Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:34-35
Grow quiet and still. Open your mind and heart to this image, to the Scripture, to the divine Presence. As you gaze, what do you see? What do you feel? Can you sense an invitation to you from the Spirit? What might it be?
Gabriel has gone. Mary stands in a dark space alone. Her head bends down to study the dove that has nearly reached her now. Mary’s visible eye is almond-shaped and large, all the more prominent since she has only the tiniest suggestion of a mouth. Having already spoken her brave words to Gabriel, she has arrived at the moment of silent engagement.
For her, silence does not mean passiveness. Her eyes are active, looking directly into the eyes of the dove, whose gaze meets hers. Mary and the dove are staring into each other’s eyes! What does that suggest? Something like mutual understanding? A shared sense of what is to happen? A kind of partnership? Notice that Mary and the dove bear some likeness to each other. Mary’s fingers are oddly the same shape as the dove’s wing-feathers. Mary’s body from chin to belly is concave, while the dove’s front is convex—they will fit. And the dove’s large eyes are shaped like hers. In fact, the dove’s eyes are at the horizontal center of the drawing. For this artist, the dove is far more than just a signifier of the Holy Spirit; this depiction of its relation to Mary is brimful of significance.
Why is the Holy Spirit so often symbolized as a dove? Five thousand years ago, the dove was already a symbol of the divine, especially divine love. In our time, a dove symbolizes peace, presumably because doves are gentle, and make that lovely cooing sound. But on a more primal level, doves symbolize love and the life that love brings. In ancient Babylon, the love-goddess Ishtar was associated with a dove. The Greek and Roman goddesses of love, Aphrodite and Venus, also appeared with doves. Is this because doves have a very strong pair-bond, and mate for life? Aren’t “lovebirds” pictured as doves? At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “Beloved.” Likewise, Noah released a dove from the ark, and it returned with an olive leaf, a sign of new life on the earth. For a dove to symbolize the Holy Spirit, then, is to say that God’s Spirit bestows love’s blessing, love’s power, love’s gift of new life. It is God’s Love that flies to bless and empower Mary to bear new life to the world.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit comes to us: love’s blessing and love’s power to bear Christ’s in ourselves and for others. Like this Mary, we are custom-designed for the Spirit’s life-gift to us. We can see eye to eye with Love’s Spirit, and fit each other very well.
Spirit of Love, help me to know your nearness and help me to meet you with willingness to be perfectly loved, and to share such love with others. Amen.