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How Old Books Help Us Live in an Anxious Time

Wednesday, Sept 16
3:30-4:30pm EDT

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Our time is characterized by information overload, hot takes, and a preoccupation with the immediate. What’s more, there seems to be a growing consensus that history needs to be left behind—that the past has nothing to teach us. In this moment, why read old books? What, if anything, can we learn from the voices of the past?

Join Alan Jacobs, Elizabeth Corey, and Paul Gutacker for a conversation in honor of the release of Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind (pre-order here). In this his latest book, Dr. Jacobs suggests that listening to the past offers wisdom we didn’t know we needed—and might even help us live less anxiously. For a sneak preview of the book’s argument, here’s an article by Dr. Jacobs.

Brazos Fellows and Baylor’s Honors College invite you to attend this free webinar. Details and registration here.

“Further Up and Further In!”

Editor: please enjoy another reflection from Brazos Fellows Natalie Widdows.

The Christian life is an invitation in the very life of God. It is a life that seeks after goodness and beauty, wholeness and fullness. As Christians, we are a people of hope and of joy, for we have received the gift of salvation. Not every moment is characterized by an experience of joy (for, alas, we still journey through a valley of tears), but I have found that God often punctuates our lives with experiences of this fullness, offering us a foretaste of the fulfillment of God’s promises and inciting hope and longing for that which is to come. The fall Brazos Fellows retreat was one such moment for me. 

The weekend was characterized by feasting. For one thing, we did not socially distance from one another (after taking extra precautions and isolating in the week beforehand), and we were at last able to delight in another’s company without restrictions or masks. What a joy to dine together around a table, to give and receive a hug, or even to hold sweet little Marianne for the first time! We laughed so much together (which turned out be rather unfortunate for Marianne – the rich sound of laughter seemed to startle her, and more than a few tears were shed over the matter). Having fasted from physical closeness for so long, I treasured our time together on the retreat all the more. 

We also feasted on food – we shared many delicious meals together, complete with wine and candlelight. In our feasting, we rejoiced in the abundance with which God has provided us and in the wonderful gifts of the earth. The gifts of food and wine are tangible examples of God’s grace for us, for by them we do indeed “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). 

But more than feasting on friendship or food, our time together was permeated by the presence of God in prayer. Our retreat focused on the habits of Christian prayer and on the centrality of prayer in our lives of faith. We learned that to pray is to enter into the Trinitarian life. Scripture teaches us that we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we pray, we are drawn into the mystery of the Triune God. Prayer is not a time for mere supplication (though God does instruct us to make our requests known to him), it is an act of participation, and it is an exercise of the sonship that we have received in Christ. Through the waters of Baptism we are joined to Christ in salvation; it is by him that we pray to Our Father. As Cyprian remarks in his treatise On the Lord’s Prayer, 

So great is the mercy of the Lord, so abundant his condescension and goodness, that he desired that we should make our prayer in this manner in the sight of God, that we should address the Lord as “Father,” and that we should be considered sons of God, as Christ is the Son of God.

Prayer is an incredible gift, for our ability to pray through Christ (and even in the very words of Christ) is part of the inheritance we have received as children of God. 

During the retreat, we were also taught about various meditative and contemplative prayer practices. These practices were previously quite foreign to my prayer life, but I found that it was our time spent in meditative prayer that offered me the greatest amount of hope and joy on the retreat. This kind of prayer aims at listening to God, at seeking the presence of God, and at contemplating God. Beginning to pray in this way incited so much longing in me for greater intimacy with God, and it is this awakened longing that I esteem as the greatest gift of the retreat. 

Our retreat offered me tastes and glimpses of God’s goodness, and I leave with longing for the fulfillment of God’s glorious promises. Filled with joy and gratitude, my soul echoes the anthem of the Narnians who find themselves having just arrived in Aslan’s country“Further up and further in!”

“The light of Christ, the hope of the world:” A Reflection on Beginnings

Editor: We welcome new Brazos Fellows Natalie Widdows to the blog with her first of hopefully many reflections!

Sitting cross-legged on my carpet, I watch the flickering flame of a white taper candle. The wax pools for a moment near the wick before spilling over, streaming down the side of the candle like tears.

The day before, a priest gave me this candle as a part a house blessing. He blessed the candle and then lit it, and, as the little flame danced into existence, the priest uttered a simple, yet powerful truth:

“The light of Christ, the hope of the world.”

He then handed the candle to me to hold, and I looked down at it with a new sense of awe. The flame seemed so gentle, timid even. Could the light of Christ really be like this tiny flame? I cupped it tenderly in my hands. I feared that the smallest breeze would snuff it out, yet the flame persisted in its burning.

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We took that candle into every room of the house, pausing to pray and ask for God’s blessing upon the life and work that took place in that space. The work in each room seemed to take on new meaning in the presence of that candle, for it signified both the inbreaking of Christ’s hope into the mundane acts of life, from cooking to sleeping to teeth-brushing, and the reorientation of these quotidian tasks to the glory of God. The candle brought new life, new depth, and a new beginning.

Beginnings. Though often tinged with the poignant sorrow of a season just ended, beginnings are glorious in the opportunities they offer. The blessing of my new home marked the start of a new season in my life, a season dedicated to prayer, work, study, discernment, and spiritual growth.

The year of Brazos Fellows lies open before me, and as I begin this new season, I am struck by how the light of Christ seeks to permeate all the spaces and rooms of my soul. It searches out the shadows, and, with its glow, this flame brings hope and healing and wholeness.

Faced with the blessed opportunity of this year, I am praying that God’s light would dwell richly in my soul. I am praying that the fire of faith would be kindled more fully within me and that the work of this year would spark a new devotion and a new direction. Full of hopeful expectation, I commit myself to the disciplines of our life together in Brazos Fellows, praying:

“My hope, my Christ, my lamp, my light: I entrust myself and this beginning to you. Amen.”

Picking Lettuce

Editor: I’m sure you’ll enjoy this post by Brazos Fellows alum Emily Verdoorn. After reading, be sure to head over to Instagram to check out some of her sketches and artwork.

117178786_702810493897451_533974942235561213_nPicking lettuce last spring in the Gutacker’s backyard brought me surprising joy and satisfaction. For a few weeks in April around lunchtime, I took the white colander from the cupboard and walked up the street and around the corner to the Gutacker’s driveway. I gingerly stepped past the thorny rosebushes to the gate at the side of their house. Lifting the metal latch I pushed open the gate with a scraping sound which I hoped would act as an informal knock so I wouldn’t unduly startle any Gutackers who happened to be in the backyard at the moment. Pecan shells popped under my shoes as I rounded the house and made my way to their raised bed garden in the corner of their backyard. Sometimes I caught Paul or Paige’s eye through the window in the back screen door and I waved; other times I slipped in and out without disturbing anyone. I picked a few leaves toward the base of each plant taking care to leave plenty behind. The lighter green leaf lettuces were going to seed faster, so I favored those in my selection.  I mostly left the redder lettuces till later. When I had picked enough for a salad I made my way back to the Lewis House, washed the leaves carefully, and chopped up a few other veggies and toppings. I made Father Lee’s famous balsamic dressing and poured it over what had grown into a good sized salad for lunch. This I did nearly every day for three or so weeks. I know it is a small thing really—far, far from what real gardeners do. It cost me no sweat, sunburn, or ache like a real gardener. And yet this small thing resonated with me deeply which is why I went back day after day—even when the lettuce started getting old and bitter. What was it about this small thing that spoke to me?

Continue reading “Picking Lettuce”