The Dove, the Holy Spirit…

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…” (John 14:15-17 NIV).

I was thinking today about how the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, alighting upon Jesus at the time of his baptism by John at the Jordan River (see Luke 3:22) .  And that made me think of Noah, who sent out a real, physical dove from the ark after the Great Flood (see Genesis 8:6-12). At first, the dove could find no place to rest, as the waters of judgement were still covering the land, and so she returned to the ark.  Seven days later, the dove was sent out again and returned with an olive leaf in her beak, a symbol that life was just beginning to return to earth after the devastation of the flood.  Seven days after that, Noah let her out of the ark a third time. This time, she didn’t return; she had found a hospitable place to live permanently. Why a dove? A dove symbolizes gentleness, simplicity and purity. It has appeared as an icon of the Holy Spirit over centuries in religious art.

In the passage above from St John’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that he and his Father will send the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth, of life, of healing and wholeness – to stay not only with us, but actually be in us. That Spirit, so generously sent to humankind suffering from the devastation of sin, searches for a home – a receptive heart – in which to settle and remain, just as Noah’s dove looked for a place to make her nest and stay. As Noah’s dove found no place to rest her feet, “the world”, devoid of divine Life “cannot accept” this gift of the Helper and Advocate either, says Jesus. There is no place for the Spirit to rest, no room to alight in hearts enthralled by sin: “…but men loved darkness rather than light...” (John 3:19) .

But God, who is rich in mercy, lovingly persists. He has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and mercifully desires to draw all people to himself that all might receive this Spirit who enlightens, regenerates, transforms, heals, and raises up to new life. God himself has made this mercy and grace available; as Noah built the saving ark, Jesus has established his Church to be that ark. He sends out his Spirit, looking for receptive hearts in which to make his permanent residence.

Life is available; it only awaits our “yes” for the “dove” to come and make his home in our hearts – permanently – even amidst the distressing “floods” occurring in our own lives right now. That Dove brings hope for new life and new grow. “Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest! And in our hearts, take up Thy rest. Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid, to fill the hearts which Thou hast made....”

Thoughts: (1) Scholars tell us that the Old Covenant rabbis believed that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was, indeed, an olive tree.  Not surprising, since olives were not only food, but were also considered medicinal, imparting health. Olive oil today is judged by nutritionists to be the healthiest oil commonly available. (2) Why does Noah wait seven days? Seven is the number associated with covenants which God offers mankind, covenants which create family bonds and bind us to him. Why was the dove sent out 3 times? Three is the number for God, the Covenant-Maker and Savior.

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