While the rest of America shuffled halfheartedly through the commemorative issue of Time magazine devoted to the life and times of the late, great and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, I spent this past week thinking about the beautifully bright and contemplative soul that was Twila Edwards. Lover and teacher of C. S. Lewis and New Testament literature at Evangel College and crusader of gender equality within the Evangelical Church, Twila lent herself generously as mentor to many intellectually curious minds and spiritually humble hearts. When my mother-in-law sadly called me with the news that she had passed away last Friday evening, in her late 70s, her body relenting to an increasingly degenerative heart condition and her mind deteriorating with the heartache that is dementia, I felt an abrupt change of course on an otherwise routine day. Although it has been well over a decade since I sat in Twila's classroom and aspired to greater things, memory undeniably recalls the affection and admiration I had for her and her teaching.
Twila was unique among persons, unique among her peers, despite being a biblical studies professor devoted to academic scholarship, she so wholeheartedly embraced the truth in literary fiction it wouldn't surprise me if she had had her own magic wardrobe tucked away in the attic, door slightly ajar, hinting of other worlds and wiser ways. The creative power of story has always played a pivotal role in my ever evolving view of self and the world around us. Everything she taught seemed to me an extension of her love for Love, not just academia and not just religion. And, as a side note, the significance of my wanting to capitalize that second "L" in love would not be lost on her. I remember in particular a novel we read in her class, All Hallow's Eve by, I apologize, an author I can't recall, that relayed the significance of a single act of kindness, bringing a glass of water to a thirsty loved one in the middle of the night, demonstrating the unmistakable action of true selfless love. That fragmented scene has been replayed through out my own adult life with me both as the recipient and the gifter and has left a deep and lasting impression, providing me with an unexpected lifelong reminder that love is far greater than the irritations, the frustrations, the disappointments and the stressors that inevitably threaten to wear it down.
That was Twila's lasting gift to me, not entirely personal, but completely intimate. I did go on to take another seat under her tutelage on the biblical role of women in ministry at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. I was already of the generation that grew up taking women's equal rights for granted, and the assumption of intellectual, spiritual and vocational equality within society at large and within religious circles was a given to me. But had I pursued a vocation within the Evangelical Church I would have found that isn't necessarily the case in every corner of its expanding walls. One of the largest, most influential Assemblies of God churches in our community today is led by a minister that purports the spiritual headship of males over females and will not allow women the role of teacher or minister over men. But not too many miles down the road stands Evangel Temple, Twila's home church, assisted pastorally by a very bright scholar, teacher and compassionate heart. And I had the pleasure of passing her in the halls of seminary back in the day. That is the gift of Twila to many more.
Although the boundaries of my world view have since shifted beyond the tenants of her faith, Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials resonating more with me now than Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Twila Edwards will always be an icon to me, closer to home for me than any fading Hollywood star.