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River of Light - a Homily in Remembrance of Riven Stevenson

June 18, 2023

C. Partridge

Good afternoon. I imagine all of us gathered here have an image, or particular memories in our minds, whether you knew Riven as a young child growing up in this parish, in school here in San Francisco, in college in Santa Cruz, in their life in the East Bay, in the various communities and activities of which they were a part. Each of us has a piece of a window – some smaller than others, some much more comprehensive – onto the beautiful person whose life we celebrate today. I had met Riven, Maguire, and Vanessa at our Christmas services and at our annual Thanksgiving community meal sometime after I began here in 2016. But in recent months my small window onto Riven’s life had begun to widen. Early this year they had joined our choir here. I can picture them just over there, standing next to my spouse and our oldest child, singing, talking, laughing. Through Jim Oerther—also a member of our choir – Riven had learned about, auditioned for, and ultimately become part of the Queer Chorus of San Francisco which I am so grateful is represented here today. Riven was part of an emerging multigenerational group of several of us at St. Aidan’s who are trans and non-binary, myself included in that group.

Riven’s participation in this community was a meaningful and intentional part of their life, not only here but also at First Congregational Church in Oakland. At a time in our country when to imagine trans and nonbinary people as people of faith is increasingly seen as oxymoronic, impossible, because of how Christianity is being maliciously warped and weaponized against us, here was Riven being their fiercely beautiful, inspiringly queer, non-binary self. Particularly in such a time as this, Riven’s presence, their voice, their life, their activism, their engagement in spiritual practice, their contributions to community made a such a difference in our lives. I think of Riven’s contributions as a light, a lit flame that continues to burn among us, even as we grieve and grapple with their loss. I feel the unique flame of their presence now, surrounded in God’s peace, in John O’Donohue’s words, “unfold[ing] further in spirit.” We will have a chance to honor that unfolding, the witness of Riven’s life within our own, with the candles at your seats in a few minutes.

In this space of shared grief and love, gathering people of many spiritual traditions and none, I appreciate how the readings chosen by the Mealy / Stevenson family give us spacious language to be in one another’s presence, holding Riven in memory and love. Together with O’Donohue’s blessing, I hear Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver’s poems naming the power of love to unfurl us, to strengthen us to release our beloved into the embracing mystery of the Holy One. And at this time of widespread queer and trans communal struggle, I particularly appreciate Angelou’s words about love “strik[ing] away chains of fear,” of love making us free. I hear in Riven’s life a call to claim our queerness, and all the unique facets of our humanity boldly and freely—to live out loud and to continue claiming our liberation, to fight all intersecting forms of oppression that hold our back our communities and our world; to say as the Queer Chorus will soon sing in Glorious Beauties, “we won’t back down!” Love indeed costs us, as Maya Angelou writes. And love makes us. It transforms us. It can sustain us, particularly when shared in community.

The communal qualities of love have been carrying me in this time, and I pray they may lend you strength as well. In witness to the importance of communal singing in Riven’s life, I invite you to experience in singing and in listening a collective witness to that love. We have heard it in the language of Bobby McFerrin’s rendition of Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land, there is nothing that can shake me. She has said She won't forsake me, I'm in her hand.” We have sung it in Amazing Grace, a favorite hymn of Riven’s, and will have an opportunity to sing out that love further still in Eagle’s Wings. In and through our collective voices, I can envision Riven uplifted in love, shining like the sun.

Barbara, David, Maguire, Vanessa; all of you family and friends, beloveds; all who love Riven: may you feel that love as a river of light surrounding you this day and upholding you in the days to come.

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