Under wings of prayer for our enemies

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 21, 2023

Psalm offers hope for both victim and victimizer.
Photo of osprey wing by Jo-Anne Oucharek

Several of our readers have been sharing their concerns recently over how to respond to those who attack, insult, and falsely accuse them. One of them even had his whole life’s work and reputation destroyed on the basis of lies, spread widely also by gossips who hadn’t bothered to verify what was true. The victims have wanted to know how to respond to such malice. Revenge, evil for evil?

I often think of Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” But how?

There’s an image in the Psalms that provides one answer: God spreading His providential wings over us, as an eagle or a hen does over its young. I’ve got in the habit of using that image as a visual prayer for people and situations when words fail me, such as when we want to pray for our enemies in the spirit of blessing. In fact, I wrote my June 9, 2022 column on that very image in prayer. Allow me to revisit that column.

AS I ENTERED Cochrane Coffee Traders the other morning, world events were weighing heavy on me. In fact, even when I’d tried praying for them, words had failed me. But an image had come to mind, so I tried praying with that. No sooner had I sat down at my favourite table, than I was joined by an inspiring “Amen!” – not surprising, considering the source.

I think most of us have been deeply touched – indeed, left speechless – by the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, Putin’s murderous madness against Ukraine, and the legacy of Canada’s notorious Indian residential school system.

With that darkness on my mind, I had just taken my first sip of the morning, when Eric Bourchier entered Coffee Traders. Immediately spotting each other, we gave each other our traditional “Cup of Light” greeting (see my Feb. 17, 2022 column), and he pulled up a stool to sit with me.

I shared with Eric my feelings of inadequacy in knowing how to pray for the victims being headlined in the news. He agreed with me on the failure of words at times like these.

When I described for him an image I’ve been substituting for words in my prayers, he enthusiastically bought right into it.

The image: that of wings of a bird wrapped around the victims in a most comforting way – like a hen might wrap its wings around its chicks, or an eagle spreading its wings out to protect its young from the scorching heat of the midday sun.

Eric knew well the biblical image I referred to from Psalm 91:4, where speaking of the Almighty’s comforting presence, it says: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”

Reflecting on our conversation, Eric subsequently wrote me: “My cup was filled to the top. The Spirit was truly with us.”

Yes! And may that same Spirit embrace the headlined victims we both were so concerned about. Our cup-of-light conversation at the table that morning recalled for us words from a hymn treasured by many. Here are a few comforting lines from William Cushing’s 19th Century classic, Under His Wings:

“Under His wings I am safely abiding; Though the night deepens and tempests are wild, Still I can trust Him. I know He will keep me…. Under His wings, Who from His love can sever? Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever.”

BUT APPLIED to our readers’ concerns over blessing one’s enemies? Yes! God’s love extends to victim and victimizer alike. In the latter case, I visualize the victimizers embraced under God’s wings as a refuge from the evil that would imprison them in bitterness, healing their hearts and leading them in the way of truth, reconciliation and love.


© 2023 Warren Harbeck

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