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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

A Tribute to Elaine Stolp | June 2, 2024 Rev Dr. Dorsey Blake

Updated: Jul 11



 

Each month I receive in my Pacific School of Religion (PSR) inbox a newsletter from the Dean of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). It is always full of valuable information about programs and events of the schools and centers that comprise the GTU. The April edition listed that Fellowship Church member Aaron Grizzell had passed his Comprehensive Exams for his PhD with distinction. May’s newsletter stated that Aaron would be making two presentations of note in May: one at King’s College London (London, UK), “Howard Thurman’s Rhythm of the Meaning of Social Justice"; the second presentation would be at the European Academy of Religion Annual Conference (Palermo, IT) addressing “The Purposiveness of Nature in Immanuel Kant and Howard Thurman.”


May’s newsletter opened with this magnificent poetic reinterpretation of Psalm 100 by Dr. Jennifer Davidson, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs of the GTU.


Come alive with joy, unrestrained

God’s Love animates the cosmos.

Enter the flow of Love

for Love already streams in you

washes through every cell

energizes every atom.

Give yourself to Love until you know:

Love animates you

Love creates us

We belong to Love

We are Love in human form

[Earth is Love in earth-form;

trees are Love in tree-form;

dust is Love in dust-form.]

We are nourished by

the steady thrum of Love’s energies

coursing through sunlight

roaring in the wild wind,

trembling in tender, spring green.

Enter every space with gratitude

for Love’s Presence there.

See that the whole earth is made

holy with Love

Sanctuary Earth.

Savor Love’s Presence and

breathe thank you, thank you!

Love was

long before we were,

Love will belong after we are

Love.


What an enlivened, captivating, extraordinary reinterpretation this is. So recentered, and reimagined was it that I forgot the standard interpretations. Looking them up, I expressed my gratitude for the new interpretation. This creative and relevant work is evidence that God continues to speak today to potential prophets and praise singers open to the newness of insights revealed to them personally. I emailed Dean Davidson to express my delight in her brilliant work. Later, I spoke to her and warned her that I would use her poem somewhere. I didn’t know when or where. But it resonated with my soul so deeply that I knew it would travel forth with me. As my mind roamed over what I would say about Elaine Stolp in this tribute, the words of Dr. Davidson kept trysting with me. This beautiful, exquisite rendition – so intimate, powerful, grace-filled, and reassuring – evoked Elaine’s presence and life among us.


How wonderfully erotic these words are. How grounded in passion, love, and energy, they are. How they lure us to the animated cosmos and awaken us with joy. I remember and embrace the joyful aliveness that animated Elaine Stolp’s very being. With each of us and as a collective, she radiated aliveness. Whether or not a star guided her, she came from the East, Pennsylvania, and neighboring San Jose and landed in our community.


No stranger was she. Immediately she and we were family. She brought joy animated by love, energizing and holding this special community in love. She was not with us long, but long enough for us to fall in love with each other, long enough for her to indelibly insert her legacy into the legacy and promise of this “fellowship.” And, we are not ready to let her go, not just yet. We gather, as we must, to pay tribute, to remember, to learn lessons from, and to give thanks for this unspeakable, inspiring, precious gift we have been given. Faithful was she and that our souls know that right well. Engaging and generous was she.


Elaine was a Divine Mystery – not a mystery to be investigated or solved but accepted as a unique life honed by the God of Life and all stuff of life, a mystery that could not be duplicated, replicated, or photocopied. Each of us is a mystery not to be duplicated, for each must engage the mystery of one’s personal life at stake. There are no copycat lives or souls.


We are saddened because we were moved by Elaine’s stories, and isn’t that the meaning of companionship, shared stories? We longed for more of her stories, stories now vaulted in a space beyond our opening.


One evening, Bryan received an email from her indicating that she was in the emergency room. She returned home. The morning I had planned to visit her at her home, one of her sons texted me saying that she had been readmitted to the hospital, then to a rehabilitation center and finally hospice. While she was in rehabilitation the church sent her a plant still believing that somehow, she would make it through or perhaps it was just the hope that I that we would continue to benefit from her awesome presence.


Her first time at Fellowship Church she was directed to the stairs leading to the sanctuary. She was comfortable in the sanctuary, the kitchen, and Thurman/Fellowship Hall. She had another sanctuary, the people. With her passing, we have lost a great, cherished, member of The Fellowship Church family. We mourn that loss and pray for guidance as we negotiate the void that has been created. Our enslaved ancestors understood well that death was not the end of life, but rather a comma punctuating life into a more glorious existence.


Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.    

And he said:    

You would know the secret of death.    

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?    

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.    

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.    

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;           

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.           

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.           

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.           

Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?           

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?


For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?           

And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?


Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.           

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.           

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.


– Kahlil Gibran From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923)


Elaine believed that all are created equal and deserve justice, compassion, and love. She embodied this through participating in the lives of others. Her experience of being a part of a Black Church in Pennsylvania made a lasting impression on her and was carried over into many walks of life. She worshipped with “the other” and learned from and engaged with “the other.” Her understanding of racism was honed from actual encounters and was authentic. Yes. She was authentic – genuine, solid, dependable, true to her highest principles, the embodiment of love, presence, and activating community. She did not have to be asked to do things. She saw a need and responded to it. We are better off because of her initiative and generosity. She is everlasting love.

We all have one life. That is all that has been given us. She lived her one life well, with courage and kindness, audacity and grounding, hope and confidence. Her life’s working paper was built on making decisions and acting on decisions that blessed our community with love.


I am ecstatic and grateful that I knew Elaine and honored by the lessons she taught about being human. She only had one life as we all have but one life. She lived it with insight, power, compassion, generosity, beauty, and love. Finite in physical space and time, the meaning and impact of life know no bounds. Its horizon keeps stretching forth. And the most relevant question is what will we, you and I, do with the one precious, mysterious life that we have been given?


Yes, Elaine's lamp no longer burns. For dawn has come.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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