We were a flock of American tourists, our shepherd a young Russian woman with a pale, pointed face and hair so dark it must have been dyed. Above us the dome of the church pushed against the sky. We stood, some of us gazing down at the designs inlaid in the stone floor, some of us gazing up at the soaring ribs of theroof.
“What is that?” One of us asked, a middle-aged man who thrust his finger towards the center of the dome. A tender shuffle of fabric as we all turned our faces towards the ceiling. Up there, as if floating from the middle of the dome, hung a distant white blob.
“That,” said our guide in a voice thick with Russian accent, “That is an alabaster bat,representing the Holy Spirit.”
A snicker wound its way through our group, restless rustles of condescension or confusion. “Oh, dear, you must mean a marble dove,” said another one of us, this one an older woman.
She spoke kindly, perhaps concerned for the young woman’s English, perhaps concerned for God’s Son and what had descended from the sky that day on the banks of the Jordan.
The guide flushed, our group felt relieved, everyone’s gaze fell back to earth. I wondered how different the gospel would have been if the Holy Spirit had swooped down out of the dusk, flapping its leathery wings.
BIO: I live and teach in
MOTIVATION: This piece came from a church tour I took a few years ago in