Birds are historically a symbol of souls in Christian art. (1) When I see a flock of birds I’m always reminded of community. People thrive in community because needs are met through relationships that we can not find fulfillment for in and of ourselves. In communion with Christ we gain the priviledge of calling God, the source of all our provision, our Heavenly Father. We become part of the family, our home is in Him, and his Spirit resides in us. My first memory of recognizing this truth was a study abroad opportunity to Newcastle, England during my undergraduate studies. I read the begining of Psalm 90 and felt an overwhelming sense of peace and internal belonging in spite of being thousands of miles away from everything I normally called home. At that point I knew no change in latitude or longitude could ever take away my home because God was with me: “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!”(2) Having a personal relationship with Jesus involves God’s Holy Spirit no longer residing in a temple built by human hands: “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”(3) He’s always with us.
The Holy Spirit as a dove is the first thing I think of in reference to God’s manifest presence. This reference is probably because of sunday school stories of the flood paired with Jesus’ baptism. But unlike the sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine”, which I understood to portray a candle light as God’s Spirit in us to be shared with the world, Ravi Zacharias introduced me to an essay by F. W. Boreham where the Holy Spirit was re-established in my mind to have bird-like attributes in addition to illuminating qualities.
“But, whatever the cause, such distressing conditions do emerge; and the thing to be remembered at those times is that this unhappy state of affairs represents, not the snuffing out of a candle, but the frightening away of a bird. The distinction is vital. If you extinguish a light, the act is final: you plunge the room into darkness without creating any illumination elsewhere. The flame does not flash into being in some other part of the house. But if you startle a bird, the gentle creature flies away and sings its lovely song upon some other bough.”(4)
So whether it’s community as family or communion with God, the Holy Spirit as a blessing or the presence of God; birds are beautiful creations constantly reminding my soul of it’s Maker.
- Craig Hawkins
(1) George Ferguson, ‘Signs & Symbols in Christian Art’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 12-13.
(2) Psalm 90:1
(3) 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
(4) F W Boreham, ‘The Candle and the Bird’, Boulevards of Paradise (London: The Epworth Press, 1944), 103-113.