Today, those who are following the #LiveLent Church of England Lent booklet, will read of Noah sending out the dove from the ark, looking for evidence of the end of the Flood. A dove also appeared in yesterday’s morning psalm, Psalm 55, in a rather different context:
“O that I had wings like a dove, for then I would fly away and be at rest.” (verse 7)
They are related, these ideas. They both tangentially refer to the desire for safety. In the psalm the writer has bemoaned his lot and wants to escape; from Genesis we read of Noah getting ready to leave a place of safety, when the time is right. He looks for a sign, and the dove is sent to help find it, but doesn’t.
Doves appear on quite a number of occasions in the Bible, and in symbolic role in other literature too. I was quite taken some years ago when reading in depth the poetry of the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, to see how he took the dove motif from Scripture and applied it to life, politics, the world scene, and especially to reconciliation and peace-building. I would need to go back to it again now, but some of his images are powerful, as he sees the dove of the Holy Spirit being released as from the hand of God, like from Noah at a window in the ark. That is such a telling picture.
In another poem he sees a dove bringing moss to place in the letters of a headstone, gradually obliterating the words that mark a death with something living. Reminding us, of course, of the resurrection and new life being marked too.
There could be said to be a degree of cynicism in his writing, especially when he is making political comment, but he beautifully weaves images together, and it is a pity that his poetry is not as much read as it was fifteen to twenty years ago. In his poem “One Day”, the hovering dove is quietly fanning the heated (and as Thomas would see it, largely hypocritical) debate between nations, purporting to be mutually concerned. The dove is the author of truth (again hinting at the Holy Spirit) exposing the pretence of human self-interest.
“I look forward to the peace
conferences of the future
when lies, hidden behind speeches,
shall have their smiles blown away
by the dove’s wings, fanning in silence.”
Maybe today, the dove fluttering back to Noah can help us in this period of deep anxiety. Perhaps it can be part of our meditation on the gentle attention of God to us in times of distress, and bring us the hope that days of darkness will end. How lovely it is to see the children’s rainbows in windows all around Swanage today. To think, that the rainbow has been used as a sign of hope for many hundreds of years.