Rev. Todd Weir
April 23, 2016
The last few days I have been reading through the 162 emails I have received from Peggy over the last three years. These are the nearly weekly missives she sent me about the Sunday sermon, Monday Bible Class, her opinions about the last Deacons meeting or just her appreciation, care, and concern. Peggy was a Renaissance woman who nimbly moved from topics of dance, art, theology and politics, and often her concern for whose voice are we not hearing, what questions are we afraid to talk about.
I can see her in her favorite chair in my study, she liked it because it had big armrests, and she had a gesture when I knew she was just about to speak. She would look up to the corner of the room, eyes sometimes moving back and forth, she would have a finger over her lips, so as not to speak before the thought was ready, and if she was conflicted there might be two fingers, and if there were three or more fingers I knew I could sit back and just listen for awhile. It was like the philosophical version of a poker tell. Then she would speak in that voice that is part Dallas, part Manhattan and part Sophia, the feminine voice of wisdom of God. She might then recite a Psalm or a poem by e.e. cummings, or compare a play by Ibsen to the inhumanity of ignoring the poisoning of the Flint water supply. Often she just needed to share her struggle to understand the very big God she experienced, and what this God might demand of her in the face of evil and suffering in the world.
She was a wonderful theological and spiritual partner for me and she was always curious and appreciative and never critical. She might say, I’m wondering about the implications of what you said,” or “I am not at peace with this part of me yet.” She always invited more. We often started at different points on our way to God. I’m a farmer and preach about seeds being planted, and gardening, pruning and the change of seasons, the agricultural parables of Jesus like wheat and tares and fish on the other side of the boat. In contrast, Peggy started with the Universe, and what was beyond all knowing. When Dana asked me about hymns for this service I said, “She would want something Presbyterian, like Isaac Watts, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise.” Connie came to the same conclusion on her own. Jeanne shared with me that Peggy once told her that her prayer since she was 8 years-old was “Please let me understand.”
I’ll share my two favorite missives (so far) that were her constant themes.
A minute ago I was looking at a reproduction of Byzantine tiles in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul, beautiful floral patterning, and this popped into my head: “we must not make of God an idol”. …but it occurred to me that we are far more likely in this day and age to make idols of our ideas of God. This has to do with what I’ve been gnawing on, that we make God too little, don’t acknowledge in humility God’s mystery; we try to tame, cut God down to the size of whatever our latest idea about God is. Then we adjust our politics, everything, to fit that idol. “I am that I am” is an incredible insight. Not naming. Leaving out the vowels in God’s name. We can have glimpses of the divine, have experiences of the divine working in life, and we can have Jesus transparent to the divine, giving us visions of the way to go. That no one has seen God face to face becomes increasingly real as a concept to me.
The second reading was after our Bible Study of Isaiah 6, the call of Isaiah, which involved seraphim flying around the throne of God and hot coal touching the prophet’s lips. It reflects Peggy’s constant thoughts about a God who calls forth something from her:
Could an angel, a seraph, a messenger, be one who tells it like it is, hot, inflaming to the one who receives the message, which makes the person look at himself/herself without the dross of excuses and self deception. And therefore by the act of the burning away be able to speak, freed, purified of what is lesser and false. To look at oneself, to look at the world and see beneath the common perception, can be very painful. And yet, ultimately, the truth can make us, sometimes, fearless and by fearless I mean free.
Despite her great intellect, Peggy did not walk around with her head in the clouds. She was happy doing the little things that make church – passing out bulletins and creating welcome, filling communion cups and finding ushers-She noticed who was hurting and need, and was a great encourager. She send me little messages like this:
“Say no when you can. Remember how Jesus felt the strength go out of him when the woman touched his garment; even Jesus had to protect himself sometimes. Please try.”
Peggy helped so many of us understand ourselves. Those who live with us and befriend us shape us. They hold up mirrors to show us what we are. Some show us critical mirrors that look like us, yet they are distorted, with legs that are weirdly short and eyes too far apart, so we are unsure if that is us. Peggy held up a mirror that reflected our best selves to us, a reflection that we hope to one day truly live.
We grieve today, because we wish we could have at least one more glimpse. Here is what I want for you all today. Remember- remember that glimpse she gave to you, the vision of what is good and true-the best you could be, the possibilities of love on the other side of pain, the hope for justice. Peggy would be the first to tell you that only God is wise, but she walked so closely in the path.