In yesterday's gospel reading, and this morning's pray-as-you-go meditation, I listened to the story of the baptism of Jesus, as told in Mark's gospel. There's a lot in the story, but it's a very familiar one for most of us (I even preached on it a number of years ago). We've got John not being worthy to loosen a sandal, and Jesus being named God's beloved son. It was a minor detail that grabbed my attention this time, though. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.
Why like a dove? And what does that even mean? If you were on the riverbanks, what would have happened to make you report, "Wow, the Holy Spirit just came upon that guy like a dove!"? What would you have seen? It's a serious question, because it's a weird description. Was there an actual dove that people took to be representative of the divine? Or is it totally metaphor-- and if so, how do we understand the metaphor?
Doves are a symbol of peace to many of us, but if a dove landed on me, I'd be pretty startled. Was the Holy Spirit startling? Also, whenever I'm granted close proximity to a small creature, particularly a wild one, I'm conscious of needing to be very gentle, not to hurt or frighten it. Is the Holy Spirit something we need to treat delicately?
I popped over and checked out Old Testament references to doves. We've got Noah's dove with the olive branch, some sacrifice instructions, and a good bit about a lover's eyes in Song of Songs. Isaiah talks a little about the moaning of doves, and Hosea thinks the dove hasn't got any sense. We could use those things to flesh out (feather out?) the image, or not.
Have you given any thought to the Holy Spirit descending like a dove?