Like a dove in the desert

Monica and I attended a Cursillo retreat at nearby Inspiration Hills over the past two weekends – a memorable experience for both of us.

One of the men in my group had a pretty rough past – broken marriage and family, trouble with the law, addictions to drinking and drugs. But just over a year ago, he surrendered his life to Christ and he’s a new man! He and his family are being reconciled; he finished serving his time; and for a year now he’s been clean from drinking, drugs, and even smoking.

He shared with our group that his favorite psalm is Psalm 55 – not one I knew right offhand. And the favorite part of his favorite psalm is this:

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(vss. 6-8)

While broken and addicted, he yearned for the freedom he perceived in the dove. And after giving his life to Jesus, he found that freedom. The Lord is the rest and shelter for which he was longing. Alleluia!

Dove graphic found via Google

Reflecting some more on the words of the psalm, I found myself asking “Why a dove?” Why does David – the poet of Psalm 55 – refer to a dove and not a more powerful bird like an eagle, or a more colorful bird like a parrot? Perhaps it’s because, as Robert Davidson explains, “the dove nests safe and secure on the cliff face on the inaccessible sides of a gorge.” Perhaps it has something to do with the tenacity of that dove that left Noah’s ark and survived and thrived in the difficult post-flood environment. The psalmist is searching for a refuge – the kind available to common birds but that eludes David, a king and imagebearer of the King of kings.

Then I found myself asking a second question: “Why the desert?” Why does David want to fly away to the desert and not somewhere fun like Florida or perhaps back to the comfort of his home? My guess is that it has something to do with how throughout history, God consistently and powerfully encountered and guided His people in the desert. I think, for example, of the Israelites in the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. As Moses sang, “In a desert land he found him [Israel], in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” Yearning for the desert reveals David’s search for a sanctuary in which he’ll be in communion with God, his refuge and strength.

Thanks to my new friend from Cursillo, this psalm has become for me a beautiful expression of the freedom and communion for which I long to experience. God invites me to experience such freedom and communion in Him when He is my refuge and strength. The psalm’s promises are enduring: “The Lord saves” and “He rescues” (55:16, 18). My trust in Him is well placed for now and eternity.

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