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Staying with the Deep

Trinity Sunday: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8

2 Cor. 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

C. Partridge

June 4, 2023

Good Morning, St. Aidan’s.

Last Saturday, as I mentioned last week, my family and I did a day trip to Pinnacles National Park. Our hike brought us up amid stunning cliffs above which California Condors silently soared. This week I’ve carried them with me as an image of the Holy Spirit, the wind of God hovering, radically joining us in all places, their huge wing spans surrounding us amid the cycles of life and death. I’ve also been recalling another moment on our hike that I mentioned in the Flame this week. The bulk of our walk was flat, leading to a loop we took up, counterclockwise, to the locales I’ve just described. As the path descended, it led to a cave. We had read about this cave – it inspired our choice of this particular hike. And, thanks to Kateri, we were mostly prepared with flashlights (I misplaced my headlamp somewhere along the way). Pausing to equip ourselves with these lights, we entered. The immediate challenge was to stoop low enough not to scrape our heads as we walked along. Then we emerged into the light again. Ah! I thought. That was cool! The path then clambered up some rocks, bringing us to a lonely water bottle festooned with excellent stickers, sadly left behind. Why might that have happened?, I wondered. And then I realized: because this was the top opening of the main part of the cave. The bottle owner had needed both hands, very much with flashlight, to climb up and out. We, on the other hand, needed to go in and down. And so we descended. The darkness below us was truly impressive. Our oldest led the way with headlamp. I followed with phone flashlight, while Kateri and our youngest took their time behind us with their flashlights. Voices echoed in the darkness, as this popular hike drew a number of people. All of us, headed up or down, paused at various points to let one another pass us, shining the light on the path. As our descent continued, the damp coolness of the space surrounded us, and I began to hear a sound of rushing water. At the bottom of the cave – or its entrance, had we gone clockwise – I swung my light toward the sound and saw it: a vigorous waterfall surrounded by a pool. I stepped closer to take a photo and realized with a splash that the pool extended nearly to the path— its unexpected stillness had deceived me in the dark.

That water, swathed in darkness, both rushing and still, immediately brought our first reading to mind: the first of the two creation stories in Genesis. The first words of Genesis. The first words of the Bible as it has come down to us. The story it tells is of a movement from darkness and chaos into order and light. Various qualities of creation emerge through the Word of God the Creator, including human beings, made in God’s very image. Receiving this story on the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, we might hear an invitation to bear witness to the hovering energy of the divine breath, the wind, the Holy Spirit, brooding over creation, to move outward with it. And that is good. This morning we might also hear an invitation to move counterclockwise, if you will, to descend from the light and creation in its vocalized goodness, into the primordial darkness, to the Deep, both moving and still, and to the divine breath that hovers about it. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1). That formless void can be overwhelming or even intimidating. So too the Deep. Particularly given its location as the beginning of an orderly creation process, that pool can become a screen onto which we and/or others can project things that we, or the societies in which we live, want to keep at bay. That which must be ordered. That which is all too often stigmatized along the way in the very process of that ordering. The biblical scholar Deryn Guest has written about this tendency in “Troubling the Waters,” an essay in a wonderful volume on trans and intersex biblical interpretation. Counter to the impulse to move away from the Deep, Guest offers,

The primordial darkness is worth staying with, lingering for a longer period in the formlessness, letting ourselves lean into [a] radical lack of coordinates. In this opening, the narrator [of Genesis 1] has… provided [their] readers with a connection to the mysterium, a liminal moment literally outside time, an opportunity for us to explore how the Divine is to be found within the deep, dark, fluid presences that are not all about order and boundaries.[1]

The Deep in its undifferentiated quality, the “mysterium,” as Guest calls it, is holy. It is sacred. The divine breath hovers with us there. On this first Sunday in Pride month, at a time in the life of our country in which all of us who are queer, all of us whose lives disrupt the orderly binaries that are socially imposed upon our world, are being stigmatized again and again (I think especially about the utterly unfair criticism the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are receiving right now[2]), we need to be reminded of our goodness, of God’s presence with us. We are not other than creation. We are utterly woven all the way through it. It is very good. God is with us in all things, in all places, even when we cannot see the light. In our very breath.

The Deep calls and speaks to me this morning as well because of the particular week we have traversed in the life of our community. As I shared with you in an email on Friday evening, we lost a beloved child of God, Riven Stevenson, earlier this week. I know that this loss is reverberating in all our hearts, whether we knew Riven for a short time or a long one. Even if we did not know them, the impress of their life upon this community is felt without a doubt as we grieve together. As I have begun to pray in the wake of this loss, I have found it helpful to actively seek out that hovering presence of God. To make my way into that place of the Deep, the space at the beginning of all things where the Spirit broods in deep peace. I feel Riven in that space as well, along with all my loved ones whom I have lost over the years—surrounded by God’s peace, one with the divine breath. To dwell with and in this peace is not meant to keep our emotions at bay, or to stigmatize how we may feel, and the process our grief may take. Rather, in this holy place, the Deep is a space in and at which we can know that God is with us, God surrounds Riven, God is present with Barbara, David, Maguire and Vanessa. Breathe in. Breathe out. The Spirit hovers in compassion and care. The Deep is holy. We are not alone.

Indeed, God, Godself is not alone. On this Feast of the Trinity we are reminded that God the Holy Trinity – Parent and Source; Child and Incarnate Word; Holy brooding Spirit, Advocate, Comforter – is with us, inviting us to be caught up in the flow of God’s own dynamic, beating heart. As the Anglican priest Jim Cotter rendered Psalm 84:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are your ways,

who trudging through the plains of misery

find in them an unexpected spring,

a well from deep below the barren ground,

and the pools are filled with water.


They become springs of healing for others,

reservoirs of compassion to those who are bruised.

Strengthened themselves they lend courage to others,

and God will be there at the end of their journey.[3]


God is with us in all times and all places. May we be springs of healing to one another, bearing witness to the holiness of the Deep. Amen.

[1] Deryn Guest, “Troubling the Waters: םןהח Transgender, and Reading Genesis Backwards” in eds. Teresa Hornsby and Deryn Guest, Transgender, Intersex, and Biblical Interpretation (SBL Press, 2016), 40. [2] E.g. “Los Angeles Dodgers remove gay ‘nun’ group from Pride Night,” New York Times, May 18, 2023: https://nytimes.stats.com/mlb/story.asp?i=20230518204931590105208&ref=hea&tm=&src=; “Mike Pence calls Dodgers’ inclusion of ‘Sisters’ in Pride night ‘deeply offensive,’” The Athletic, May 31, 2023: https://theathletic.com/4568847/2023/05/31/mike-pence-dodgers-sisters-pride-night/; but contrast this impassioned defense of the sisters by Peter Hartlaub: “What S.F. must learn from the Dodgers’ Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence disaster”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 23, 2023: https://www.sfchronicle.com/vault/article/s-f-learn-dodgers-sisters-perpetual-18112516.php [3] Jim Cotter, Psalms for a Pilgrim People (Morehouse Publishing, 1993), 179.

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