Tickle spent most of her life in Tennessee. In 1977 she moved with her physician husband, Sam, to a small farm---a very different setting than the urban Memphis she left. Perhaps the most important facet of her training is the fact the she is a mother of seven, one of whom died nearly as soon as he was born. Factors like this shape our perceptions and understanding about life. We are all products of our experiences.
In a touching news article, reporter David Gibson, narrates this latest saga of Tickle’s health issues and offers her profound response to what is a death sentence. However, rather than recounting this, I found another piece of the article more compelling. In an attempt to describe Tickle’s influence on the American scene, Gibson uses a phrase that grabbed me. He tells us, “Tickle has diligently mapped the pathways of the heart and the demographics of the soul while becoming one of the nation’s leading public intellectuals on all things religious.”
I loved that phrase, “pathways of the heart.” Perhaps I like it so much because a course I teach is entitled, Modern Spiritual Paths. The first thing that is true about my course title and the phrase used about Tickle is the fact that “paths” is plural. Paths or pathways? I see these synonymously. And I do believe there are multiple pathways to connecting with the Holy One, as I choose to describe God. Indeed, I think there are even “religious” pathways that may not even have a traditional idea of God. Buddhism is likely the best example here. For example, I don’t think we could approach the Dalai Lama and say, “Because you don’t have a traditional view of God, you cannot be religious!”
The second thing I like about this description of Tickly is the focus on the “heart.” The author says that she has mapped the pathways of the heart. Of course, heart is being used metaphorically. In the Old Testament context “heart” means the whole person. Heart is not the soul-part, separate from the flesh-part of human beings. In religious terms heart is who I am and what I do. The heart has desires; the heart loves and can be broken. It is a powerful metaphor.
Tickle knows and so do I that finding a pathway of the heart is a key to a deep and meaningful life. In her case and in mine the pathway of the heart stems from God and leads back to the Holy One. One function of religion is to offer pathways to our heart. Even within Christianity, there is not a single pathway. I have spent a fair amount of time finding one that speaks to my condition, as Quakers would say.
Perhaps one of the biggest tasks for the heart pathway is to find a way that enables us not only to live meaningfully, but also to die with dignity and meaning. This is the chapter that Tickle has now entered. And not surprisingly, she is doing it with some real grace. As she says, “the dying is my next career.”
I appreciate her realistic perspective. She says, “At 81 you figure you’re going to die of something, and sooner rather than later…I could almost embrace this, that, OK, now I know what it’s probably going to be, and probably how much time there is. So you can clean up some of the mess you’ve made and tie up some of the loose ends.” It is another line, however, that struck me as powerfully spiritual. She quips, “Am I grateful for this? Not exactly. But I’m not unhappy about it. And that’s very difficult for people to understand.”
I can apply this to my own life. Even though I am not under an immediate death sentence, I know death is inevitable. Am I grateful for that? No. But with Tickle, I am not unhappy about it. I know I can still do something about life---and I am grateful for my life and for my pathway of the heart. It will take me to good places. That does make me happy.
Tickle concludes the interview by acknowledging she has always had an inner voice who tells he what to do. I can hear this and understand it, but it is different from my experience. I love her clarity and her willingness to go with the truth that God gives to her. “It’s the truth. Just like I’m told to do this…Which is why it doesn’t bother me. The dying is my next career.”
I am old enough to know her pathway is somewhat different than mine. So I need to know how my own “inner voice” speaks its truth to me. I am confident the inner voice speaks to my “heart.” And my pathway is my way of knowing, hearing and accepting my truth.