She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters
Source: Singing the Faith: 393
Words: John L. Bell, Graham Maule
Music: “Thainaky” by John L. Bell adapted Ian Howarth
“She sits like a bird” takes as its starting point the imagery of the Holy Spirit hovering over the void before creation in Genesis 1:2: “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” or (New English Bible) “a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters”. Whether translated as spirit or wind, the original Hebrew word, רוה (ruach), is feminine. This idea of the Spirit as a being with feminine qualities is taken up elsewhere in the Bible. The Spirit is not intended to be a token female within the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) but writers do often associate with the Holy Spirit the nurturing, mothering roles that many women take on in society. All these ideas are bound up within the first verse of this hymn.
The following three verses expands the imagery of verse 1:
in verse 2, emphasising the Spirit’s un-pin-down-able nature and creativity (“she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder”);
in verse 3, focussing on the events of Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2 (“she dances in fire, startling her spectators”);
and in verse 4, not only underlining the fact that the Holy Spirit’s work is God’s work (“she is the Spirit, one with God in essence”) but that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that helps us to understand the words of the Bible.
Graham Maule is a visual artist and sculptor with an interest in performance art and folk music. He frequently collaborates with John Bell. John is a Church of Scotland minister and member of the Iona Community who is widely known as an international consultant and leader of workshop on worship and music. He is also a frequent broadcaster and keynote speaker at events such as Greenbelt.