I was settling in yesterday to write a book review when I saw Byron Borger (of the beloved Hearts and Minds Bookstore) post about the passing of writer and wise woman Phyllis Tickle. This post is in memory of her.
I never met Phyllis. Or not exactly. I went to a festival of “Faith and Writing” the spring of my freshman year (2008). It was the first time I had traveled by plane alone. I flew from State College to Grand Rapids Michigan and took a shuttle to the campus. Lonely and young, I made friends with the volunteer crew and ran around in the dark putting up signs to navigate the oddly circular and maze like campus. Sometime during those few days, I attended a lecture in a basement gym space led by Phyllis Tickle. I wasn’t so sure about her at the time. Over a year later, I refound the recording of that talk and gave it another try. It was fabulous. She had spunk and pizazz and wit and intelligence and perception into the creative process and its relationship to a life of Faith, particularly of prayer.
Then, three years later, I found her spiritual memoirs: “A Shaping of a Life.” They were tucked on a shelf in Webster’s Bookstore. I took it home and read it in just a few weeks. I read passages aloud to my roommate. We had just come from three weeks in India and our lives seemed tipped on edge, throwing us gradually, menacingly towards life after college. We didn’t know how to be women. We didn’t know how we wanted our religious culture to mark our decisions. We didn’t know. We didn’t know how to love. It was a fall of break ups and miss-starts. Student teaching. Music and poetry theses. Phyllis’s slow, careful walk through her memories and lessons of the years we were also walking felt like a steadying hand, a reassurance. Prayer would be possible. Creativity and making possible. It all would be possible under the patient and wise friendship of a woman like Phyllis.
My roommate was married in March 2013, a few months before I moved to Bulgaria. I wrote to Phyllis and she signed a copy of the book, which I then gave as a wedding present, a marker of all the questions we had asked together.
Then I went off and joined the educational circus feeling much like Phyllis did about the wildness of the classroom. There is one story I just love: on one particularly crazy day, she took her shoe and hurled it at the back of the room, a fit of fierce anger at the disrespect she experienced. The room hushed and the tide turned towards her. I though of this story when I taught my students how to make inventive beginnings to their stories. I stood on a chair and hurled bundled socks at them. They were so surprised, totally baffled. I think Phyllis would have liked that moment.
For those of you who may know Phyllis Tickle from the rest of her work, my story of her may sound odd. Tickle was a theologian, a cultural commentator, an editor, a speaker. She had insight and things to say on how faith and religious institutions would unfold in America. She was pastoral, publishing a multitude of work helping lay people enter into regular use of the Common Book of Prayer. She built things with her work and cultures changed around her.
I’m thankful that I “met” Phyllis Tickle’s work and know that it will continue past this day.
Rest in Peace, Phyllis.