Thursday, September 20, 2012

Requiem for a Red Headed Wild Woman of God

The Rev. Katherine “Kathy” Merrell Glenn died peacefully in her sleep on September 5 in her home in Tacoma, Washington.

So began the email I received from Kathy's address. 

I cried a bit, noted her passing on Facebook (where all life's events are recorded, it seems), and wrote these few remembrances in the thread of condolences that followed: 

things that come to mind about her---her telling me how she sat in a jail with a parishioner all night, not because he was innocent (I don't know if she knew) but because he was her parishioner and she was his advocate. her heartbreak over a run for bishop that turned ugly and resulted in very harsh and libelous things said about her from other clergy. her joy in her daughters. her clapping when she was happy. The way we should have been told to leave during a compline service at St. David's/Austin, because she'd just gotten back into town and we were too happy see each other to keep silence (though honestly, we tried!). her wrestling with God over the untimely death of a parishioner due to a brain tumor---and when this wild woman wrestled, she wrestled hard. she may have left the river with a limp, but God knew it was a real fight! her intense faithfulness to God in the wrestling and her undying conviction that God was LOVE! (dammit!) and that meant something more than words on a button or bumper sticker. Tender and fierce and so full of joy and laughter. (so of course she had her enemies!) In hearing of her death, I'm reminded of who I'd like to be . . .

But there's more I want to say, and I probably won't say it all here. I will say we were in seminary at the same time. She was a senior when I started, but we'd already started a friendship while I worked at the Austin Augsburg Fortress store (now closed). Always smiling and laughing, the type my more Eeyore-ish self is drawn to, I remember when I told her that I was going to start seminary the next fall. I was ringing up her purchases at the store. She was, as would be usual, more excited and happy for me than I was. 

Behind the laughter and smiles was a serious woman of God. She was passionate about the love of God, the love and joy she'd experienced as a disciple of Jesus. There aren't many people I can compare her to. Somewhere along the way, I started calling her the Red-Headed Wild Woman of God. Her wildness was the sort of Holy Spirit wildness, aware that the love of God blew where it would. She did her best to hang glide in those currents. I find myself reaching for words I don't have. 

I reference above the grief and anger she had over losing a parishioner to a brain tumor. This was the darkest I ever experienced Kathy. She told me of driving out of town, in her valley community in Colorado, and throwing rocks and yelling at God. He was younger than she was, in better health, generally, than she was. She was grooming him towards significant lay leadership in her parish. She saw gifts in him that would go to waste if he died. She spoke of feeling the helplessness of God as she yelled and hurled rocks. Even as she prayed---demanded---healing, she knew God was not going to heal him. I also had a terminal friend at the time, and we spent a lot of money on phone bills, wondering what it meant to worship a God who seemed helpless in the face of our friends' impending death. The main thing we agreed upon was also feeling God's grief as well as God's helplessness. Somehow, in ways I can't explain, we experienced Jesus more fully in these conversations. We knew something more deeply of a suffering God. 

She spoke of wanting to write a Christology. I'm guessing she never got very far. While she was healthy enough to minister, she ministered. I suspect when she became too infirm to minister, she was also too infirm to write very much. I do remember one conversation wherein I had expressed a lot of my theology falling away, pretty much dropping out from under me. In that conversation, I said that if I still believed, if I was still a Christian, my Christology was taking a nosedive. She said, "That's the right direction." 

I don't even know if she knew it, but just words like that were a comfort. I don't know if she was like this for everyone, but for me, she always said something that comforted me. Usually while making me laugh, too. 

Another remembrance I wrote on Facebook:
oh goodness. She was like the second person I came out to! Maybe first. i took her for a walk in our pasture. Because it was me, I had to do it in the form of a vaudeville routine. "Kathy, I think I'm in love, but there's good news and bad news. The good news is he's Lutheran . . . "

Kathy was one of those (many) people who seemed to have been just waiting for me to come out. In so many ways, she was there in seminary preparing me for my own coming out. Again, I don't know how consciously she did that. But we had several conversations about homosexuality and the church, me being the conservative-leaning seminarian who wrote at least one paper on why gay and lesbian people shouldn't be ordained. She argued with me, but since it was Kathy arguing, she did it in a way that made me realize she was one of those people I could trust when I reconciled with my sexuality. 

