Revd Dr Rae Caro

The Curate Writes

Monday 14th May 2018


At Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus and the birth of the church. The Holy Spirit can be a challenging concept to grasp and it can be difficult to connect the precious experience of being renewed and nurtured with the pictures of birds that so often represent the Holy Spirit. One of my favourite hymns, She Sits Like A Bird by John Bell, takes the Holy Spirit as inspiration.

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
Hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
She sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
Waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

Throughout the hymn the Holy Spirit is described using female terms. This can be challenging if we have always thought of God in male terms. In Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), the word for Spirit is feminine, so many Christians also choose to describe the Holy Spirit in this way. This first verse talks about the role of the Holy Spirit in creation. Genesis 1:1-2 describes: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The idea that the Spirit was there at the beginning of creation, waiting to bring forth its potential is very powerful.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
Lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
She nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
Nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

In our creed the Holy Spirit is described as ‘the giver of life’, and though the Holy Spirit does this in countless ways, the image of the Spirit being present in pregnancy occurs several times in the Bible. For example, when Mary is pregnant with Jesus and visits her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, Luke 1:41 states: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
Waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
She weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
Nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

she sits like a bird

This verse describes Pentecost. When the disciples were gathered, a violent wind came from heaven and tongues of fire rested on their heads. The disciples were able to speak foreign languages and able to communicate with those they would not previously have been able to. This was a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit to break down boundaries and to reach those who were previously excluded.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
Gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
She is the key opening the scriptures,
Enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

The final verse reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s place in the Trinity; God as Father, Son and Spirit. When Jesus ascended to Heaven he promised to send the Spirit to strengthen them in their mission to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world. In this way, the Holy Spirit still inspires us today as we read the scriptures, as we move to action and in the deep peace we receive.

She Sits like a Bird by John Bell and Graham Maule © 2005 WGRG / The Iona Community.