Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè
In my plea to read the Gospel of John as poetic metaphor and less as literal things of earth I ended up promoted to an artist’s bench. Apparently, my sketch of vining grapes was more beloved than my argument against Trinity. So I’m assigned to illustrate a border circle on this page about John the Baptist. This speaks in John’s voice of his baptizing of one of his followers. John is clearly trying to make sense of traditions for ranking teacher over follower as this newly baptized Jesus is already loosening the mortar of tradition. [John 1:15-31] Maybe the abbot assigned this art to me because he knows I will sidestep ruts of tradition? The abbot is wise.
This text gives images of baptismal waters and a bird landing on the head of Jesus. [John 1:32-35] I know the images of holy cliché –dove stylized into a triangle diving from cloud as a pointing arrow on a banner to denote the Jesus just popping up from the water. Do doves descend straight down into water? Or was the original artist of this image envisioning a diving duck? The words of it say the dove landed on Jesus, it didn’t just point to Jesus. Like the dove sent out in the Noah story, it found a safe place out of the water and maybe returned with an olive branch.
I know where the doves roost. So let me prepare to ink this art by winding a few well-chosen horsehairs onto a stick to make my brush. I’m excused to visit the stable.
The stable is the sweet smell of horses and hay, a welcome solitude for me at this moment. The wings of the doves flying among the rafters are readying for a winter that today only seems a mythical tale told in cooing to fledglings. And I’m sitting down here for such a long, quiet stillness amid the gentle sounds of horses at peace, snorting, chomping at hay, setting a hoof, rustling the straw. The dove’s songs and coos are long and peaceful. One flies down. It “ascends” and lands on stable gate. Now I see it’s true. The dove doesn’t drop straight down, and they don’t take the shape of an arrow. It is simply a soft wad of feathers, wings extended for the glide, then a tucking back into the ball after the landing. A second dove flies down, next to the first in the same pattern of gliding and feathers. So what could be the artist’s image of this?