By Christopher Redmon
“There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things.”
– Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal
I have Debbie Blue’s lovely book of biblical ornithology to thank for teaching me that the dove of the Gospels, the bird whose form the Spirit takes at the Jordan River, is none other than a Palestinian rock pigeon.
A pigeon. The kind of bird you’d meet at the park bench or under a concrete bridge. I don’t know what I thought it was before.
Something holier, perhaps, a bit more polite — or at least something clean. The dove that I remember is the champion of all things soapy and delicate. It belongs on bulletins or in stained-glass windows. Just search for clip-art of our ecclesial mascot and you’ll find the image is always the same: safe, pristine, and creamy white. It’s the Holy Spirit of God, after all. Don’t call it a pigeon.
Anyone who’s been around pigeons knows that they are gawky, obnoxious creatures. When they’re not weighing down power lines or snooping around trashcans, they’re flying into pedestrians, carrying disease, and making a general mess of the structures we’ve worked so hard to erect. “Rats with wings.” Occasionally you’ll find the spotless variety, but most are a filthy mix of brown, green, and gray.
There were better options. The mighty eagle of Exodus and Isaiah, the resourceful ravens sent to Elijah — why not one of these for the Spirit whose power raised Christ from the dead? I’m still discovering the answer.
But this Lenten season I’m struck by a God who enters the world ash-colored and pigeon-faced. Maybe I need this God. Maybe that’s what Lent was always about.
The Holy Spirit, fluttering from trashcan to trashcan, finding her way past the park bench and into a crevice of concrete. Maybe she’s building a nest there, and in the words of C. S. Lewis, “we are like eggs”—flightless, fragile, and profoundly dependent.
Lent, it seems, is the time of year we come clean about our eggishness. In this season of repentance we confess the hard shells that perpetually keep us from our mother, siblings, surroundings, and selves. The walls, when we’re honest, are all that we’ve ever known; yet each day we feel them close in a little tighter. We cannot stay in them forever.
Now and again we feel a peculiar pressure coming from somewhere else, the faintest sensation of warmth. Sometimes we hear what seems to be a song in the night, though it may be mere imaginings. Nevertheless, we lean into it. We thrash toward it. We know not yet if these walls can be broken, but we have no choice if we want to keep living.
Meanwhile, a mother pigeon coos over her eggs. Something exalted is being born.
Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Christopher Redmon is a CBF Leadership Scholar and senior M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School. He currently serves at Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, N.C.