I guess you would say there are no such things as coincidences. Only mini-miracles. Today, the 14th anniversary of my father’s death, I read these words in the Gospel of Matthew (15-17):
After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.
That’s what it was like the evening my dad died.
Standing there over his hospital bed was much like witnessing a birth, when a soul emerges from the womb with a brand new body. As I felt his warm hand turn cold, his spirit detached from his body, leaving it behind as a shell. As my dad’s pulse gradually stopped, I knew for certain that the corpse around which my sisters and I gathered was not the end of the story—just a transition to something or somewhere I don’t yet understand. And although there was no dove flying around the windows of the ICU, I’ve never been so sure that You were there with us; I’ve never felt the presence of Your Advocate, the Holy Spirit so strongly as that night.
It was very much like the experience that Mr. Guardian Angel, Ann’s husband, told Eric and me about during the weekend of our reunion. And I doubt either of us would have believed him had he not showed us a photograph of a white dove sitting peacefully on his arm.
In his words:
Two days after Ann’s mother died, the family gathered in the garden outside the house. It was a time much like the Pentecost, when the disciples met in the upper room to discuss the game plan after Jesus’ death. Like the apostles, Ann’s family was scared and confused.
When a white dove appeared on the dormer of Ann’s mother’s bedroom, Ann and I realized the significance of the Holy Spirit! It was a great comfort to see the dove, and then to our great surprise if flew down and landed on my brother-in-law’s head!
My brother-in-law is six years younger than Ann, and as a child had several bantams (small chickens) as pets. They lived in a big chicken coop in her back yard. The bantams would roost on Danny’s head when he went to see them, which was unusual, a sign of the Holy Spirit’s sense of humor. How would the dove have chosen my brother-in-law out of the seven people present, and then happily sit on his head as though He belonged there. God knew it would bring back happier days and acknowledgement of His presence and loving understanding of the family’s great loss.
Ann and I were moved, the others greatly amused, and then I held out my hand in acknowledgement and said “Come Holy Spirit.” The dove immediately flew to me, walked along my arm toward my face, and gently peck me on the cheek–even as my sister-in-law held out crackers for the dove to eat. I don’t think the others paid any attention to these words, but Ann and I experienced this as Christians would, and were greatly moved by the Dove sitting on my arm. A photo was taken, which we treasure and have given to many, as we share the miracle.
Ann and I went back to the church in the autumn, which was several months later, to present the church with a check in honor of Ann’s mother, to be used to maintain the lovely cemetery on Shelter Island, N. Y. at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The priest, who knew my mother well, and guided her through the year preceding her death, told us that all week, there had been a white dove hanging out at the church and the graveyard. He first saw it on the peak of the church entrance, flying and resting in the area of my parent’s graves. The priest was very moved and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
God, as my creator, you know me. Right? You know that I’m always asking you for signs–that this job was the right one to take, that Annapolis was the right place to move, that giving up booze was the right thing to do—or for evidence that you do really care about us, Your children. I’m a doubting Thomas that needs to see the risen Jesus and touch his wounds in order to believe in the resurrection.
That’s why these stories and signs—a white dove pecking the cheek of Mr. Guardian Angel after his mother-in-law’s death, or reading the passage about the dove, the Spirit of God, descending on Jesus on the anniversary of my dad’s death—hold so much weight.
They provide me with small ounces of hope that all of the stupid stuff in life has meaning, that all of our suffering and pain has a purpose, and that there really is some divine order in the madness down here, that the big picture makes sense in the end.