When freedom and protection meet

The Lord became my protector.
He brought me out to a place of freedom;
he saved me because he delighted in me.

This, the entrance antiphon at Mass two Sundays ago, really struck me with its apparent juxtaposition of protection and freedom. Protection is about safety and sanctuary, being hidden, tightly held or insulated from danger. Taken to extremes, it can mean confinement and a lack of freedom: we speak of over-protective parents whose anxieties suffocate their children, and of those criminals who are "locked up for their own protection".

Freedom, though, is about risk: the risk of encountering danger or making unwise choices, or simply that the one being set free will never come back. It implies exposure to new possibilities and opportunities. You cannot bring someone to a place of freedom and still be a place of refuge; you cannot be a hiding place and enable exposure. So how, then, can a protector also be a liberator?

Photo by Dave Murray, reproduced with permission
The answer came in a later conversation, in which someone started talking about how eagles teach their young to fly. After nurturing their young for months in the safety of their nest, a point comes when the eaglets must learn how to spread their wings and fly. So the parent eagles push them to the edge of the nest and then push them out. It must be a terrifying moment for the eaglets, who might not have realised until then that their home was perched hundreds of feet above ground. In a few seconds they are given the freedom to fly with the risk of plummeting to their immediate death. Some manage to fly, others desperately flap their wings, trying to keep themselves airborne. At this point the parent eagle will swoop and fly beneath them, raising them up and providing a slipstream which enables them to keep flying.

In this one moment, freedom and protection come together.

And so it is with God... He gives me the freedom to fly, and takes the risk that I will flap around, make mistakes, fall into danger... And that is when he swoops in protectively, still allowing me to fly, because I must learn to do that, but keeping me from further danger. And he does this because, as the antiphon says, he delights in me.

I went on to Youtube to see if I could find a video of eaglets learning how to fly. What I found was this...