Just recently, I met up with an old friend, in a small market town, halfway between where we both live. Late in the morning, we headed down to the river and, as we walked along the tow path, we reached a fork in the track.

Up ahead, the river meandered round to the left, with a huge muddy puddle, which straddled the tow path. To the right, although muddy, it looked like the path would take us across grass, without a puddle in sight.

As we stood there trying to decide which way to go, out of nowhere, a pure white dove descended – and landed on the path in front of us. It was facing in the same direction as us, its tail feathers fluffed, its purity in stark contrast to the earthy hues of the mud.

My friend and I looked at each other in wonder.

As we watched, the dove silently spread its wings and flew off to the right. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

“Wow!” said my friend, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

So we followed the dove’s leading, and took the track to the right.

Not long later, we discovered a lovely little café, hidden away, out of sight from from the spot where we’d been standing – where we took seats by a window overlooking the river, and enjoyed a good coffee and a bite to eat.

It felt like such an unexpected and beautiful blessing.


On the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, recorded in the Bible, we read this: “At that moment, heaven was opened, and he [John the Baptist] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him [Jesus].” (Matthew 3:16)

It is in this moment that John the Baptist recognised Jesus as the longed-for Jewish Messiah!

Then John [the Baptist] gave this testimony: ” I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him [Jesus]. And I myself did not know him, but the one [God] who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:32-34).

If the Holy Spirit had not adopted the shape of a dove, how would John the Baptist have been able to bear witness in this testimony? He wouldn’t.

But why a dove? Why did the Holy Spirit come as a dove?

I’d like to suggest these reasons:

  • The Holy Spirit is clean and pure: Under the ceremonial laws of the Jews, the dove was considered to be ‘clean’ and ‘pure’, which meant they were used in religious sacrifices at the temple. For example, Luke 2:24 records that two doves were offered when Jesus was presented at the temple as a baby.
  • The Holy Spirit brings peace: The dove is a symbol of peace. After the flood, Noah sent out a dove from the ark, and it returned with an olive branch. (Genesis 8:6-12). This meant there was dry land nearby – a sign that the flood waters were receding, God’s judgment was abating, and he was extending peace in place of wrath.
  • The Holy Spirit is faithful: Doves are monogamous creatures. Once they find their mate, they will mate for life. (Perhaps this is why there are ‘two turtle doves’ in the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song?)
  • The Holy Spirit is gentle: Doves don’t have gall bladders, so they are deemed to have no gall. They are viewed as gentle, rather than contentious or bitter.
  • The Holy Spirit conveys messages: The homing pigeon is a type of dove.

Is it any wonder that God chose a dove as a vessel for the Holy Spirit to descend on Jesus?

How many of us, as we journey through life, need these qualities of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Perhaps particularly when, like my friend and I on our recent walk, we face a fork in the path, unsure which direction to take?

It’s in those moments that God sends us the Holy Spirit, like a dove, to equip and empower us in our decision-making – because he wants us to make choices that will lead us to unexpected and beautiful blessings.

They might be tucked away, out of sight from where we’re standing, but he knows they are there for the taking – and he wants us to find them.


As you think about this, I will leave you with these questions to ponder:

Have you ever experienced the Holy Spirit descending upon you? If so, what happened and how did it make you feel?

If you are at a junction in your life’s journey, what will help you make your decision about which way to go?

Which of the Holy Spirit’s characteristics do you most need at the moment, and why?

As ever, constructive comments are welcome below!

(Please note: This is my ‘thought for the month’ reflection for November. (You can find all my ‘thought for the month’ reflections here.)

Photo from Kieu via Pixabay



  1. This is such a good reminder – to look for the signs of God leading us as we go through our days. They aren’t always as obvious as a beautiful dove, but this has inspired me to pray I will have open eyes to see them.

    • Joanna Watson Reply

      Thanks for this, Mary. It’s amazing what can happen when someone starts to pray, “Lord, open my eyes!”

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