Thursday, August 30, 2007


When I began to write about Meadville/Lombard and enumerated the entering class, I kept thinking that I was overlooking someone but didn’t go look up who that might be. Might have been Mike A., who joined us even later than Kenner and with whom I had a problematic relationship. When the story hit the news about Mother Theresa’s private journal and letters, it suddenly dawned on me. I’d been repressing Kathy Fuson, now The Reverend Doctor Kathy Fuson Hurt. Now to figure out why and why it was that Mother Theresa prompted remembrance.

Kathy was the most classically “minister-like” of us with by far the best mind and education. She was also a Southerner to the core and not inclined to step entirely outside the Christian context. A mystic, she introduced us to alchemy and Ol’ Joe Campbell. (I just like to call him that because it irritates some people and he IS a sort of poor-man’s Mircea Eliade -- whom we had in our attic.) VERY useful concepts. She knew her literary nature theology better than our faculty did. (Abrams’ “Natural Supernaturalism," for instance.) I still use that stuff. But she had two big battles interfering with her: one was depression and the other was anemia. Maybe they were two aspects of the same thing.

Anyway, when I got a preaching gig where there was no organist, I’d ask her to come along to earn a few bucks as accompanist. It wasn’t fair, since she was pressed into being second fiddle -- I thought entirely too often and not just by me. But she was docile and competent. I recall one snowy Sunday morn when we set out in my van for some small burg with only a map to guide us. She agreed to be navigator on the nearly deserted icy road. When I slid, a little out of control, she just hung on. I cut a few cookies, swapping ends, and out of the corner of my eye I saw her patiently turning the map to keep it in accordance with the territory. Once I realized we were going the wrong way and gambled that the grassy median was frozen enough to recklessly drive across it and head the other way. It worked and she never said a word. After church we’d go spend our booty on a nice meal -- or I did. She was a vegetarian so she always had scrambled eggs. At least she would eat eggs. Some won’t.

When I left seminary, I wept when I said goodbye to Kathy but didn’t quite fathom why. There was something not spoken. Now, looking her up in her newest pulpit, I see what it was. She was lesbian (not knowing that or maybe not there yet) and I was not. (I have never left the spell of Bob Scriver.) But it was a little early to even discuss the subject. In fact, she married and had a son before things got sorted out -- I’m sure rather painfully as is often the case. In her present photos she looks well and the son, now grown up, is a handsome man. Both she and her partner look very happy. I love her candidating sermon for this new church she’s accepted. (First Granville Baptist, Granville, Ohio.)

Kathy’s theme has always been the gains that come through pain and struggle. Her salvation has been devotion. Her message sounds the same as it did in seminary. She is known for her devotional manuals for the UUA, but -- interestingly -- she has come back to the Baptist context though the church is actually no different from UU congregations. At least she has a fabulous spire on her church, which she can justify and value theologically. (I love spires but prefer mountains.) And grace -- she has found grace.

Mother Theresa, it now is apparent, acted out her good works in an endarkenment, a loss, a cold and empty void. This is not the way it’s supposed to be, we think in our reward-focussed culture. Only by belief are we supposed to be saved and belief is supposed to make us light-hearted, not to say prosperous. (We forget all about what it was like for Jesus, or even Peter.) St. Theresa, who is the patron saint of the Browning Catholic Church, also had a troubled path to tread.

Once my mother and I together attended a lecture by a woman who knew she was dying of cancer. The woman had at first run wild, doing all the hedonistic things a person might. But she got bored. So she enrolled at college and began work on a degree, knowing that she would never finish it. (This is the part where she’s supposed to have a miraculous recovery and graduate with honors, but that’s not what happened. She didn’t get great marks, being interrupted by hospital stays and dulled by drugs, and she died. But she claimed she had a great time.)

My mother and I took opposite positions. I felt she did the right thing. My mother felt that the woman’s family should have taken her home and sheltered her, nurtured her, loved her to the end. I said that would be suffocating, treating her like a child. Looking back, I thin I felt about Kathy rather as though my mother had felt: that she should have been protected, warmed, and -- well, for God’s sake, have a good steak for the sake of your red blood cells! (She’s no longer a vegetarian. The anemia is also gone. And... the depression!) But I sure wasn’t going to take on the job and it didn’t seem to me that she herself or the seminary was helping her prepare for the bitter hard work of parish ministry.

But results tell the story. In the end Kathy has been a successful parish minister, while I broke out the other side of the corral in about ten years, though a case could be made that I went on with the work on my own terms, esp. since I’ve returned to the rez.

The Rev. Dr. Kathy Fuson Hurt (I’m not going to say anything about that last name.) is blogging as “The Flaming Chalice,”, staying within the church context and posting chapters of a new meditation manual. I’m going to send her this blog and see what she says. Maybe she’ll post a comment.

1 comment:

Whisky Prajer said...

I've been mulling this over since you posted it. I have nothing to add, really, except that this meditation has embedded itself very deeply in my consciousness. Thank you.