THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE DOVE
What a lovely word is "dove", rhyming as it does with love. Most of the African savannah bush land south of the Sahara desert, reverberates to the peaceful and insistent crooning of the Cape Turtle Dove. On and on it goes. Just to remember it makes me long to be back there. The Cape Turtle Dove! Fast of flight, fanning its white and black tipped tail feathers as a brake to land in the msasa trees. Calling, calling, calling all day. Like a parson it has a little collar round its neck, a black one not a white one though, and around the nape of its neck not the throat.
I am not the only person to love the voice of the turtle dove. The Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valleys, the beautiful maiden celebrated and celebrating in the Song of Songs, whose eyes, her lover says are like doves, whose cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate, her teeth like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, whose breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle that feeds among the lilies, this Rose of Sharon says to her lover in the glorious biblical poem: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land....
On the Island of St Helena I would sit every morning in the Cathedral chapel saying my prayers and Offices to the lovely and musical call of another little dove. The pretty, Barred Ground Dove. Its voice telling of peace, soothing my spirit. I walked into the cathedral early one morning and found one sitting immobile on the floor. I picked it up, cobwebs round its toes, a glazed look to its eye.... It must have spent days trapped by fear up in the rafters.
It died during Mattins.
It is in the likeness of a dove that the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus. A lovely, lovely symbol for God intangible in our hearts and lives. God symbolised as a dove hovering over Jesus in the Jordon as did the Holy Spirit over the waters of chaos in Genesis at creation, as did Noah's dove over the waters of the flood...
The Holy Spirit is God in our own lives. God in the present tense. Not God before time was created, the Father, not God in Nazareth nearly 2000 years ago, but God now, active in my life and yours.
As the African bush reverberates to the call of the Cape Turtle Dove, as the Rose of Sharon delighted in the voice of the turtle dove, as Andrew David Irwin Neaum rejoiced in the heart-soothing music of the St. Helenian ground dove, so our world, our lives, our hearts reverberate with, and delight and rejoice in, the Holy Spirit of God, if we sit still, listen, and so become aware of him.
Once upon a time, in a bed sitter in Chiswick, London, the Holy Spirit of God filled my heart with light and joy as I said under my breath at prayer the Holy Holy Holy. An experience that changed the direction of my life.
Once as I sat listening to the radio I heard a man who had been kidnapped by the Tupamaros guerrillas in Argentina, tell how the words of Psalm 139 had sustained him in his ordeal: O Lord thou hast searched me out and known me, thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts long before. Thou art about my path and about my bed and spiest out all my ways.... The Holy Spirit of God, through the commendation of that recently released captive, filled those words with a numinous glory that for me has never ever left them.
There is a particular phrase of music in a Schubert Piano Trio which fills me with a longing for God and the "Other" that is almost unbearable and most wonderful.
There are acts of kindness and sacrifice, acts of love and courage in ordinary folk all around me, in this parish, in others, that strengthen me for God, influence me spiritually, that cause me to see the validity of what this Christianity thing is all about. This is the Holy Spirit of God in those around me, the voice of the turtle dove heard in my land.
When sometimes I sit and rummage around in my conscience, looking for what is right and wrong, sometimes I dig deep enough to get beneath the conventional kinds of right and wrong and discern there, within me, a voice, impulse, desire, urging me on to goodness and God. It is the voice of God the Holy Spirit in the very depths of my being.
Thus the voice of the turtle dove is heard throughout my everyday life, the voice of the Holy Spirit, calling incessantly, beautifully to me in all that happens. How do I hear it? How do I recognise it? Simple! By stepping out of everyday life, into the quiet of prayer, there to run the fabric of daily life, of ordinary events, through my fingers to feel for and look for the Holy Spirit in my daily life. And so to be heartened and rejoice. Simple it is indeed just to sit and in quietness look for God the Holy Spirit in everyday life remembered and recollected. Or as the Holy Spirit says himself to me and to you, through the lips of the Rose of Sharon: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.