Suzanne Bossert

Today I awakened to find my yard freshly covered in snow. This blanket of blankness paradoxically forms a noteworthy canvas, clearly capturing the scurried secret lives of animals, whose paw prints dip and cross in intricate patterns...

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Today I awakened to find my yard freshly covered in snow. This blanket of blankness paradoxically forms a noteworthy canvas, clearly capturing the scurried secret lives of animals, whose paw prints dip and cross in intricate patterns. Who knew that the nocturnal neighborhood was such a hive of activity? Apparently, every night I as I slumber, a bustling thoroughfare unfolds right outside my window. There is always so much more to this world than meets the eye.

Sometimes my life with God feels this way – passionate promise coursing just beneath perception, like blood flowing under skin. My ability to connect to this cloaked realm waxes and wanes in a most maddening way. As I have gotten older, I feel tired of the indirectness, impatient with the set-up. Why does it have to be this way? God, when we humans struggle to make contact with you, can’t you just lay down a swatch of fresh snow to show the footprints of your Spirit?

Ann Lamott recently lamented about how hard it is to hear God’s voice: 

“I rarely do–almost never in fact, directly, which is one of my real problems with the Divine It. Like it would be so much skin off Its nose, to slip us notes or whisper in our tiny shell-shaped ears: ‘Get rid of this guy.’ ‘Yes, take the damn job.’ ‘Keep the sweater.’”

Knowing the mercy of God, I simply blame myself for spiritual deafness. Yet there are stark limitations to simply staring in the mirror, so lately I have strained to understand anew where God resides in the struggle. In my ponderings this week, I have been struck by the similarities of the Juniper Tree-style wilderness with the Creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. . .”.

Without form. Void. Dark. Eugene Peterson in The Message, renders it: “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.”  Aren’t these also are the words of spiritual wilderness? But what’s most interesting this Genesis account is the very location of God herself:

“–and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. . . “

The Hebrew word used to describe God’s presence over the water is “rachaph,” the same verb found in Deuteronomy 32:11, when God is likened to an eagle “hovering” over a nestful of chicks. A word study of ‘rachaph’ finds variations: vibrate, flutter, move gently, brood, cherish, and even . . . fertilize!  What could it mean for us to realize that during our trying wilderness times that God is hovering like a mother bird over us?

I find this mothering image of the Divine enormously comforting, not the least because it underscores a sense of “touching but not touching,” or close proximity despite concrete contact. Perhaps this particular spatial relationship allows independent growth, that of being protective without being smothering. God is very near, despite the lameness of our senses.

Indeed, God is doing more than just hanging out in the background, bored or horrified with our tragic foibles. The verb “rachaph” indicates action! It takes a lot of energy to hover in place instead of landing—think of a hummingbird’s furiously vibrating wings. One imagines this energy arising out of nurturing watchfulness, or what one writer calls “a creative posture of patience.” Like an artist tending to inert materials in a desire to bring something beautiful to life, apparently God trusts raw possibility, hovering steadfastly out of faith that our potential as creation will come to fruition in due time.   

But here is the deeper point: if God attends to us as a hovering mother, can we adopt the same patience with ourselves? This is my great challenge. Whenever we find ourselves in the wilderness—whether because of grief or vocational change or broken relationships or any other triggering incident—can we tap into the mindset of “artistic hovering,” thereby allowing ourselves the time needed to grow strong enough again to fly?

 “In a desert land God found her,

    in a barren and howling waste.

God shielded her and cared for her;

    he guarded her as the apple of God’s eye,

11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest

    and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

    and carries them aloft.”             

(–Deut. 32: 11, pronouns mine)

Age after age as this world founders in desperate struggle, it is comforting to know that we are not abandoned to the dark primordial chaos. The Spirit of Creation hovers and broods and moves over us, patiently waiting as we slowly grow up.

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