This is Phyllis Tickle. This is her website. This is one amazing woman.
I first heard of Phyllis Tickle, the woman who singlehandedly brought the practice of fixed-hour prayer back into mainstream American Christianity, who controlled the review of Christian publications in the '90s, and who is basically the perfect woman, having achieved massive academic fortitude while raising several children in the process, during my sophomore year at North Park. I'd just declared my major to be Biblical and Theological Studies the semester before, and I was untainted by Senioritis or too many papers. At that time, I was discerning whether or not I should go into ministry, and so when Genevive Dibley introduced me to the Kermit Zarley lecturer that year, she said, "Cindy, this is Phyllis Tickle. Phyllis, this is Cindy. She's going to change the world" and smiled at me with eyes that believed that I actually would. Aghast at Genevive's faith in me, I turned my gaze to the elderly woman sitting next to her. She looked up at me, "Oh? And how are you going to do that?" It wasn't a rhetorical or mocking question, it was a real one. She agreed with Genevive and she wanted to know my battle plan for this aforementioned change.
You could have knocked me over with a paper-thin page out of the Bible.
Later that afternoon, during the lecture, Dr. Tickle was answering a question about women in ministry when she added, "...one of you in this room is preparing for it" and looked straight at me. I somehow ripped my gaze away from hers to see Genevive in the front row, turned around and beaming at me.
And that was the moment when Genevive Dibley became my mentor and Phyllis Tickle became one of the most respected women in my life.
**Cut to two years later.**
The Friday afternoon before Graduation was a beehive of activity in the Biblical and Theological Studies department hallway. Joel had called me in earlier that day to "give me something" (which ended up being a dictionary of modern English usage with a particularly applicable rule highlighted in the front) and I agreed to come to the department offices, with the stipulation that he only said good things about my paper. Thus, Kip and I found ourselves in the hallway with the BTS faculty at its finest: wedged in the foot-wide corner between Scot's and Boaz's offices, we listened to Brad's story about getting food poisoning in Romania while simultaneously trying to answer questions about Alaska from Boaz, saying "Hi" to Mary, ignoring Joel's "we finished our meeting why are you still here?" confused looks, and speaking over Scot's yells to Mary to come fix whatever technology problem he was facing at the moment.
It was the best possible last visit to those offices.
During a lull in the action, I pulled Kip into Scot's office to introduce the two of them. We eventually got to discussing post-Graduation ceremony plans when Mary poked her head into the office, probably in response to the pleas for technological help, "Aren't you leaving to take Phyllis to the airport right after the ceremony?"
Phyllis? No way.
I looked at Scot. His eyes lit up. "Phyllis?" I practically screamed. "Phyllis Tickle????"
"Yup! She's getting an honorary doctorate, didn't you know?"
I would be lying if I said I didn't embarrass myself in front of my advisor by jumping up and down like a little girl, clapping like a cheerleader and smiling like Miss America. It was a geek extreme moment and I was enjoying every second of it. I couldn't sleep that night for several reasons--the let down from Baccalaureate, the clashing emotions of bidding North Park goodbye the next day, and most of all the excitement of seeing Phyllis Tickle again. I woke up early to check out of my apartment and get ready.
Now, the fact that modern academics only wear academic regalia for special occasions does not take away the fact that it was designed for cold and drafty buildings of higher education in the Middle Ages. I found this design aspect particularly useful as I headed toward Main Campus, tucking my hands into my sleeves and zipping up my heavy robe against the cold Chicago wind. As previously promised, I stopped by Sohlberg for a while to sit desk with Matt and recover a bit from the suddenly chilly weather. Once it was time to go to the library to line up for the ceremony, I gave Matt a hug, said my goodbyes, and headed out the door, feeling more than a little nostalgic. It was then that I caught a flurry of red robes out of the corner of my eye. Scot McKnight was walking in the same direction. With Phyllis Tickle by his side.
I must have looked like a four-year-old on Christmas morning, because Scot's face lit up like Santa Claus as he beckoned me over with a "Yes-you-can-come-over-here-I-know-you-want-to" wave. I practically skipped over to them. The scene from Sophomore year played over again: "Phyllis, this is Cindy, one of our star students. Cindy, this is Phyllis Tickle."
I extended my hand, "I was at your Zarley lecture a few years ago, it's an hon--" She interrupted me as she took my hand in hers, "Oh yes, I remember you!"
That paper-thin Bible page you could have knocked me over with the first time I met Phyllis Tickle? Overkill now. The simple rotation of the Earth on its axis could have knocked me over this time. This woman, arguably the best, most important woman Christian academic of the late 20th century? She recognized me???? I could die happy.
With impressive level-headedness on my part (and exemplary grace on hers), we discussed my post-Graduation plans, my aspirations to grad school, what I'd do in Alaska to keep myself busy, and so on. She gave me all her best wishes and congratulations on the wedding, as well as on my opportunity to write for the Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. I had never felt so validated in my plans until that moment. We eventually said our goodbyes, and I walked over to my line. No, not "walked"--floated. I definitely floated.
Trust me, what Matt and Robert were saying was not nearly as interesting as my grin makes it out to be. I was trying to hold back post-Phyllis Tickle joy.
Later that day, during Dr. Tickle's speech to the graduates, she told us that what she was most struck about North Park was the community and how we connected our studies with our faith, exhorting us to connect our heads and hearts through the words of an ancient prayer. She reminisced about her first visit to the school and the people she had met when she paused and added, "I've even seen some of you again today".
I'd like to think that if she could have made me out in the sea of caps and gowns, she would have looked at me again.
And if Genevive were there, she would have been beaming back at me.
I made a mental note to tell her about it when I saw her that afternoon at my graduation party. I did.