People often use items that have brand names. This is true of soap. I have often heard people talk about the wonders of “Dove” soap, but to those for whom it is of concern I also mention that we Christians often see the image of “dove” in another way. That image is that of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Pentecost reminds us that Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his work right before his ascension into heaven. With the coming of the Spirit the disciples would receive encouragement and support while they continued spreading Jesus’ message on earth.
But just who/what is the Holy Spirit? Before you start yelling “heretic” hear me out. I strongly suspect that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. Here are just a few of the many biblical references that bring this out.
To begin with, there is the first creation account. We read that the earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the face of the deep. “…while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2b) Then God spoke and creation occurred. Now, that’s power.
A second example comes from the book of Judges. Gideon, who is a warrior and a leader, is chosen to become a Judge who is both a warrior and a leader of the people. “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon….” (Jdg. 6:34) These examples from the Old Testament demonstrate that “wind” and “spirit” refer to the power of God. What is of import here is that the Hebrew word used for “wind” and “spirit” is RUAH, which basically means “breath,” something that comes forth from the inside of a person.
There are also New Testament examples. When St. Paul wrote to the Romans, he said, “And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:27) Here we are told that the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the disciples. Intercession is a manifestation of the power of God.
A significant example is that all four Gospels speak about the Baptism of Jesus. (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34) We can surmise that the Baptism of Jesus was considered a significant event, which is why all four evangelists utilize the same image. Namely, in Matt., Mk., and Lk. At the Baptism, a voice from heaven says, “…this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased…” Then the Spirit appears in the form of a dove.
John’s Gospel differs a little, perhaps because it was the last of the Gospels to be written thus allowing more reflection upon the deeds of Jesus. The text reads, “And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’.” (Jn. 1:32.)
The next verse gives the explanation. “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'” (Jn. 1:33) This last verse tells us that the baptism with the Holy Spirit provides the recipient with the help and encouragement to proclaim Jesus’ message to the world.
What have we learned from this? First, that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. The examples from Genesis and the book of Judges have brought this out, showing how “wind” and “spirit” were concretely effective.
Secondly, that Paul in his letter to the Romans says to us that the spirit intercedes for God, which is a manifestation of power. The four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
In effect, the Holy Spirit is the power of God. Before his ascension, Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, peace, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. When we are baptized, we receive that same commission, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the encouragement and support to fulfill that commission.
Because of our Baptism, we have received a sharing of the power of God in order to fulfill the ministry of Jesus. So for us Christians, the image of the dove is, in reality, the Holy Spirit and not just a bar of soap.