patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Thursday, January 3, 2013

i saw the spirit come down from heaven as a dove

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32-33 NIV)

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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

john the baptizer's outfit

So much about clothes in the accounts of John the Baptizer. According to Mark, “clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (1:6 NIV). Matthew says about the same thing: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist” (3:4). In all four gospel accounts of John preaching and baptizing in the desert, John mentions Jesus’ sandals—which John feels himself “not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11) and the straps of which, in Mark's account, John professed himself “not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1:7).

Camel hair, these days, in the U.S., is a fine fabric, mostly used for businessmen’s winterwear. The same men rarely wear sandals, even in summer, even on vacation.

Other translations describe the belt as “a girdle of a skin about his loins” (KJV) or “a loincloth of leather” (Weymouth NT). And some translations add “coarse” to the description of the camel hair garment (NLT). And in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, John is dressed in monks’ clothes: “John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt.”

Add in John’s diet—grasshoppers and honey he must have scraped himself from the odd beehive he might have found in his desert wanderings—and the picture is clear: he was hermit. Literally (or, etymologically, anyway), a desert-dweller, along the lines of John Muir or Obi-Wan Kenobi or Christopher McCandless, of Into the Wild fame. The original desert father, if you discount similar prophets of the Old Testament and Gautama Buddha.

Anyway, just thinking about how our clothes define us. (And about how difficult it is to get such definitions across in translations across cultures.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012


About to leave for Albuquerque this morning to visit my friend Carla. It’s the tail end of Christmas break. The girls, home from college, are at loose ends, and the house is a mess but I can’t clean because the Christmas stuff’s still all up, and I have eaten all kinds of stuff I don’t generally eat for the past couple of weeks so I feel crappy, and all I can think of is home. Home the way I like it, clean and orderly and quiet. With Kris and me on our usual schedules, so that time is parceled up into pieces I can do something with—grade a set of essays, wash dishes, watch the birds, run, write.

So I thought I’d look into what there is of the story of Mary and Joseph and their baby as refugees—living a life without order and a regular schedule. Without a clear notion of what would happen next. Without—in all probability—a place of their own to stay in.

But there are few details of Jesus’ family’s refugee years. Just that they fled. That they went to Egypt. Then, to “the land of Israel,” Joseph having been told in a dream to go there. But, though Herod was dead, they were still afraid of his son Archelaus, but Joseph was dream-reassured to go back to Galilee. How glad they must have been to be back home!

Refugee stories always move me, probably as a result of my own years abroad. Fleeing, although I didn’t know it, didn’t know what I was fleeing. Certainly I wasn’t fleeing the terrors that Jesus’ family and the countless other biblical refugees fled and that refugees all over the world flee still today. Murderous rulers. War. Famine. Their houses and towns destroyed, many have no home to return to.

Jesus, in adulthood, once lamented, describing the house to house life he led, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 NIV).

What a blessing it is, after the chaos of Christmas and airplane trips, to have a place of order and peace to return to, to have a home. I look forward to that.