Introducing the 2021-2022 cohort

In less than three weeks, the Brazos Fellows will gather in Waco to begin our work of study, prayer and discernment together. It’s hard to believe we’re about to kick off year four of the fellowship! Paige and I are excited to introduce the 2021-2022 Brazos Fellows:  

Cara Hoekstra is from Central California and just graduated from the University Scholars program at Baylor. In her tutorial, she will be looking at how the church should prepare young people for dating, marriage, and singleness. Cara has been attending Christ Church since summer 2019 and is excited to finally join the Brazos Fellow program. She is especially looking forward to the opportunity to develop habits and spiritual disciplines that she can take with her for the rest of her life.

Taylor Slusser is from Palmyra, PA (near Hershey and Lancaster). He graduated from Penn State in May with degrees in Classics, Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and Environmental Resource Management, and was also involved in campus ministry and research in biblical studies. In his tutorial he plans to explore early Christian Scriptural interpretation, particularly as it is conceived in relation to history and reality as a whole. One thing Taylor is excited about as a Brazos Fellow is re-integrating theological study with life in the community of faith—and also cooking and eating good food!

Emma Cann is from Dallas, TX. She graduated with an Intercultural Studies major from John Brown University in 2020, and currently works at Half Price Books—though her goal is to pursue museum work of some kind in the future. In her tutorial, Emma will be exploring the relationship between Christianity and the practices of restoration and preservation, both at the individual level and in communities. She looks forward to hearing different perspectives and ideas from the Fellows as they learn to be more like Christ together.  

Kathryn Thompson is from Fredericksburg, TX. In the spring of 2020, she graduated with a BFA in Dance from Belhaven University. Kathryn spent last year teaching first grade at Ambleside School of Fredericksburg, where she truly enjoyed learning and implementing the Charlotte Mason method and teaching philosophy. As a Brazos Fellow, Kathryn is looking forward to developing rhythms of spiritual disciplines and cultivating a deep community with the cohort and staff. In her tutorial, she will explore how movement is incorporated in Christian spiritual practices, especially with children.

Rachel Burke is from Boston, MA, and graduated from North Greenville University in 2014 as an English major. Rachel is currently on staff at Christ Church as sexton, where she also serves on the Altar Guild and in children’s ministry. For the last four years, she has taught in public school, and before that in private school, and in her tutorial she will explore questions surrounding pedagogy, formation, and cultural liturgies. She is most looking forward to having dedicated time, structured spiritual disciplines, and a community of accountability to push her to know God more deeply and listen to his calling in her life.

Please join us in praying for Cara, Taylor, Emma, Kathryn, and Rachel as they get settled in Waco and prepare to begin the fellowship. 

In addition to a great incoming cohort, we’ve got an exciting–and very full–fall semester planned. In our Course of Study we’ll be reading texts ranging from Athanasius, to George Herbert, to Sherry Turkle, and doing so with the help of a sterling list of guest instructors: Hans Boersma, Ralph Wood, Elizabeth Marvel, David Wilhite, Matthew Lee Anderson, and many more. We’ll be praying the morning office together every weekday, and fellows will work one-on-one with a tutor, a spiritual director, and a life coach as they explore questions of calling and design. I’ll be traveling some to speak on and recruit for the fellowship, and Brazos Fellows will also host a number of public events at Baylor and around Waco. Stay tuned on the blog for more about all of the above.

Bruce Hindmarsh: “You Have Never Talked to a Mere Mortal”: The Implications of a “Negative” Theological Anthropology

Recently Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh gave a (virtual) public lecture on theological anthropology–or how our understanding of God ought to shape our understanding of what it means to be human. Dr. Hindmarsh is a frequent guest instructor for Brazos Fellows, and the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. Here’s a description of his talk:

An icon of the transfiguration will often display Christ as enveloped in layers of light that recede into grey and black behind him. As John Chrysostom said, the eyes of the disciples “were darkened by excessive radiance.” A later hymn writer likewise wrote, “`Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.” There is more than we can take in when we turn to contemplate the beauty, infinitude, and holiness of the Lord. This lecture explores an idea in Hans Urs Von Balthasar of the analogia personalitatis, or, the analogy between human and divine personhood. Is there a kind of dark centre of unknowability exceeding all that enlightens us as we come to know of another human person? How might this mystery inform a deeply theological anthropology? How does it challenge modern views of humanness? And what are its implications for human relations in society and everyday life?

