Today brought the deep pleasure of reconnecting with an old mentor: Ethan and I had dinner with Thandeka.
Thandeka taught the first religion course I ever took, in the spring of my freshman year of college. It was called "The Mysticism of the Self," and in it we explored the nature of God, selfhood, and mysticism in the writings of Augustine and Martin Luther. It was tremendously challenging. I loved it so much I majored in religion.
The following year I took her course "Eve and the Snake" -- a semester-long exploration of the dual creation narratives in Genesis, seen through a variety of lenses. That was my introduction to feminist Biblical criticism; under her tutelage I read Judith Plaskow for the first time. Thandeka inspired my undergraduate thesis, at least in part. She shaped my college experience, and by extension the years that followed.
Many of my friends studied with her; I suspect most remember her with a mixture of reverence and awe.
Seeing her again after more than ten years was...intense. Each of us told the story of what we have been doing in the interim. Ethan talked about Ghana and Tripod and Geekcorps and Global Voices; I talked about poetry and Bennington and inkberry and Aleph. She spoke about the unlikely blessing of being denied tenure, about teaching at Meadville-Lombard and at Harvard, about The Center for Community Values and her interest in small-group work. We talked about smalltown life, the nature of prayer, affect and embodied experience, communities both in-person and online, progressive faith and the challenges of engaging with difficult political realities.
She doesn't seem to have aged a day. Her mannerisms are the same, her intent gaze and her tenacious listening. The three of us radiated joy at one another for the two-plus hours of our meeting. When we parted, it was with the words "to be continued." I hope that we won't wait another ten years before breaking bread together again.