Between the principal services last Sunday, I received word that Sarah Sharp Taylor, the mother of one my best friends in the world, died. I've been friends with Sarah's youngest son since he and I were roommates as freshman boarding students at The McCallie School back in the 1980s. I spent countless hours at the family homes in Nashville and in the mountains of Beersheeba Springs, TN during my high school and college years. As a graduate student during the 1990s at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and later at Vanderbilt's Graduate Department of Religion, I had even more time to deepen my friendship and connection with this wonderful family. During that time, Sarah's other sons became important persons in my life, too. And from the beginning to the end, the constancy of Sarah's character as a kind, gentle, and compassionate person - the kind of person whose very being radiates the love and mercy of Jesus Christ - quietly but surely made its imprint on my soul.
I feel a deep and loving kinship with the Taylor family. Their loss is my loss. As I posted for my Facebook status a few days ago: "In ways that I can't possibly put into words, it's become clear to me that going back to that particular place to be with this particular family in their grief over the loss of this particular person touches things that go to the core of my own identity. Wow ... "
And so I dropped everything else for this week to make the six hour drive from Jackson, MS to Nashville, TN to be with the Taylor family for the visitations and the funeral service at Christ Church Cathedral.
It was a journey of reconnecting with some of the deepest parts of myself. The seeds were sown in my childhood, but they started taking root during my junior and senior high school years at McCallie. They began blossoming during my 20s as a graduate student at Vanderbilt. Hard as it is for me to believe, it was almost 20 years ago that I first moved to Nashville. And during my time there, I explored my love for theology and ethics, I discovered (in ways that only many years later I could even begin to articulate) the religious poverty of "liberal" theology, I rediscovered my place in the Body of Christ within the Episcopal Church and owned my love for Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I met the woman I would marry, and I first took seriously and began exploring God's call to the priesthood. It all happened right there in Nashville, TN. And the constant through the topsy-turvyness of it all was the Taylor family. And always, there was the warmth of Sarah Taylor's smile, her laughter, and the loving acceptance of her embrace.
Out of love for Sarah and her family, I share her obituary here on my blog before it gets deleted from The Tennessean's website. Reading it, I hope you get just a glimpse of what an extraordinary person she was and what an amazing life she lived. Having known her, I can say that it's all true. But I can also say that it barely captures the vibrancy and loving-kindness of her beautiful spirit, qualities which you could only have known by actually meeting her in person.
Here's her obituary:
TAYLOR, Sarah Sharp Age 75 of Nashville. Died January 24, 2010 at the Alive Hospice of Nashville due to complications from a car accident on January 19, 2010. Sarah is preceded in death by her parents, Sarah Robinson Sharp and Vernon Hibbett Sharp; brother, Dr. Vernon Hibbett Sharp; sister, Rev. Lorene Sharp White.
Sarah was born October 2, 1934 in Nashville, TN and was raised on Inglehame Farm in rural Williamson County. She attended Robertson Academy, Ward Belmont and was a member of the first graduating class of Harpeth Hall. Sarah attended Sweet Briar College and then transferred to Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Phi Beta Kappa and graduated Cum Laude. Sarah was also a life member of the Centennial Club and Junior League.
Sarah was a passionate supporter of dance and the Nashville Ballet. Her love of dance began when she danced with the Nashville Ballet under Albertine Maxwell. She was also a lover and supporter of the Nashville Opera.
Sarah was dedicated to her church family at Christ Church Cathedral and the opportunity to live out her faith through ministries of the church. Sarah was a co-founder, patron and participant of the First Friday Services. Everything was scheduled around these services. She was able to promote worship through dance with her support of the Epiphany Dancers. Sarah was also able to touch many people through the Stephen's Ministry where, as a lay caregiver, she was able to actively share the strength of her faith with many people.
Sarah also traveled extensively. She was drawn to exotic places - places of great natural beauty, high altitudes and spiritual significance. Her travels included climbing to the base camp of the Himalayas; Macchu Picchu, Peru; Mt. Sinai; Mt. Hood; Patagonia region of South America; Iona Island, Scotland; Skellig Islands, Ireland; St. David's Cathedral, Wales; Israel/The Holy Land; Tibet; Nepal; Kenya; the Galapagos Islands and Russia.
Her greatest love, however, was for her family. She had a home in Beersheba Springs, TN where she loved to gather with family to hike, swim and enjoy the sunsets. She was knowledgeable of wildflowers and grew many around the cabin. She was always traveling between Nashville, Chattanooga and Beersheba to spend time with her grandchildren, her four sons and other family members.
Sarah is survived by her four sons, Robert C. Taylor of Chattanooga, Vernon S. Taylor of Primm Springs, Harrison H. Taylor of Nashville and Douglas R. Taylor of Nashville; two daughters-in-law, Julie Yates Taylor and Deborah Cadwallader Taylor; five grandchildren, Tru, Hayes, Campbell, Reed and Elise; her sisters, Gertrude Sharp Caldwell (Ben) and Margaret Sharp Howell (Bill); sister-in-law, Dr. Alix Weiss-Sharp; many dearly loved nieces, nephews, cousins and extended relatives.
May Sarah's soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.