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'On Eagle's Wings' composer pens new song inspired by life during COVID-19

Father Michael Joncas' new hymn 'Shelter Me' is already being performed at virtual church services.

ST PAUL, Minn. — During COVID-19, the notion of 'shelter' has taken on new meaning.

Now, it has also delivered a new song.  

Father Michael Joncas had been praying about the global pandemic before bed. He awoke at 3 a.m. inspired to write.

Over the next few hours, Joncas wrote Shelter Me, a newly published hymn already being played by church musicians during virtual ceremonies.

“What I was praying was basically, ‘God, I trust that you are somehow in control of this. I don’t understand it, but what could I do to be of help?’” Joncas says.

The artist in residence at University of St. Thomas based his hymn on Psalm 23. The Psalm’s familiar verse, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” evoked images that seemed to Joncas to parallel the times.

He searched for lyrics that also echo Psalm 23’s message of comfort and protection.

“The way ahead is dark and difficult to see,” Joncas wrote. “All will be well if only you will shelter me.”

This isn't first time Joncas has been inspired.

In 1976, while still in his 20s, Joncas wrote 'On Eagle's Wings' for a friend who had lost his father.  He sang the song at the wake, then again, at the family’s request, the next day at the funeral.

“I never knew 'On Eagle’s Wings' was going to be something that touched people,” Joncas says.

The song went on to become one of the most recognized modern hymns in the Christian faith, adopted by many denominations, and a funeral standard.

“I think there's a connection also to Shelter Me,” Joncas says.“It's that same sense of comfort, I think – and protection.”

Joncas requested and his publisher agreed to offer Shelter Me royalty free for one year.    

“I suppose what I'm really hoping is that it will help people get through the pandemic,” he says, “have a sense that this is survivable and that God's presence will be with us.”

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There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.