African American History Month – reflection 7

A blessed remembrance of another who, in love, invited me to be more than I was and to become who I was meant to be.

Janice Marie RobinsonThe Reverend Janice Marie Robinson (1943-2012). Friend and fellow priest. Sister and soulmate.

In the fall of 1988, I, the newly-called rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, arrived in Washington, DC. Janice, having spent years in the fruitful fields of nursing, therapy, and health care administration, followed a call to her new vocation of ordination. Meeting at an annual conference for new clergy in the area, how could we have known that would be the beginning of our love story?

I don’t know how or why Janice, a Philadelphia born, New York City bred woman of tender heart and tough mettle, and I, a native of more provincial St. Louis, bonded as friends, and, with the speed of the Marcan gospel’s characteristic action-narrative word, immediately. But we did. Within nearly the next instant, we recognized our kinship. We, siblings born to different earthly families, were united by our baptism in Christ and ordination in the church, but also by an equally sacred, inarticulable soul-deep fellowship, even spirit-ship.

We were June-babies; our natal anniversaries two days apart. Geminis. Twins to each other and unto ourselves. Each of us, publicly gregarious and deeply private and guarded. The restlessness of our hearts disclosed through our spoken words, but also intuitively conveyed and perceived one with another through a nod, a look, a gesture.

Concerning that restlessness, though clergy we were, in the face of the reality of the resident iniquity in the world and in humankind, we oft wrestled to hold steadfast to the faith and hope in and love of a God of omnipotent benevolence. Theodicy was our shared Pauline “thorn in the flesh” for which we prayed release, yet through which we, as the Apostle, learned the sufficiency of divine grace. In that confidence Janice, between the two of us, was more faithful, hopeful, and loving. Always. Once, after one of my dispirited and wildly arrogant declarations of unbelief, she challenged me in her indescribably sympathetic, yet unmistakably persuasive way: “Paul, that’s b——t! You do believe! Admit it!” Yes, Janice, I did and I do.

Christianity is an incarnational religion; at its heart, the story of divine spirit enfleshed. A truth expressed in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s postulation of our ontology. We are not so much human beings in quest of spiritual experience, but spiritual beings immersed in human experience. This, I believe, is also the heart of the Christian gospel. Through the indwelling of God’s Spirit, one becomes, as Janice was for me, as Jesus is – an embodiment of God’s logos, a living word of timeless love and endless justice.

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2 thoughts on “African American History Month – reflection 7

  1. I smiled all through this one!! Not many people can call you out and get away with it!! The relationship between you and Janice was definitely one to behold. Kinship, Spiritship, all those words fit. Probably even some words fit that you haven’t even thought about even after her death. I’m glad that I not only got to meet Janice, but that I also got to experience the two of you in a room together!! An unforgettable event!! I can honestly say that Janice would be most proud of the person you’re becoming and that in retirement she’d remind you to have fun and enjoy it to the fullest. I’m sorry she didn’t get to enjoy her retirement longer. Thank you for sharing her with us.

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