Talk about finding a safe place to start coming out! Glory, could God have given me a safer person for those first cautious steps out of the closet? 

As happens with friends separated by miles, our frequency of contact eventually dwindled. At one point, I'd thought I'd lost her completely. She always had a list of health issues, and there was a move wherein I lost track of her. I'd asked around and someone told me they thought she had died, but I couldn't ever get confirmation from anyone. Then out of the blue, I got an email from her. "Kathy! I'd heard you were dead!" Well, she had almost died in the previous year and we had a long phone conversation catching up on that. Then we dwindled again and I guess the last I was in contact with her was early this year, when I told her I was visiting an Episcopal church. But I don't know how her health was at that point. She didn't answer emails all the time, so I never knew what an unanswered email might mean. 

But she almost always ended them with "I love you Neily." (She's one of, like, three people who I let call me "Neily.") I almost always signed off (or ended phone calls) with, "I love you Kathy Glenn!" 

Goodness, the world is a less joyful place without her. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Midnight Mystery and Miracle

I've been sick the last couple of days. Some sort of stomach virus passed through (pun intended). This included a fever of 101 at one point, a discussion of West Nile virus and its symptoms on Facebook (diarrhea not included on the CDC website, so I felt in the clear), and a LOT of sleep. My cat, for whom I'm simply a big (and willing) hot water bottle anyway, loved it.

The fever has broken (like the first fever) and I'm on the mend except my stomach is still a little not quite back to normal and . . .well, I slept a lot. I still feel tired or maybe just a little weak, but I'm not sleepy.

I tried going to bed this evening. I read a book that I had been enjoying and ended up finishing it after two hours. It disappointed me a little bit, especially in that it seemed to become a different novel about halfway through, but in general, it held my interest to the end. I put it on top of the scary and precarious pile on the nightstand next to my bed (how I've never been killed by a book avalanche is a mystery), turned out the light and lay on my side with my cat against my stomach.

And I couldn't fall asleep.

The cat repositioned himself to the crook of my ankles as I noticed my ear was pressed against my arm just right so that I could hear my blood rushing through my veins. It sounded much like the sound when I go to get my EKG. I marvel at this sound that signals life in this body and I marvel that it can stop, practically without notice. Or with trauma. Or for whatever whenever. Mortality thoughts.

Yes, this is what the midnight hour, a bad stomach, and an inability to sleep begets.

And I start wondering if there is any good reason why I get to sleep in this bed, mortally threatened by an eclectic library, my feet warmed by a miniature predator. I start wondering why I'm not on the street, sleeping with the crowd down on Preston near Minute Maid Park. I start wondering why I'm not sleeping in a big country house surrounded by woods and the sounds of whippoorwills.

I wonder why I'm not sleeping.

Being sick, having a snuggly if opportunistic cat to warm my feet, having some amount of discontent, having some amount of success and forward movement . . . all in one week . . . so I lay in bed, thinking thinking thinking why why why.

And why not.

"The frightening thing is not dying. The frightening thing is not living." (T-Bone Bunett)

"And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" (Talking Heads)

"You know, it never has been easy, whether you do or you do not resign. Whether you travel the breadth of extremity or stick to some straighter line." (Joni Mitchell)

I was hoping a destination would reveal itself if just started typing, but I end up quoting songs. Which is a sort of destination, I guess.

My blessings are my own---not everyone could bear them. My curses, likewise.

As I look at the clock in the lower corner of my computer screen, I see it's 1:44am. My stomach is gassy and uncomfortable. I'm middle-aged and sleep with a cat in a narrow bed. If I lay the right way I can hear the blood rushing through my veins. I have oodles of books, all of which I love, even the ones I didn't like. I've never spent a night of my life outdoors.

It's all mystery and miracle and sometimes when I have too much sleep, if I'm not exhausted, these things will keep me awake, even if I'm feeling tired or maybe just a little weak.

There's my destination. It's all mystery and miracle.

And to all, a good night. Or good morning, as the case may be.