I received word today that PHYLLIS TICKLE spoke at North Park's spring commencement ceremony. PT! My life model! My favorite speaker and author, the person I want to be most like when I grow up, heck, the person I want to BE when I grow up, the woman whose spiritual autobiography I specially ordered off Amazon because it is out of print and you can't buy it at Schuler's, and, even though it is hard cover and weighs about 600lbs (that could be a slight exaggeration), brought it across the ocean to keep me company, along with another hard cover, The Divine Hours (Pocket Edition), which I take with me just about everywhere.
PT, who I first met as a freshman at North Park at a quirky dinner with a few BTS professors.
My roommate Sarah was the first who told me, via Facebook. When I asked myself why she might have remembered I like Phyllis Tickle (though I love her, she isn't exactly as well known as say, the person who is speaking at Notre Dame's commencement this year, namely Barack Obama (talk about missed opportunities...)), I recalled that her picture was on my laptop background last semester as I was writing my senior thesis...for life inspiration, of course.
People kept asking me, "Why do you have your grandma on your laptop background?"
and I'd say, "That's not my grandma! That's Phyllis Tickle! Isn't she beautiful?"
Let me tell you about the two occasions in which I've had contact with PT: I was a freshman at North Park, in Scot McKnight's (you can accuse me of name dropping in this paragraph, I don't care) Intro to the Bible class. Scot had invited Dr. Tickle to speak in the yearly Zarley lectures he hosts. She spoke on praying the Divine Hours and absolutely lit up the room. She talked about prayer, which I find eternally perplexing and interesting subject, and to this day, every time I ask people if they remember her speaking at North Park, people say, "She's the one that talked about going to the bathroom to pray if you're at work, right?" (Which is true, because you technically need to pray them between certain hours if you're going to be praying with the rest of the church). ... But she talked about a lot more, too! Like why Christians should have an understanding of physics and biochemistry, and what "worship" means and does to a person...
In any case, I was enthralled with the woman. To begin with, her name is Phyllis Tickle. I mean, how could you come up with a better name? Phyllis is so great: strong, reminiscent of classic Americana, traditional and yet not banal. Like a good wine. Tickle is of course perfect because that's what she does to you - tickles you with her personality and grace and quick wit until you can't help but smile when you listen to her talk, and feel like she loves you even though you don't know her. And she tickles your intellect by provoking new ideas and by daring new insights. And she lives on a farm called Lucy. Lucy! I love the name Lucy!
I was, they'd say in German, begeistert (I feel this is an onomonopea and deserves no translation). I felt like how my dad gets when he talks about Christy Matthewson (his favorite baseball player -- pitcher from the early 20th century). After the lecture, I didn't care about homework, friends, life -- I just wanted to get to know this woman. I had a crazy idea in my head: I knew she had another lecture tomorrow. That meant she was staying in Chicago. I would go up to Scot and ask him if I could have coffee with her. It sounded ridiculous, but then, she felt so approachable, even up there behind the microphone.
I found Scot after the lecture, and before I opened my mouth, he said to me,
"One of our group dropped out. Do you want to come to dinner with us?"
I was flabbergasted. Shocked. Astounded. I couldn't breathe. I didn't know who "our group" was, other than that it included Phyllis Tickle, and that was enough for me. From the center of my being, bursting up with exuberance, came my jubilant, emphatic, astonished, "YES!"
Thirty minutes later, 18-year-old yours truly found herself at an Italian restaurant in Evanston with two Biblical and Theological Studies upperclassmen, two BTS professors, a seminary prof, Scot McKnight, and Phyllist Tickle. Talk about feeling like you know nothing!
I loved every moment of it. I could have spent the rest of my semester at that big round table eating spaghetti and tiramisu and talking about Paul, Jesus, and religious revolutions (the last subject, incidentally, would become the subject of one of Tickle's most recent books, The Great Emergence, which I had the dumb luck to hear her speak about in Grand Rapids last October). I will admit that I wondered, when she went to the bathroom at half-past-seven, if she was praying...
THIS WOMAN spoke at North Park's graduation on Saturday, and was given an honorary doctorate degree by NPU. I am not going to attempt falsehood: I am envious.
I feel that Phyllis Tickle speaking would have made a graduation slightly more memorable than watching someone nearly pass out behind the podium (which did actually occur at my graduation in December).
So I'll be honest with you: This week finds me missing Chicago a bit. I know that the dogwoods are blooming on campus, people have been playing Frisbee on the greenspace, and my roommates are baking for an end-of-the-year celebration at 5128. I know that the classmates I studied with, ate with, worshiped and laughed with are receiving their degrees this weekend, welcoming their parents and friends onto campus, and taking off to conquer the world. It's hard not to be there to celebrate with them.
CONGRATULATIONS, Class of 2009.
And P.S.: P.T., you're not speaking in Germany any time soon, are you?