Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Dove and the Rainbow

"How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?" ~Bob Dylan

Much has been written about Dylan's "Gospel Period" of 1979-81, but his utilization of Biblical concepts, language and imagery weaves throughout his 50+ years of songwriting.

His second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan opens with one of his most widely translated songs, Blowin' In The Wind, a song about timeless issues related to justice, and the longing for reconciliation and peace. The second line of the song is rooted in this passage from Genesis 8, which takes places after the great flood.

8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The dove had been sent forth but could find no place of rest... no home. He returned to the ark. But the next time it returned with an olive branch, which to this day has remained a symbol of peace. The next time this dove did not return. It had found another resting place.

In the sixth song on Freewheelin' Dylan borrows yet another image from this Genesis account.

"I met a young girl and she gave me a rainbow."

This line from "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" is the only line in the song that speaks of hope. Every other line, about the things our narrator saw and heard, contains images of pain, sorrow, grief, hardship. "I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'... I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.... I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children..." And in the midst of this he meets a young girl (innocence) who gives him a rainbow.

It's an image rooted in that familiar post-flood passage of Genesis 9.

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So this is my Christmas wish for you: May your heart, like the dove, find a safe resting place to call home and may every rainbow you see bring renewal and hope.

Merry Christmas!

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