From the Pastor’s Desk: On Eagle’s Wings

This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:

The song ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ was first recorded in 1979 and was written by Father Jan Michael Joncas.  Father Joncas was born in 1951 and was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1980.  He is a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The origins of the song came about when Joncas (prior to his ordination) was having a meal with a friend of his (Doug Hall).  During this time, they heard that Hall’s father died of a heart attack.  Wanting to console his friend, Joncas sought a way to create something that would be both prayer and comforting for his friend and the family.

Joncas went to his parent’s home in Minnesota and he composed the song on his guitar.  In writing the hymn, he drew on several scriptures (Psalm 91:4, Exodus 19, Matthew 13 and primarily Isaiah 40:31).  The passage from Isaiah states:  ‘But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength.  They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not be weary.  They will walk and not faint.  He will cover you with his feathers.  Under his wings you will take refuge.’

The thinking was that God will watch over us and hold us in the palm of His hand through all of our life—the good times and especially the bad or difficult times.

Soon after Father Joncas published the hymn, he began to get request from other denominations to reproduce the song.

The song has also been a part of multiple significant public events that attributed to the popularity of the hymn.  In 1995, a request came to use the hymn during an event after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  It was the governor’s wife, Cathy Keating who requested that the song by player.

A couple of years late, Michael Crawford (the original Phantom in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’) performed the song on national television.

And to the surprise of Father Joncas, the hymn was sung at the funeral of the famed operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

With all these requests and performances, Father Joncas said that the hymn was going way beyond denominational stuff, but was becoming part of the culture.

Father Joncas doesn’t think that ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ is his best work (he has written over 300 songs) but it is easily his most popular composition.  He has told people that he has been pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by the positive reception of the hymn.

He said in an interview, ‘The number of times people have come up and talked about the song touching them at really tough moments—I am pretty much just blown away by the experience that God can still use that [song] 35 years, 40 years after its creation and still have it impact people’s lives.  But I don’t think it’s me. I really think it’s the fact that it’s Scripture, that the melody then allows this incredibly important scriptural text to hit the heart in a way that it wouldn’t, maybe, if you were just reading it.”