Rev. Kermit Culver, Northwest District Superintendent, Dakotas UMC
“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis 1:2
In the beginning, the very beginning, the earth was formless, empty, and dark. What a stark description of existence before God begins God’s creative work. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, there is much darkness, emptiness, and we are formless to know how to navigate from this present, into some as yet, unknown future. In the midst of the ongoing denominational malaise, there is much formless ranker, much darkness of spirit, and an emptiness bred of wishing, hoping, longing for it to be different - and knowing it will be.
I have felt this formlessness, emptiness and darkness in my own soul. The past few years I’ve allowed myself to slip away from God. I’ve allowed my professional knowledge, wisdom, experiences, and insights to substitute for knowing and growing my personal love and devotion for God.
I can blame it on many things, my job, career, calling. My familiarity with holy things, my laziness, my ability, my lack of trust, my fear of what going deeper might mean for me. I could blame circumstances, the crush of needs of folks I’m called to serve, the miles. There is plenty of blame to go around, but ultimately it begins, and ends, with me. I may not have lost my soul, but I feel like I have lost touch with my center. I may not be going to hell, but I’m not going where I need to be going. It is time to get back. Back to the beginning.
Here in Genesis 1:2, I’ve seen the first glimmer of light for this long road home. Within and all around this formless, empty, dark earth; there hovers God’s spirit. I was struck with this hovering. The Hebrew word only appears three times in the Old Testament. It’s visual image is of a mother hen, or a mother eagle hovering over her chicks, both in a protective sense, but also in a rustling, or nudging, or disturbing sense, to help the chicks/eaglets get out of the nest. In some other translations the word is recorded as brooding. The Spirit of God was brooding over the surface. I like this image.
Brooding to me implies a mental, physical, and even spiritual sense of deep concern, care, and commitment to helping whatever or whomever is being brooded over. The Spirit was brooding over the unformed earth, the eagle broods over her young as they learn to fly and fend for themselves. We even had a brooder house on the farm where we put the young baby chicks to be watched over by the old hens until the chicks could be on their own.
I feel this brooding—hovering Spirit about me, and within me as I seek to find my way back to God. I know I’ve put way too much hope in my retirement, and dismissal from the demands of this work. I suspect it would not have become so heavy, had I not shipwrecked my soul and my faith by so many distractions. Had I stayed closer to God, obeyed more often than disobeyed, spent more time working on my soul and less worrying about my work; I may have not gotten so lost.
But, as I face the prospect of being released from this work, I long to regain my way. I relish the thought that God’s Spirit has never stopped brooding over me. I look forward to being formed anew in Christ. I am even looking forward to the time of my own being “kicked out” of the nest again. I may have screwed it up most recently, and I will not rush to be removed, nor presume what this new way will look like. But I long for the day when God might use me again in some new way to fulfill His will and complete the next chapter of my calling.
In a similar way, I pray that we won’t rush back to so many things we’ve learned to live without during this pandemic. Instead, let us consider what new things God has been brooding in us through this time. And let me suggest, if I may, that God asks that we won’t waste this denominational brooding time. I hope we come out the other side of this mess, deeper in love with God, and more convinced than ever that Jesus is the only way; and our primary job is to stay close to both! May it be so.