by Nancy V. Gedney, Ph.D.
I was invited to be part of a small group at a local Episcopal church for a “conversation.” Seven of us met in a parlor with comfy chairs. Before we began, we moved the chairs into a circle pulled close in. Nice! The convener, Stephen, the parish priest, had laid out as best he could a rather nebulous reason for our being there: to have a conversation and see where it led.
After his welcome, he suggested we begin with a prayer. I interrupted him and asked if, before we prayed, I could make an observation. I had noticed that we all had wanted to form a circle before we started. So, I spoke about the circle as a container, a “cauldron”, in which important, sacred work was done. In fact, circles were historically known to be spaces where magic took place. Although we didn’t formally “call a circle”, we seemed to sense we needed to be one. I told them that when a circle is called, each member agrees to hold the rim of the circle firm the work, whatever it was, was being done inside the circle.
When I finished talking, Stephen laid aside his prayer book, and said, “Well, now we can start with introductions.” (I think he was acknowledging that what I had said was akin to a prayer.) But I answered, “No, please offer a prayer “
“I was just going to read the Collect for today,” he said. He read the Preface for Epiphany, the season where Light shines so brightly:
“We are gathered together,” he began.
“Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
[from the Book of Common Prayer]
It was perfect! What a way to call a circle!
For the next forty-five minutes, we introduced ourselves and shared varied and complex faith journeys. Then, it was time to go. Stephen thanked us for our willingness to connect and be together.
At this point, I saw him gesture with his hands: his arms were rounded in front as if holding a bushel basket; then he swept both hands over the top of the basket as if outlining and caressing something soft and fluffy mounded above the edges of the basket. This gesture seemed incidental and unintentional, but I knew it was coming from somewhere deep inside him. I’m almost certain he had no idea he was making it. But as a priest, blessing with his hands is his gift, whether conscious or unconscious.
When I got home I shared the scene and Stephen’s gesture with my former-pastor, now-Buddhist husband about this gesture. He remarked simply, “It’s merachepheth!” Merachepheth is a Hebrew verb found only twice in the entire old testament in Genesis and Deuteronomy. In Genesis 1:1-2,
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
This “hovering” is likened to a dove spreading its wings over its young for protection. One commentator tells us that the hovering stirred up the waters with an intense vibrating pulse, an energy that ignited the act of creation into livingness. Another commentator explained that merachepheth expresses a tremulous motion made by the hen while either hatching her eggs or fostering her young. Deuteronomy 32:11 uses merachepheth to express an eagle’s hovering or brooding: “like an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters (or hovers) over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, and bears them on her wings.”
I have always loved the image of “the Spirit of God hovering (or brooding) over the deep. I hear the soft crooning sounds of doves as they tend their young. What I never put together was that this action was followed directly by the command, “Let there be light!” and, Voila’, there was light. A consummate act of creation.
Could it be that Stephen in his brooding gesture, was physically tending to his fledgling circle and empowering the collective to create something through our common union? Might he by his gesture be mystically conferring upon us a mantle of clarity to reach into the depths of our beings to co-create with him “in the unity of the Holy Spirit?”
Stephen’s mudra of sorts prompted me to observe that something extraordinary was happening. We had come together with open hearts, willing to trust, not knowing why or wherefore. In our “collect,” our collective prayer, we acknowledged “a new light” shining in our hearts. Might we be called to be individually and collectively courageous, to be intuitive people who give voice to whatever comes up from our depths as we commune within the safety and warmth of our circle? Perhaps we were to hear and attempt to put into words whispers that would come to us out of sacred Silence. This is, after all what a circle does: unites hearts and gives language to That Which Is unutterable. Might there be some kind of revelatory purpose in our coming together?
We continued to meet for six or seven more Sundays. Each time our circle seemed to spin inwardly, like we were caught in the centripetal force of mandala moving inexorably toward our collective wholeness. Our toes barely touched the ground when we walked out of that room.
I still don’t know why we met, or what it means. But I do know that I was a willing witness to the power and alchemical cooking of the circle. I wish I had more to tell you.
Perhaps after we hear and see by the Light of the Circle, of our collective, united Heart, we will perhaps then be bold enough to offer new revelations to the people of our greater community. Who knows? Might this be the why of our little circle?” I’ll keep you posted.