|On the John Muir Trail, 2006|
One of the last times I heard Eli play River Flows in You was at the 2015 Christmas worship service for Receiving with Thanksgiving, the LGBTQ+ Christian network at Penn State that he helped to found. The service, held in Penn State's Eisenhower Chapel, moved me deeply. In an ideological landscape with has polarized "Christians" and "gays" into opposing camps, here was a group of young people ready to go beyond polarization, to offer worship with body and soul, to sing with conviction (accompanied by Eli's rusty piano-playing) the subversive words of "O Holy Night". Literally translated from the French original, these include
- The Redeemer has broken every bond:
- The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
- He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
- Love unites those that iron had chained.
A grief overtook our family a year before the greater grief of Eli's death, when our then church fellowship denied him the symbolic waters of baptism because of his identification as transgender. The leaders of this church looked at Eli and failed to see a brother; but like that of the Pharisees of old, their authority did not reach the heart, from which a spring of water continued to well up in Eli's life. He wrote later about his motivation in establishing Receiving with Thanksgiving
Since (these events), I have been dedicated to education and conversation between Christians and LGBT people, as well as the very real overlap of these populations. I do not see us as opposing sides, rather, all parts of God's family struggling to understand the larger picture.The last time I spoke with Eli, he shared with me a poem which he had written and which had just been published. The poem reflects on the biblical story of Miriam, the prophetess, Moses' sister, and on the waters in the Exodus saga - the flooding Red Sea overwhelming the army of the pharaoh, the water from the stony rock where Moses struck it with his staff: place of death or fountain of life. It ends with a prayer for Miriam, put into the mouth of a nameless woman of a later age:
MeribahMay it be so.
may you find peace in the desert, a cup of water to your people
emptying yourself for them over and over but never