out in the anguish of his soul, there is a reflection of the spiritual agony borne by the Savior. And when we seek him in the Divine Word, he will surely open our understanding, that we may benefit from this strangely beautiful and powerful passage.
While this Psalm describes the innermost struggles of the Lord in fighting evil for man's spiritual freedom, the Gospels tell in what outer words and acts those inner struggles revealed themselves to man's knowledge. We also know that there is much that goes on in the soul of man that can never be spoken in words, and that our deeds can but poorly tell.
When we read that Jesus said to his followers, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place" (Mark 6:31), and when he withdrew from them to pray, we should bear in mind that this seeking to be alone really is a looking to the Divine and relying upon this during all temptation. And thus, as reflected in our lives, so far as Christ is living in us and we are following him, we shall see what it means to have the wings of a dove and to fly away and be at rest even in the wilderness. It means to trust in the Lord in trouble; to seek our refuge in this trust even while temptation endures.
Why was it that when Jesus was baptized, and the Spirit was seen like a dove descending on him, we read, "Immediately he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil"? (Matthew 4:1). I think that any human poet, expressing the merely natural desire for rest and relief from care and anxiety, would have left that part out, and tried to picture some more beautiful haven of flight than "the wilderness." Perhaps such a poet would picture lovely gardens sheltered from invasion and warmed by sunny, tranquil skies. To fly from the tempest and then to remain in the wilderness would be no satisfying picture to any earthly desire for peace.
But our Lord, who saw the real, abiding needs of man said, "I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world; but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). These words, and all the comfort they bring to us, are the real wings of a dove on which human hearts may flee into the wilderness and find rest there. This means a reliance upon the Lord in temptation, even when tempted almost to despair.
Perhaps Jesus was ready to cry, "I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest" at the hour when the future of mankind hung on his enduring the storm and saying to all the waves of temptation that beat upon the world, "Peace, be still." To trust in the Lord "while the tempest still is high" is like having the wings of a dove to fly away and remain safe in the wilderness.
Our church teaches that winged things are thoughts that carry the mind up and away. Specifically, the dove is "the holy principle of faith." And as it is faith in the spiritual life, the wings of a dove are our thoughts about the spiritual things that the Word teaches us to believe. Such wings in a storm are the believer's thoughts about God and his protecting care and love for us, especially in temptations, and his constant desire to keep us from evil.
Out of all the troubles that come to us, or that we have brought upon ourselves, the Lord is endeavoring with all his mighty powers of love and wisdom combined to deliver us. If he allows certain temptations to remain, it is for the purpose of bringing us out of some far greater trouble deeply rooted--a trouble that might not cease with this life, but break out in its fullness in the world to come.
There are many these days who have come into the wilderness of want, care, and anxiety, who welcome each night the oblivion of sleep that takes them briefly out of the world, and fear the dawn whose breaking brings them back. Let us help them by our example to see what a blessed thing it is to be able to maintain a hopeful and cheerful spirit in the midst of trouble!
Such are the wings of spiritual faith--the wings of a dove descending from the heaven of God's Word upon all who are about to go into the wilderness. To strengthen this faith, to uplift these wings of holy flight and of eternal refuge, is the task of the church in all her ministries. As Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Wilfred Rice (d. 1989) served as pastor at several churches, including the Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
O Lord, strengthen us in thy Word, and awaken spiritual life within us. Descend, we beseech thee, and dwell with us in the holiness of thy divine presence, keeping us steadfast in the regenerate life, in loyalty to the church and her teachings, and in the daily life of repentance, leading us at last into the good of heavenly happiness. Amen.
Rev. Wilfred Rice