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Creative prayer: apples and wings

Lynne Baab • Friday July 12 2019

Creative prayer: apples and wings

“Keep me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

I’ve been praying those words often since I heard a recording of the Australian band Sons of Korah singing Psalm 17. That was a few years ago, so I’ve had a lot of time to ponder the various ways a person could interpret those words.

First, some information about the meaning. “Apple of your eye” is a very old term in English, slang for something or someone who is cherished above all else. In old England, the pupil of the eye was viewed as round and solid, often called the apple of the eye, so using the term to refer to something or someone highly valuable to us is a metaphor, comparing the value of that thing or person to the preciousness of our eyes.

“Apple of my eye” first appeared in English literature in 885 (!), and Shakespeare used it in 1600. (You can read some more history here.) The King James translation of the Bible uses it several places.

The Hebrew wording for the first line of Psalm 17:8 means something like protect/guard/attend to me like the pupil/middle of an eye. So the apple idea in many English translations of the verse comes from the early English view of the pupil as a solid ball like an apple.

“Hide me in the shadow of your wings” is more straightforward to understand, and the translation from the Hebrew is direct and clear. The comparison is to baby birds who hide in the shelter of their parents’ wings. Oddly enough, at the time I first heard the Sons of Korah sing this song, I had collected several photos of parent birds sheltering their children. I’ve used one of them above.

As I’ve prayed these words for several years, I have come to love the juxtaposition of ideas. The “apple of your eye” metaphor conveys preciousness and the “shadow of your wings” metaphor evokes safety. I need both in my life, and the two build on each other. When I feel loved by God, I feel safer. When I feel safe in God’s care, I’m more able to rest in my belovedness.

I’ve also noticed the various moods I can feel as I pray these words. Sometimes my prayer has a bit of desperation about it. “I don’t feel particularly loved at this moment, and I’m overwhelmed with anxiety. I’m begging you to help me to know I’m the apple of your eye and that I’m safe in your care.”

Other times, I’m asking God to help me continue to experience the belovedness and peace I'm feeling right now. I know how quickly my feelings of intimacy with God shift into anxiety and self-criticism. In a way, this prayer is a form of fire insurance. Things are good now, but I know they won’t always be. “Thanks for your love that I’m feeling in this moment. Keep me there, in a place of feeling loved, even when my emotions shift. Help me to keep on knowing that I’m the apple of your eye, that you are so good to me and will keep me safe.”

Sometimes, in God’s great mercy, I am simply at peace in God’s presence, and I can pray these words in gratitude, joy and rest. Those are great moments.

If you don’t want to listen to the Sons of Korah singing Psalm 17, be sure to read the whole psalm, so you can see the context of this beautiful prayer. The psalm is attributed to David, so it’s fun to think about the possibility of such a complex man – sometimes so violent and sometimes so full of love for God – writing or singing the psalm.

Next week – creative prayer: trees. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below or in the right hand column of the whole web page.

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