This is the second of four meditative and artistic journeys, written and created by Petra Shakeshaft. We invite you to settle in, and see where she takes you on this beautiful journey of Peace in Advent. We return to Petra’s journey as we move through the weeks of Advent. You can download her original pdf at the end of the post.
The dove has long been an acknowledged symbol of peace.
This image was used as the illustration on the poster for the Paris Peace Congress in 1949. Until the rise of Fascism in Spain, Picasso had shown no great interest in politics, but the Spanish Civil War changed that. Dove is the complete visual antithesis of his most famous Civil Warpainting, Guernica, a distorted, chaotic violent painting meant to shock us; to make us reflect on the human consequences of war and oppression. This gentle picture exudes calm and peace.
The actual bird belonged to his close friend and fellow-artist Henri Matisse. I find myself wondering if Dove might, for Picasso, have said something too, about the depth of this friendship. Although outwardly argumentative, there were things, Picasso said after Matisse’s death, that he could never say to another person.
The dove was a theme Picasso returned to again and again in a series of line-drawings many carrying the olive branch of peace – a symbol that, for Christians, points back to the dove that returned to the ark marking the end of the flood and a return to the land.
Real peace though, is so much more than the absence of conflict; a truce, an end of war or hostility. Peace is something deep within us and yet whose source is beyond; that ‘peace which the world cannot give.
The Moor, RS Thomas
It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
Like R S Thomas’s Moor, there are places where we find peace more easily. For me, a walk on Lindisfarne, across the dunes to where the sand meets the water and the water meets the sky is where I know I can find Peace, and even imaging it, recalling the sounds, the breeze on my face and the sense of space all around me gives me a sense of peace. There are ancient footpaths parting the grass on the dunes and I wonder about the feet of the medieval monks from the abbey treading this same way, also seeking peace and prayer; a connection with God in the rawness of his creation.
The Dove in Christian art is the Holy Spirit; the means through which the Godhead connects directly with us and through us. The Holy Spirit hovers over the waters of creation, is shown in paintings of the Annunciation to Mary and descending on Jesus as he stands in the River Jordan. The Dove indicates God’s presence, God’s part in the story that is happening.
In our own story, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen, touched or heard, but, as Jesus told Nicodemus, we can see it at work; we can feel its effects. Those moments of deep Peace, of consolation, connection with God, leave their mark on us, change us, reshape us, remake us into the people God calls us to be – the people he created us to be. It’s part of the same, continuing process of creation that began with the Spirit hovering over the waters.
Someone told me recently about the tradition that a white feather is an indication that ‘someone’ (a dead person) has been in that place – the feather is a kind of message. It’s a superstition, but, no doubt, brings comfort to those who have recently lost a loved one. In the print, the Dove of Peace/Holy Spirit ascends, the moment is coming to an end, but there is a sign, a white feather, left behind. The presence of God is real.
Peace descends on us, sometimes slowly; an awareness, a knowing of the unknown. It comes in a deep breath,
Light streaming on to an altar
solitude in a shared space
placing our prayers with the silent prayers
of the generations that have gone before
Pebbles ticking one against another
as the water recedes
the rhythm of the tide
the bird lifting on the breeze, calling
white into the light
and light as a feather
Peace touches that place deep inside us that is God And it passes all understanding
REFLECTIONS * Where do you find peace? What does it feel like? * What makes you restless? What does it feel like? * Make a small display of things that remind you of Peace: maybe pebbles or shells collected from a favourite beach, a photograph, a feather, paints, water ... put a candle in the middle and use it as a focus for prayer.
A Gaelic Blessing
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ, of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.
Listen to this Blessing here