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From the May, 2001 issue of Touchstone


The Winged Man by Thomas S. Buchanan

The Winged Man

Hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.
—Psalm 17:8–9

There are many examples in the Scriptures where God is described as having wings. In the Song of Moses we read that “hovering over them he spread his wings” (Deut. 32:11). When fleeing from Saul, David wrote: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge till the storms of destruction pass by” (Ps. 57:1). Even our Lord said of Jerusalem: “How often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matt. 23:37).

Gregory of Nyssa considered such verses to be a demonstration that there is something about the divine nature that has wings. And, since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we should have wings.

Of course, these are not physical wings, but allegorical wings. To quote Gregory:

Thus the wings would refer to God’s power, his happiness, his incorruptibility, and so on. Now all these attributes were also in man, so long as he was still like God. But then it was the inclination towards sin that robbed us of those wings. Once outside the shelter of God’s wing, we were also stripped of our wings.

Gregory argued that at the fall, man lost his wings, the wings of power and happiness and incorruptibility. We are like the mythical character Icarus, whose father gave him wings made from feathers held together with wax and taught him how to fly. Icarus was instructed not to fly too high, but he lost his wings when he ignored his father and tried to fly to the sun and the wax melted away. Our wings were lost when Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The wings that we lost were wings of virtue that gave us strength to do that which is noble and just and true and good. They were the wings of incorruptibility that enabled us to fly away from sin and continue flying forever. They were the wings of happiness that allowed us to soar to the kingdom of God.

The great Cappadocian Father argued that when God sees us now, he sees us with our wings. For, he said, the eyes of God “do not see what is contrary. For he who sees aright does not see crookedly, and he who does not see crookedly always sees aright.”

Thus, in the Song of Solomon we read: “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have given me wings” (Cant. 6:5, LXX). On this Gregory wrote:

When thine eyes look at me, they are averted from what is contrary; nor will they see in me anything that is contrary to me. Thus by thine eyes, O Lord, I obtain the grace of being winged again, of recovering through virtue the wings of the Dove, by which I may have the power of flight. Now I can fly and can rest, indeed, in that rest which the Lord enjoyed when he rested from his creation.

God’s eyes have given us wings. They see in each of us the man we were meant to be. They see in each of us the man we could now be. They see in each of us the man we shall be. In this canticle, Solomon asked God to avert his eyes because he couldn’t bear such greatness.

Many Hollywood movies have portrayed those in heaven as having wings. But such saints are usually viewed not using these large, awkward wings; rather they are generally depicted as loitering on clouds and acting a bit bored. Such is the great American view of the divine kingdom. But the wings of God are wings of power and virtue that enable us to soar unbounded. God sees such wings on us. Do we see them on ourselves?

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.

“The Winged Man” first appeared in the May 2001 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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