I am a birdlover, so, of course, in rereading the opening chapter of John’s gospel, John’s vision of the Holy Spirit as a dove sent me to “birds of Israel” websites to see what kind of dove that might have been. I found five possibilities: The laughing dove, the Namaqua dove, the Eurasian collared dove, the stock dove, and the rock pigeon. Except for the turtle dove, which is decorated with black and white striped epaulettes and orangey wings, the current doves of Israel are all more or less grey, with minor markings in darker grey or black. None are even partly white, as the Holy Spirit is always depicted.Israel has changed as a habitat for doves—as for people—in so many ways, so the current birds may be different from those that once lived there. And perhaps the Hebraic dove references in the Old Testament—where it is often featured as a bird of sacrifice and also the bird that brings the olive branch to Noah—indicate a specific species of dove that John, writing in Greek, might have meant. Also, there would have been albinos of all species, as now. Still, I’m guessing grey doves then were commoner than white ones and the dove John saw in his vision was grey.
Just another instance, it seems to me though, of how we make all things holy into something out of the ordinary. Something special. Not anything we ourselves might see or hear or experience. And thus we miss out, I fear, on daily visions and miracles and moment-to-moment visitations of the divine.