Until August 31, you can watch the lecture for free here:

Doodles from Brazos Fellows Class

Editor: at the end of our year, enjoy this from Brazos Fellow Natalie Widdows.

Yesterday was the last day of Brazos Fellows class. Instead of a wordy reflection of how meaningful our classes have been for me, I offer a different glimpse into our classes together. Here are some doodles that Tiffany and I have drawn during our classes this year (and yes, we were paying attention during class.…. most of the time, at least)!

I sometimes reflected on our readings by sketching something related to the topic. I often did this by drawing the images on the front covers of our books. My sketch of Mary and the Christ-child is a personal favorite. 

And here are some of Tiffany’s lovely contributions: 

Finally, enjoy these random doodles of Chris and Paul:

Our last day of class was bittersweet, but my sadness over its end is but an indication of my gratitude for the good that it has been this year.

Christ’s-Side-Piercing Spear: Contemplative Thoughts on Disruptive Fiction

Editor’s note: We welcome Brazos Fellow Chris Norton to the blog for this reflection on the questions he’s been pursuing this year. Enjoy.

I first visited Waco with a three-month-old puppy and far too many books to read in one weekend. A potential host family had invited me to come for a visit, and I had fun meeting them and playing with the five dogs they were already keeping. 

But I had a secret mission. I’d been accepted as an incoming Brazos Fellow, but my faith was in shambles. I’m a fairly ambitious fiction writer, and several years of art-for-art’s-sake had left me shaken. My writing turned out to be something I had to repent of. I didn’t see God in it, and it seemed to divide me from myself.

Prayer had already become a way of seeking wholeness. Never mind that I found it nearly impossible to believe I was actually praying to anyone. I growled out the Creed every day precisely because I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had to establish my life on a spiritual tradition that possessed integrity, and I hoped that Brazos Fellows would help me do that. But first, I had to see how Paul and Paige would react if I told them what was actually going on. 

So when we pulled up chairs in the Gutackers’ back yard that weekend, I laid it all out for them: I was staking my whole life on the 3% chance that anything Christians believed was true. They didn’t condemn me when they heard I was trying my damnedest to believe and couldn’t. And so I decided that Brazos Fellows was the right place for me to spend a year trying to understand how to make my whole life an expression of prayer. 

I kept running into one particular snag. The stuff I’m able to bring to life in fiction usually doesn’t feel prayerful—by which I suppose I mean that it doesn’t feel reverent. It’s odd, often playful, and usually dark. To me, fiction is a kind of laboratory, a way of trying to understand. I push back on my own beliefs about God and other people. It’s a way of poking Jesus to see if he’s alive. It’s strange and disruptive.

Was this kind of storytelling inherently toxic? If so, I would probably have to leave fiction writing behind entirely, and I couldn’t imagine that kind of life. If not, how could it become prayer?

I suspect that every good story has disruptive elements. But some stories are more disorienting than others. I kept finding that the fiction that was important to me didn’t fit into the theologies of the arts that I kept hearing. Many Christians seemed to think that the challenges of modern and postmodern fiction were just ways of asserting that life didn’t mean anything. I kept being told that the job of a believing artist was to show the world the beauty of God.

And I don’t think that’s wrong, exactly. I experience this beauty in prayer. But I don’t think that writing, for me, will necessarily feel like serene contemplation, and I don’t think my finished product will, either. How does the relationship between prayer and writing allow for dissonance? 

It seems that if my fiction can become an expression of prayer, it will be the kind of prayer that George Herbert describes in one of his poems:

                        Engine against the Almighty, sinners’ tower, 

                        Reversed thunder, Christ’s-side-piercing spear. 

To many of us, that doesn’t sound like faithfulness, but perhaps it can be.

I decided that, in my Brazos Fellows tutorial, I wanted to study the intersection of fiction writing and prayer. What could be said about our human encounters with holiness? What did it really mean to know God? And how then should I write?

My own experience with God was a clue that I could follow. If I could trace it back to some kind of bedrock, then I’d be able to build on it.

Fr. Jonathan Kanary agreed to help me think through these questions. We decided first to study the bizarre Near Eastern tour de force known as the book of Job. 

Continue reading “Christ’s-Side-Piercing Spear: Contemplative Thoughts on Disruptive Fiction”