Marion Zimmer Bradley as a churchgoer

17 October 1999

Homily at her funeral

The Rev. C. Robbins Clark

"Do you see this woman?" (Luke 7:44)

What a question! Of course he saw her. It was his house. He'd watched her enter and wondered what the hell was she, or anyone like her, doing there. He'd been transfixed by her "outrageous performance" and was muttering derisively to himself about her when Jesus broke in with his story about debtors and creditors. He saw her all right.

Or did he? Perhaps he just saw what she represented to him. Perhaps he just saw that which he feared and despised and didn't really see her at all. And he certainly did not see the beauty and poignancy of her lavish outpouring of contrition and gratitude. Jesus saw it. Jesus saw her. He saw and understood what she was doing. What's more, he valued it, valued her and raised her up to be an example to his smug, self-righteous host. And he spoke to her directly and granted her heart's desire.

I love it that Marion chose this Gospel reading for her funeral, as she chose all the readings and music for this service. (Think of them as a sort of final story outline). Except for the Hebrew Scripture portions, these are not "designated" funeral readings. But then, what did Marion ever do in the "designated" manner?! The Hymn to Love from First Corinthians is most often heard at weddings. And the Gospel: it just takes its turn once every three years with so many other Gospel passages. It has long been one of my favorites. Especially as a long-haired and earnest seminary student, I fancied myself in the role, throwing myself at the feet of Jesus in total devotion, heedless of the shock waves it would send through the established order. I think Marion was deeply sensitive to and appreciative of both the extravagance and sensuality of the woman's act and its importance as a statement against an establishment which had lost both heart and humor and even its ability to discern the truth which was before its eyes. And she knew first-hand the complex interweavings of passion and compassion, fear and hope, sin and forgiveness. She spent most of her life on or over the edge in one way or another, even amid her great success as an author. I cannot even pretend to have understood all she was about.

"Do you see this woman?"

Perhaps the question should be addressed to us. Many from St. Mark's would be surprised to know that the woman of increasing physical frailty, so lovingly attended by Raul and Elisabeth, whom they saw at church each week was a famous author. Her fans might be equally surprised to know she was a longstanding communicant of the Episcopal Church. Those who revere her as a sci-fi/fantasy guru might never imagine her down-to-earth matter-of-factness or her puckish sense of humor. Of course, most of us have not been privileged to see and know her fully. Indeed, which of us ever knows another's being completely?

But that is no excuse for not trying to see the full reality of another and, even more, extending our hearts in affection and forgiveness. If we do not, we show ourselves one with the blind-eyed self-absorbed host in the story. The famous are particularly vulnerable to having their unique humanity obscured by the projections of others. We lionize or vilify according to our own needs, heedless of the wholeness of the one who has made such an impression on us.

Thanks be to God for Jesus' clear and loving eye. As he saw, knew and appreciated the woman in the story, so he sees, knows and appreciates each one of us. So he has seen, known and appreciated Marion and now does so face to face. Though we weep here, and weep we must for the pain of our loss, let us not weep for her. She is whole and well in ways she would never be this side of death. Her pen and plots have ceased, but her spirit lives on in love. Her work is her memorial and will continue to inspire. We will dry our eyes and go on living. But we will also remember. Let us do so with honesty and affection. In our hearts and minds let us truly "see this woman" whom we gather here today to celebrate: loving lavishly, if not always wisely or adeptly, a brilliantly inventive groundbreaker and also a practical, if not totally resigned, bearer of life's burdens.

Her families, both biological and "adopted," were many and varied and extend outward to include all her fans and her brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, as we celebrate this "Easter" service of the resurrection, we share a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where Marion now feasts with the whole communion of saints. As Jesus said to the woman in the Gospel, so we now say to Marion, "Your faith has saved you, go in peace." 

See also: