I was seventeen, and new to Faith. We were on a youth group weekend, staying in a bach on the edge of a lake.
It was Saturday morning, early. The sun had just burned the mist off the lake, but was not yet hot. I was sitting on the sill of an open window, one leg swinging over the veranda, Bible in my hand. I wasn’t reading much, just enjoying the stillness. Another girl was sitting on the veranda a few metres away and the rest of the group was inside. All was quiet.
A white dove flew from across the lake and landed on the veranda railing, within arms reach. The dove perched for several minutes, looking us each in the eye. Neither of us moved, until the dove flew over to a nearby tree, then out of sight along the shoreline.
The above image is sketched from memory about two and a half decades after the event. Any variances to actual avian anatomy are due to a deficiency of my drawing ability, not from mistaken identification of the species concerned.
It was a perfectly ordinary flesh and blood and feathers and beak kind of dove. There were no visions, voices from heaven, sudden rushing wind or mysterious flames of fire. Yet it was a profound moment that has stayed clearly in my memory for the two and a half decades since.
The memory of this moment came to mind when I was considering the “Deepening” I wrote about last month. I wrote then: “I know this much: it is NOT found by trying harder or doing more or being better.” My encounter with the dove reminds me of the following:
- God’s presence is not something I conjure up through praying or meditating in the “right” way. His presence is a gift of grace that can’t be earned. He comes to me in the same way the dove flew to me from across the lake without being summoned, not me coming to Him.
- Having said that, sometimes you can only become aware of His presence already with you by stopping what you’re doing, not rushing being busy and noisy with work and family and socialising. Those of the group inside talking or eating missed the experience (and were even somewhat sceptical when we described what had happened, even with the dove still visible on the nearby tree).
- In my subsequent experience, sometimes the best response to finding oneself in God’s presence is to simply sit very still and very quietly. Listen and observe without trying to influence or extend the moment.
- Sometimes the significant moments of God can turn up when you least expect it and aren’t necessarily looking for it. Treasure each moment as it comes, and don’t try to replicate it. To quote the Professor at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: “You won’t get into Narnia again by that route. ... don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”
What are some of the ways you’ve experienced God, and what did you learn from them?