Doves, Pigeons, and Seeing the Spirit in All Things

by Libbie Steiner


“Cada mañana, la gente encuentra tantas palomas aqui en la iglesia,” said our guide with a laugh. “Every morning, people find many doves here in the church.”


I found myself once again in La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús in the historic center of Quito, this time on a tour to learn about the art, architecture, and history of the church. Though I enjoyed learning about the difference between baroque and chiaroscuro styles and seeing a sacristy with a chandelier and five-foot tall oil paintings, it was that line that struck me the most.



The thought of opening the church in the early morning to find doves is wonderfully whimsical to me. Perhaps I’m just amused by the image of birds poking around a gilded 17th-century church in the early hours of the day. Maybe it’s the symbolism of doves representing the presence of the Holy Spirit. I enjoy the thought of the Holy Spirit arriving in the church in the early morning, completely of His own volition and without seeking permission.


But I have a confession to make. The word paloma in Spanish means “dove” and “pigeon”, which is to say that the guide meant either a bird that is rich in spiritual significance, or an ordinary nuisance. Gray pigeons wandering around La Compañía at dawn hardly carries the same connotations as snow-white doves. As much as my heart would like me to believe that the guide meant the more spiritually meaningful translation, my head tells me that that is probably not the truth. Still, I’ve made the choice to believe that doves find their way into this magnificent church every morning because I find the idea marvelous.


In other areas of my life, I have also had to make the choice between doves and pigeons. The past three and a half months of my life here in Ecuador have been a whirlwind. I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, seen beauty in people and places, and learned to be comfortable with uncertainty. I have been stuck on the side of the road in the countryside with my friends and some cows for company for three hours after our bus broke down. I have been amazed at the kindness and generosity of Ecuadorians after the earthquake two weeks ago. I have even summoned the courage to jump off a bridge for $20 without a waiver or safety guidelines in sight.


Through it all, the lovely and the painful, I have had to constantly make choices about what I am going to take away from each experience. Do I focus on how annoying it was to wait on the side of the road for three hours, or how fun it was to laugh at how absurd the situation was and make Nutella sandwiches to make ourselves feel better? Do I dwell in despair at the number of people affected by the earthquake, or feel proud to be a human being as I watch Ecuadorians rally together to send food and supplies to our brothers and sisters on the coast? Do I remember how terrified I felt before I jumped off that bridge, or how exhilarated I felt as I swung back and forth in the canyon below?


I have chosen to see the Holy Spirit at work in all of my experiences here. In every moment of life, we have the choice to see doves or pigeons, to recognize the Spirit or reject Him. I hope that we are able to see the light that always overcomes the darkness.


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