Based on Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40:31, it was written in 1979 when the father of a friend of Joncas' died - and the first public performance was at the funeral. It was later recorded and released by North American Liturgy Resources. It extends the scriptural text, using the metaphor of eagle with strong caring wings to represent God. There has been discussion whether the title should be "On Eagle's Wings" or "On Eagles' Wings". The original intention was the first (Eagle's - meaning the wings of one eagle, metaphorically God) - but an argument for "Eagles'" can also be made.
The song is particularly popular for funerals and memorials reminder of God’s presence in sorrow-filled times.
The verses were written with the intention that they would be sung by a trained singer and so are challenging in both their range and setting. But many congregations have developed such a strong emotional connection to the song that the manage to sing it all, despite the challenges. It is not universally popular, however, and many classically-trained musicians dislike it intensely: some regard it as the late 20th century equivalent of Bring Flowers of the Rarest or To Jesus All Hearts Burning.
A Spanish-language translation, En Sus Alas, is also now published.
The tune, also composed by Joncas, has a 4/4 time signature, and was originally published in the key of D. The first few notes of the verse are c B C BB AGFGA.
A preview of the sheet music is available on OCP's website, and many different arrangements are now available.
Solo singer with backing:
Female soloist with piano backing:
Solo singer - self-accompanied on guitar:
LyricsThe lyrics are copyright so cannot be reproduced here. But they are currently available on this website.
The song has 3 verses, and a four-line chorus which is repeated after every verse. A rough outline is:
1 You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord ...
And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of his hand.
2. The snare of the fowler will never capture you ...
3. For to his angels he's given a command ....