Monday, June 9, 2014

Listening for the Dove's Call

A mourning dove
Occasionally I spot a mourning dove fluttering around my yard, usually flying low to the ground looking for cover.  Much more often, I don’t see them at all but rather hear their distinctive call: oo-ooo-hoo-oo in the trees around my house.  (It sounds kind of like a distant owl—especially since I often hear them early in the morning and late in the evening.). 

When I hear the dove’s call, I usually don’t know exactly where it is, but I know it is near.  So it is with the Holy Spirit—God’s invisible, but real Presence in our lives.  After Jesus ascended, God could not be confined to a precise location.  As the old hymn says, in the rustling grass, we hear God pass; God speaks to us every day.  Our job is to develop eyes that see and ears to hear, so we can recognize God’s call and respond.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit is symbolized as descending like a dove—see Matthew 3:13-17.  The Scripture is cited as one of the stronger images we have for the theological concept of Trinitythree Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) combined in one Being (God).  There are three distinct Persons present in this passage: Jesus is being baptized; a voice speaks; a dove-like Presence descends. In artwork depicting this scene, the dove is often depicted as pure white.

Two turtle doves…
I don't know if they are perched on a pair tree or not. :)
Chances are, the doves flying in the skies of Palestine when Jesus was alive were probably not pure white. An example, cited several times in Scripture, is the turtle dove (see photo), which is still common in that region today.  It was given as sacrificial offering by Jesus’ parents (Luke 2:24), used to symbolize true love (Song of Songs 2:12), and offered as an example of faithfulness by the prophets (Jeremiah 8:7). 

In a time long before custom bred white pigeons (a.k.a., rock doves) used in release ceremonies today, a white dove would have been fairly distinctive as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

While on one hand, the Holy Spirit's manifestation seems worthy of a more rare and exotic bird, on the other hand, the dove is the perfect choice. There are more than three hundred species of dove flying over the Earth’s surface; chances are we are never far from a dove.  Likewise, the Heavenly Dove is always nearby, ready to descend into our lives and show us the Way.  The dove image has become a universally known symbol of peace and love.

So the next time we hear a dove's call in the distance or the flutter of wings as they pass, let it be a reminder to us to open ourselves more fully to the Holy Sprit's presence and to listen for God’s call in our lives.

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