In the evening, the dove returned with a freshly plucked olive branch in its beak, and Noah knew that the waters were receding from the earth. After seven more days, he again sent out the dove, and this time it did not return. ~ Genesis 8:11-12
The classic image of peace that comes from the Noah’s Ark story is a dove carrying an olive branch. At the risk of suggesting that the story was literal, it is interesting to speculate on what species carried that branch. Perhaps the most likely candidate is actually a pigeon. No, it is not the pigeon we know, and in fact, it looks more like what we normally call a dove. Truthfully, it is all the same family, so really it is just a matter of what we choose to call it. The origin of our urban pigeons is a matter of conjecture. All pigeons and doves seem to be descended from Rock Doves, and that is what our city pigeons had been called until they got renamed Rock Pigeons, with the designation “feral.” That is because they have so thoroughly adapted to life with humans that they are no longer truly wild.
Interestingly, the candidate for the pigeon of the ark is a species suspected to be introduced to the Middle East by humans (although Noah is not specifically named). It also has a great name, Laughing Dove. When they nest, the male brings twigs to the female, who weaves a nest with them. Olive trees are among the locations they are known to nest, so that dove carrying an olive branch back to the ark was ready to make a home there. For the humans on the ark, the vegetation found by the bird was evidence that the waters were receding proving there was hope for a new home. For the Laughing Dove, the ark was a good place to call home. Of course, that was until there was the opportunity to leave for a tree on dry land.
The story of Noah’s ark is a story of salvation, but not just in being carried from a destructive past to a promising future. While those weeks on the ark were a time of waiting in hope, for the doves, it was also home. Perhaps we have missed an important part of this story that was right in front of us all along. Maybe when we hear Jesus preach that the kindom of God has come we shouldn’t be surprised because we were already safely home, even if it is a smelly, leaky boat.
Prayer: Holy Navigator, thank you for saving us by piloting us safely home, by showing us that with you we are always already there. Amen.