Originally printed in the May - June 2004 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Weber, Renée. “In Memory of Emily Sellon.” Quest 92.3 (MAY-JUNE 2004):89-90
By Renée Weber
Emily Sellon’s life was shaped by love and unified in beauty. It was so remarkably fulfilled, so gifted and varied, enveloped by such abundant love, that it might have been several lives at once. Such a multilayered life was necessary to Emily, for she could settle for nothing less than an active relationship to the mystery of the vast universe. What her depth made necessary, her vitality made possible. Emily was blessed with a rare and seemingly inexhaustible energy on which she drew confidently and which remained with her to the end of her life. I believe, as she did, that it was the energy of love.
Her love expressed itself in action in many forms: devotion, support, friendship, dedication, companionship, altruism, selflessness, practical help; it could move from awe to wit or whimsy—whatever seemed appropriate. Emily’s love radiated to her close knit family and to the human family as a whole, to the world of plants and animals, to philosophical principles from East and West, and above all to Theosophy. It was the center of her spiritual life, its inspiration since her girlhood, when, as she put it, she fell irrevocably in love with it at her very first encounter. In its study, teaching, writing, and practical activities she found inspiration, challenge, and fulfillment; her audiences caught the enthusiasm, grateful for her erudition and her tireless dedication.
Through her Theosophical life she became associated with Fritz Kunz, a kindred spirit who inspired Emily for the decades she worked with him in various capacities on Main Currents in Modern Thought and with whom she could pursue the integration of the great theosophical principles, which they brought into the age of science, and with Greek theosophical predecessors. Emily was also close to Dora Kunz, one of her most trusted friends, and helped give birth to Dora’s books on healing and the human energy field. As president and vice president of the Theosophical Society in America, Dora and Emily initiated many novel events.
Although it was a group venture, Emily was instrumental in formulating “The Theosophical World View,” an eloquent condensation of the essence of Theosophy. To share just one phrase with you, here is her elegant credo near the end of that document: “Devotion to truth, love for all living beings, and commitment to a life of active altruism are the marks of the true Theosophist.” This credo was part of her, and by it she lived her life.
I have said that Emily’s life was shaped by love and unified in beauty, and so it was. Her search for their integration ran like a melody through her life. Before I share that perception with you, for it captured something utterly fundamental in Emily’s spirit, I want to turn from these high planes to evoke another, more personal side of my mentor and friend. For my friend she was! How blessed am I in these twenty some years of closeness with her. My delight in her being grew, and I never tired of talking with her. We would go on for hours on subjects serious and even frivolous, for her sense of humor was fantastic. Sometimes John would come in, feigning astonishment: “Are you two still at it?” he would ask, knowing full well that as far as we were concerned, we had scarcely begun a conversation that could have no real end. We talked on land, in water, in the air at 30,000 feet, and even under water, in the delight of snorkeling, which Emily taught me.
We enjoyed writing together. The same intensity, concentration, pleasure, and—yes—fun characterized our joint articles and other writings, lectures for symposia and conferences, book chapters, traveling together. Emily made everything seem special. She had the gift of investing anything she did with weight and meaning. Nothing was ever mundane to her; everything glowed and was special, luminous under her tutelage. She stamped it all with an immediacy and a contagious sense of adventure.
To many of us, she embodied the beauty and harmony, the elegance and simplicity, that she found in the great Platonic ideas. As above, so below. The hermetic dictum.The messenger became the embodiment, perfect or less than perfect: What did it matter when her irrepressible spirit lavished itself on the beauty she perceived?
Hers was a life shaped by love and unified by beauty. And so I turn to beauty, for this too contains the essence of the Emily I knew. She saw beauty as realized or as potential in all things, and where it was lacking, she created it herself, with her artistic talent and taste. But lest we misunderstand her, the beauty she sought and saw was no mere aestheticism, and her lifelong work on its behalf was no random busyness. What she shaped with love was the inner essence of beauty expressed in outer form, a beauty that existed beyond matter, time, and space. For Emily beauty evoked the other great Platonic realities, the true and the good, expressing the timeless in time.
Her window on the world was beauty. Through it she saw the spiritual source expressing itself in the material. To her, they were one. When Emily nurtured her garden, fed her birds or wild swans, and created environments of harmony, order, and peace, she was not decorating but making visible the great invisible universals that to her were reality itself. In nature, art, artifacts, ideas, and people, she saw the true and the good. For if her window was beauty, what she perceived through it she perceived with nonjudgmental eyes. Her compassionate spirit seldom forgot that it had chosen the path of love.
Emily was not sentimental. Hers was a vision akin to the pure vision of mathematicians, who see truth in the beauty of their equations. So it was with her. Beauty was but the beginning; the inner essence of it she knew best in meditation, a profound center of her life on which she chose to remain mostly silent.
The energy of Emily’s love gave one a sense of well-being. A stay with her and John was a gift: It nourished physically, intellectually, and spiritually. The sacred and the daily were interwoven, and one felt complete. “Man is a plant, whose roots are up in heaven”—Plato’s description fits Emily well. She loved the earthy flower she planted and nourished and the transcendent reality that made its existence possible.
One facet of Emily’s personality that revealed the depth of her spiritual aspirations was her diffidence. Despite the strong personality that thrust countless leadership roles on her, Emily often told me that her ardent wish in this life was to dwell in the background. A learning experience which she had set for herself, she espoused it with her whole being.
This diffidence I see as a paradox weaving through her life. It is as if she wanted to disappear into the great principles that she taught, wanted to become transparent to them, so that others would see the teachings and not her. But this was not to be. The more she tried to become transparent to the ideas, the more we saw the ideas because of Emily. Hence we perceived her in all her shimmering beauty and goodness, the one who made these wonders come alive for us. We loved her all the more because in those difficult and exalting discourses, the bridge was Emily.
Her form is gone, but she believed with all her being that the inner essence outlasts the form; that the spirit is made of stuff so powerful and subtle that nothing can destroy it; that it exists beyond time and death, transcending both in its continuing journey; and that nothing can part those who love one another, for love, she said, is the strongest force there is. And though I shall miss her painfully, I know that the timeless self of Emily is here, is now, is with us still, and continues to enrich our lives.