Thursday, March 3, 2016

Memories II: River Flows in You

On the John Muir Trail, 2006
We got a piano when we moved into our home in State College in 2000.  Miriam took lessons until she was in high school, and continued to play long after that.  She played more by muscle memory and intuition than by sight-reading, which meant that she had a few pieces that we heard many, many times.   One of those was River Flows in You, by the Korean artist Yiruma.

Miriam would play this over and over, sometimes softly and precisely, sometimes with enough energy and passion to break your heart.  Yiruma's performance is beautiful, but it sounds unfamiliar to me - it is not quite the way I am used to hearing this piece, the way our child played it.   Still, I cannot listen to it without tears.

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.
I have no doubt that the river of life, the flowing spring of which Jesus spoke, was coursing through that assembly. 

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:

may you find peace in the desert, a cup of water to your people
emptying yourself for them over and over but never
May it be so.

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