Reimagining the Holy Spirit


Christianity has the classic image of the Holy Spirit as a perfectly white dove, wings spread, usually descending.  It’s beautiful and a favorite of stained glass artisans.  The dove is also a biblical symbol of peace.  Something is very poignant about the purity of the white as well when we are to be made “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7) from the cleansing of Christ.

(Image courtesy of

I’m spending a lot of time pondering the Holy Spirit lately.  I often think of the works of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when scripture describes “divided tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3) appearing to the disciples and resting upon them.  It’s the day in the Christian calendar when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and its indwelling among the disciples which we, their spiritual heirs, have received through the sacrament of baptism.  Yet the dove doesn’t seem to fit the tongues of fire imagery.  Maybe I read far too many Marvel comics in middle school, but I picture the phoenix, an intertwining of the bird and the flame.  A bird not only consumed, but composed of fire. 

(Image courtesy of

There’s something more than majestic about this image; there’s power.  Raw and explosive power which I would expect from a person of the Holy Trinity.  Our omnipotent, all powerful God should be represented by an image that conjures the scriptural maxim “fear the Lord” as well as inspires us who fall under God’s protection, instruction, and guidance.  The Gospel of John refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate (14:26), and I have to admit that I would want the phoenix on my side.  That bird looks like he’s serious, ready to take on the world, and that is exactly what it must do.

The Holy Spirit takes on the sins on the world, and those that dwell within us.  It battles our sinful inclination by speaking the word of God directly into our hearts, urging us away from earthly vices and toward heavenly pursuits.  When we embody the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians we support God’s endeavor to purge this world of sin.  God first began this epic battle when the Father gave Israel the Law on Mount Sinai.  The Son, Jesus Christ, continued it in his ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection.  Now the Holy Spirit has come into our midst and we are charged to carry on the works of our savior.  We do not fight with words to injure others, but with love to heal those afflicted by sin.  In order that all of us may find strength to resist the urge to sin and forgiveness for those sins we have committed.  The Holy Spirit is a mighty ally, a fierce force for good, and powerful agent of justice.  When you feel weak, imagine this mighty bird of flame on your side, ready to protect you and guide you through the darkness of your sorrows, your troubles, and your times of need.  When you are called upon to speak or act in God’s name, take comfort in knowing that this burning light resides within you and you can unleash it to assist you in spreading the Gospel, speaking the truth in love, and enacting your faith.

“But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”
(Isaiah 40:31 NRS).


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