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May 19, 2021
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May 19, 2021

The Holy Spirit and the  ‘Holy Ghost Orchid’

By Delia Chatoor

The Peristeria elata comes from the orchid family and is known as ‘the dove orchid’ or ‘the Holy Ghost orchid’ because of its close resemblance to a white dove, traditionally seen as the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Bible, God has used nature to interact with mankind and this has been done literally and symbolically. In the Book of Genesis 8:8–12, Noah sent out a dove to ascertain whether the flood waters had receded. On its third flight, the dove did not return, and this was the sign Noah needed to be sure that the flood had retreated.

The dove was also seen as a symbol of gentleness, grace and purity as described in the Book of Solomon 1:15: “How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful you are! Your eyes are doves.”

In the Mosaic Law, only doves, pigeons and turtledoves were deemed pure birds and so could be used as sacrifice. In Leviticus 5:7, it was stated that there could be an offer to God of two turtledoves or two pigeons should a person not “afford an animal from the flock as a sacrifice of reparation for the sin he has committed.” It was the practice used by Mary and Joseph when they presented Jesus in the Temple: (Lk 2:22–25).

Generally, doves are quiet and not known to retaliate or offer resistance when set upon. They are also resilient and nurturing and it is these traits which have led them to be seen as a symbol of peace. Jesus Himself therefore urged His followers to be “harmless as doves”  (Mt 10:16).

In the Synoptic Gospels, the symbol of the dove was used to describe the Holy Spirit following the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended “like a dove”.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist testified that “he saw the Spirit come down on him (Jesus) like a dove from heaven and rest on him” (Jn 1:32). The Baptiser also acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah and added that God’s Spirit did not only descend on Jesus but remained on him (Jn 1:33–34), the ideal confirmation of Jesus’ divine nature.

It is, therefore, easy to appreciate the use of the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit because of its presence from the world’s creation (Gen 1). On the day of Pentecost, however, that same Spirit came down on those gathered “as a sound of a violent wind” and “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:1–4).

So, in addition to the dove other symbols are associated with the Holy Spirit: water, oil, fire, cloud and light, the seal, the hand, and the finger. All these are manifested through the history of the Jewish people and were used in Holy Scripture to show God’s power.

As we commemorate the Solemnity of Pentecost, we could reflect on the fruits of the Spirit which serve to guide us as baptised Christians. They should be easily recognised and visible through our lives and interactions with each other. With the Holy Ghost Orchid, however, one would have to look inside the bloom to “see the shape of a small white dove.” The blooms represent God’s creative action, so we are charged to care for all His creation.

We should also look to Jesus who promised that His Father would send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit (the advocate, the comforter or helper) once He returned to His Father (Jn 14:15–27). This was accomplished on the Day of Pentecost and it is this Spirit which works in and through us.

Veni, Sancte Spiritu.

Delia Chatoor is a retired foreign service officer and a Lay Minister of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando Parish.