Today’s lectionary reading from the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark – the Baptism of Christ – has reminded me of a moment I had while visiting the Sienna Prayer Center in Ventura, California. It was a Holy Week retreat and I spent hours in the covenant gardens observing all types of birds and other small wild-life.
Stretched out on a lawn, I had occasion to leisurely watch a beautiful dove. Her efforts were awkward as she began the task of lifting her resting body from atop a nearby tree. She labored successfully under great efforts to a spot which seemed to be right overhead. With nothing to perch upon I wondered why she headed upward.
As she reached her destination there was a brief moment at which she became weightless. Her wings were fully stretched, a magnificently symmetrical wingspan. Her strong tail feathers fanned out wide, she was completely relaxed as she hung effortlessly for a moment in the air. Her gaze shifted to another tree, and with a slight but deliberate movement of her head she let her body hurl and fall freely to someplace hidden deep with another tree.
If Christ had been this bird’s destination – the Holy Spirit descending upon Him as a dove – at His baptism, it would have been quite a dramatic and shocking scene. Not the ethereal, lukewarm images of rays of light and brightness. No, it would have appeared more like a great force of intentional movement from heaven toward a man emerging from under the water.
This vision has awakened in me a curiosity of other word-images in Scripture. Might THIS vision of a dove’s movement tell a different story about my Lord’s baptism? And might this different story produce a more mysterious understanding of the active agent of the Trinity in my life?