Having heard that Pam was a gifted teacher, I waited in the church classroom for her arrival when she burst in to greet us with a hearty welcome. She was unexpectedly dressed in colorful exercise clothes instead of her priestly garb, and, as tiny as she was, she exuded a huge presence rounding the room, speaking to each student. And thus began a very special educational experience, and a deep friendship.
Pam was first a wife and mother, and from mid-life a seminarian and Episcopal priest. Her interests knew no boundaries, and she was as knowledgeable about Judaism and Buddhism as she was about Christianity. She could set the stage, fill in the background, bring ancient stories to current life, entertain, and listen. If you asked a question, it was the smartest question she ever heard. If you needed her attention, she had laser focus on you, no matter the distractions. Everyone she met thought they were her best friend. And she made you think: no platitudes, no doctrinal lectures, no fire and brimstone; just common sense, wisdom and humor. I kept lots of notes over the years which helped me sort out my own path, and laid a foundation for deepening faith.
A few of her contributions to my understanding of religion:
- God meets us at our level of need and understanding.
- God is God of all the earth and of all people; God as my “personal Savior” is small thinking
- Relationship with God doesn’t necessarily mean understanding; the feeling of having God near is oscillating
- We have to consent to being drawn to God; it is an act of free will. “Call” is not to become “special” but to become “whole”
- Language about the divine is symbolic, not literal; mystery can’t be described, but a sense of the sacred can be cultivated
- Sin means missing the mark, a reliance on self-sufficiency rather than the inner experience of knowing who you are in God
- Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing
- The Bible is a compilation of stories, written my many authors over time; it is about people forgetting what God has done and will do, about who they are and whose they are, about God being present in chaos. The question is not did it happen or did it happen this way, but what is the empowering meaning of the story
- If we take the mystical from religion, church becomes a college classroom. Scripture can become a commodity – “tell me what to believe now”. Participating in ritual creates community; liturgy and scripture are powerful symbolic means to help evoke God’s promise and presence in a special way, through practice that attends to all senses. Sacramental mystery reminds us there is more than that which can be seen.
A few of her contributions to my understanding of life:
- Life is capricious from our side of the tapestry; God works in darkness and light; it all comes together in God’s time, not clock time.
- Other people’s lives are none of my business except to take to God in prayer
- There may not be a cure, but there will always be healing
- There is soul transformation throughout life, often in conflict with the ego’s attempt to redirect path; wrestling for understanding requires humility
- If you want to spiritually grow and change, above all know that you are loved as you are, in spite of human fallibility.
Pam left this life suddenly, but her legacy has been embedded in those who had the privilege of studying with her, and sharing her friendship. I cannot imagine her resting in peace; I suspect she has a full classroom gathered round already, taking notes and hoping to emulate her mighty spirit.
We are missing her mighty spirit here on earth.