A few years ago, I was given for my birthday a print of a painting by Jay Bryant Ward entitled “Under His Wing”. It portrays a young girl of perhaps 6 or 7 years of age. In the painting we see that someone is standing next to her, but all we see of this adult at her side is half a waist, and a right arm which is protectively behind her – not touching her, but in place to ensure that she would be quickly secured in the event of need.
There is an obvious implication in the painting that the adult at this small girl’s side is keeping close and constant watchful care of her. Although we can’t see the face, we know the identity of this adult, because we see the hand placed carefully to ensure this small girl’s safety, in the middle of which is the unmistakeable mark of a nail having pierced it. In many ways this is a very simple picture, but for me it is profound beyond measure.
The girl in this painting is looking up at the face of the Saviour, but if she wasn’t she may never know that He was at her side. And even though she is looking at Him, she may still be unaware of His protective arm and hand behind her. It has reminded me of my children when they were younger and learning to walk, particularly when they were learning to climb stairs. Although they were determined to climb the stairs on their own, knowing the unsteadiness of their walking abilities and the danger of the stairs they were precariously ascending, I would walk a step behind them, with my hand protectively placed a couple of inches behind their back. Most of the time they would successfully scale their way upstairs, but occasionally they would lose their balance and begin to tip backwards, at which point I would move my hand to touch and support their backs to steady them and keep them safe. Although they may not always have been aware of my presence, my love for them ensured that whenever they undertook any activity that would involve danger for them – even though it be an essential activity for their learning and development – I would be there to watch over them and keep them safe to the best of my ability.
In like manner, I believe that when we stand before our Father in that final day, and look back across our life, we will be astonished when we discover just how often the Saviour intervened on our behalf to protect us, with our being totally unaware most of the time.
In the Book of Mormon we are told that while Jesus’ body lay in a Jerusalem tomb, amongst the Nephites – and following terrible calamities where many lost their lives – the voice of the Saviour came to them through the darkness, with words which are so very applicable to us. The words He spoke to the Nephites during those three days of darkness will one day come to all of us with force, each statement carrying meaning we don’t currently fully understand. As the Nephites mourned the loss of friends and family, the Saviour asked these questions,
“…how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you…. [H]ow oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings…and ye would not…. [H]ow oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings….” (3 Nephi 10:4-6)
The third of these questions is what much of my thoughts of the Saviour are about on this blog – reflecting on how we can bring the power and blessings of the Atonement more fully into our lives. The second question reminds me of those words of Zenock quoted elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, “Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:16)
But the first of the questions Christ asked the Nephites is perhaps the most profound. Just how often is the Saviour protecting us as a hen protects her chicks under her wings? The power of Christ is all about us, and is, in fact, in everything that exists,
“He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him….” (D&C 88:41).
Our very lives are dependent on Him, each and every day, and in that last day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses, regardless of how we viewed Him during our mortality, “Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.” (D&C 88:50) We could not abound – we couldn’t even live in this mortal world – without Him.
Elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenant we are taught that, “…in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things….” (D&C 59:21). Perhaps this is what Zenock had in mind when he said that the Lord was angry with those who wouldn’t understand the mercies of the Atonement? Because the power of the Atonement of Christ is in all things and is the source of all life, and all blessings, we are to seek to recognise those mercies in all things – to see Christ in everything good. Failing to do so is evidence of ingratitude.
The symbol of Christ as one with a protective wing over us is found in numerous places in the scripture, but most frequently within the Psalms in the Old Testament. Consider the following references:
“Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” (Psalms 57:1).
“From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings.” (Psalms 61:2-4).
“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” (Psalms 63:3-7).
“How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings….For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” (Psalms 36:7, 9)
How oft has the Lord sheltered us under His wing? I think that when we stand at that last day with the full realities of our mortal lives in view we will see that it has been at every moment of every day. No matter how grateful we think we may be, we will at that day recognise just how much gratitude we failed to give. No matter the trials we faced or their causes, we will see that He supported and sustained us in a way that we simply can’t comprehend – despite our ingratitude; despite our disobedience; despite our apparent inability to keep the promises we have made to Him. His loving-kindness, longsuffering, and patience are infinite in scope – and consequently so are the blessings that flow from His atoning sacrifice.
As we come to understand more fully the answer to this first question that the Saviour asked the Nephites on that fateful day, so the following questions take on added meaning. If, despite our failings, rebellions and refusals to acknowledge Him have been met with such bounteous and gracious mercy, how much more could we have received – how oft would He have gathered us? And finally, with the answers to those two questions sounding loudly in our hearts and minds, what will be our desire and our effort for every moment from now on – how oft will He gather us?
As with the young girl in the painting, He is walking with us. He is keeping us safe. If we will respond as this young girl, and look to Him in all we do, follow Him, acknowledge Him, and truly love Him, then His wings will truly be a place of comfort and refuge for us.
(If you want to see this or more of Jay Bryant Ward’s art, go to http://www.altusfineart.com/home/afa/smartlist_203/under_his_wing.html)