Editor: please enjoy this reflection from Brazos Fellow Jess Schurz, which she wrote for our End of Year Celebration.
Our first day of Brazos Fellows was a sunny one. It began, of course, around a table–in this instance, the Lula Janes table underneath the blackboard menu. That afternoon, we shared the lunch special, introductions, and that distinct nervous-excitement assortment that tends to characterize beginnings.
Following the lunch, we left for a Skylar Ray-led tour of Waco. Paige prefaced our outing by emphasizing that “place matters. You cannot know who you are,” she explained, “without first knowing where you are and where you’ve been.” And so we piled into the Schorlemer’s suburban, off to embark on answering the important prior question “Of what story do I find myself a part?” That day we were on the edge of things; we committed ourselves to a group of people and a place for nine months but had not yet entered into it.
As we slid and shuffled and buckled into our seats, a single question came to mind. Little did I know at the time, it was a question that would return again and again over the next nine months.
“How did we get here?”
That first day, the question was a material one. How did we find ourselves in this particular car, on this August day, commemorating the beginning of this fellowship?
I can’t help but ask the same question tonight. How did we get to this particular room, on this May day, commemorating not the beginning, but the end of a fellowship?
One explanation is happenstance; it is simply what Paul and Paige decided, what the Coreys graciously hosted, and where the e-vite in our inboxes instructed us to be. The room is just a room, so to speak, and we entered it.
In another sense, I can say that I am here because of a text I received a little over one year ago, when Blake Schorlemer sent a picture of a Brazos Fellows flyer and invited me to visit Christ Church.
I could also say that I am here because of a conversation with a friend my freshman year. We went to Penland on a Sunday afternoon and she asked questions about reverence in the church that I find myself, five years later, still asking.
Perhaps, in fact, my being in this room began long before then. Maybe it is because my brother and father invited me along on their frequent visits to Middle Earth; a place which left me with a longing to travel to the Uttermost West–or at least find a Hobbit Hole in the meantime. Or maybe I am here because of a book passed on from my great grandmother to my mother to me–one written by an odd Oxford professor known for his booming voice and enchanted wardrobe.
Upon a more thorough remembering, it becomes quite clear that the room is, indeed, more than just a room. There is no happenstance here.
That passed-on book also had a thing to say about rooms. It speaks of a house with a hall containing doors that open into several rooms. It tells us: “If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.”
This year was, in essence, a nine-month invitation out of the hall, into a room. Our room often had fires and chairs and meals and also a few other delights. On Monday nights, it had homemade meals atop dinner plates and wine-filled glasses. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, this room had coffee in blue and white mugs, scribbling pens, and pondering thoughts. On Wednesday evenings, its walls were lined with stained glass. Every other Friday afternoon, the room looked a lot like Lula Janes, with a semester-long question in the air and a tutor’s guiding wisdom. The room took on its most lovely form, however, on Sunday mornings, with its chorus of toddlers and hymns and its celebration of the feast to which all other feasts point.
Over time, our room took on daily, weekly, and semester-long rhythms. We ate and prayed together, then ate and prayed together some more. Throughout the year, several others came by the room to pay us a visit.
One Friday, Auden himself meandered into the living room and stayed for the entire morning. On other occasions, we were joined by Hopkins, Herbert, Collins, and Rossetti, who each told us what prose could not. When the Church Fathers came, our room was one day Old Alexandria, the next day Ancient Damascus. Several monks, nuns, and ascetics stopped by, as did German skeptics and Spanish saints.
All of these visitors drew us back to that original question:
How did we get here?
How did we get to this disenchanted, flattened ‘here’?
How did we get to this divided ‘here’?
How did we, our heart, get to this restless ‘here’?
Moreover, how does our remembering invite the grace to weave together our splintered selves?
After nine months in the room, we are once again on the edge of things: we find ourselves with more questions than answers, more books left unread than read, and still a deeper longing for the Uttermost West.
Through this, we are also left with a sense of rest, knowing that these nine months in the room are the result of a work that began long ago. “Place matters,” in the words of Paige, and this is a place I’m greatly indebted to.
We are told that in this room, “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
The room is, indeed, more than just a room.