Today is the 80th birthday of Phyllis Tickle. She is one of my best friends; I am one of Phyllis’s 3500 best friends. I first met Phyllis at a Christian Education conference at Shrine Mont (a restored late 19th century summer resort, now Episcopal conference center) in Orkney Springs, Virginia. It was July 2001, two months before the fall of the World Trade Centers. Phyllis was the keynoter of a conference called “Spirituality in the 21st Century.” At 67, she was tall, elegant, white-haired, feisty, smarter than almost anyone I had ever met at any age, and a devout Christian. At 80, she is still all of those things.
Phyllis describes herself as a “religionist.” A religionist is someone who studies and observes the trends and changes in the patterns of religions. Since religious trends and changes do not happen in a vacuum, Phyllis also knows about history, sociology, science, physics, and spirituality. The stories and knowledge she can share about these fields go back to about 4 CE. Her books number somewhere around fifty.
As much as I admire Phyllis’s brain and her knowledge and her ability to communicate to a large roomful of believers and skeptics, what I really love about Phyllis is her openness to people. She welcomes strangers and listens to their stories. When I moved to Memphis ten years ago, she invited me to lunch at an old Memphis “ladies” institution. We got to know each other over greens and tea sandwiches. I showed her my notebooks of doodled prayers. She said, “You’re going to write a book about this.” I said, “Yes, m’am” and did.
Phyllis mothered me through the process of writing a first book. She became my doula. A doula is a person who mothers a mother through pregnancy and childbirth. I was honored to write about this relationship in a book dedicated to Phyllis called Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future, edited by Tony Jones and published by Paraclete Press. The book is a Festschrift, a “celebratory piece of writing” that honors a person’s achievements while the person is still alive. In this book, a dozen people highlight various aspects of Phyllis’s long and ongoing career. My chapter is called: Mothering an Author Through the Birth of a Book: Phyllis Tickle as Doula. Paraclete will offer this book at 40% off for Phyllis’s birthday weekend.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PHYLLIS. Thank you for the many gifts you have given me and others. I am honored to call you mentor, doula, and friend.
Watch over thy child, Phyllis, O Lord, as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever he may be. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise
her up if she fall; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 830)