Creation Song

Editor’s note: Brazos Fellows alum Emily Verdoorn (2019-2020) returns to the blog in this wonderful reflection for Eastertide. Be sure to check out Emily’s online studio to see more of her original artwork.

Yesterday afternoon, a beautiful storm rolled in here in Des Moines.  Grey green billowing clouds threatened that unsettling and mysterious kind of beauty, smell, and electric atmosphere which only a thunderstorm can bring.  The morning had been a kind of anxious blue with clouds scudding across the sky.  As distant thunder began, the stillness preceding the storm came almost as a relief to the wind.  I had been outside working on the back patio table, so I hurried to pack up my things.  In only a few minutes rain came down in torrents.  Small bits of hail seemed to jump up from the ground and bounced off the grass in the front yard.  Inside, we turned on lamps against the sudden dimness.  It didn’t last long and soon settled into an even, steady spring rain.  As the evening turned to night, the regular “plunk-plunk” of large drops of rain gave a sense of comfort in shelter and a promise of rich green growth.

I love the turning of the seasons.  As I consider this spring, I also remember this Eastertide last year.  It was a significant time.  This Easter in Des Moines, Iowa, I was thinking back to Holy Saturday, our Easter vigil in the Gutackers’ home, Easter Sunday, and the season following.  Sometimes it is difficult to remember what happened this time last week, and I sort of surprised myself with the clarity I was able to remember even small things from this time last year.  I remember the scraping and hiss of the match lighting our first candle in the Gutackers’ dark dining room on Holy Saturday night.  I remember Paul bringing out his guitar as he and Paige sang songs they played together in their college days while we feasted on homemade bread and pie.  I remember holding tiny Marianne as she fell asleep at Gail’s house Easter Sunday morning.  Because of the need to quarantine at the time, it was certainly not the Easter we expected when Lent began.  But the unexpected pivot to celebrating Easter in a home gave our celebrations a particularity and atmosphere which I still treasure.  

Original art by Emily Verdoorn
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When Life Doesn’t Give You Lemons

In our backyard there’s a small lemon tree. We planted it last March, and right up to the Great Freeze of 2021 things looked promising. It was covered in leaves and fruit had started forming. Now, it looks dead. Local horticulturalists preach patience: it might come back, they advise; give it time.

Thankfully, the little lemon tree is the exception in our yard. Its bare branches contrast with the blossoming pecans and cottonwoods that will shade us all summer. 

It seems fitting that spring, at least in the northern hemisphere, coincides with Easter. Wildflowers, songbirds, bright green grass and blue sky—everything witnesses to new life. But as beautiful as this is, the coincidence can mislead. The spring-ification of Easter tempts us toward sentimentality.

Recently, the Brazos Fellows read Frederick Schleiermacher. We studied this Romanticist and German theologian as one example of the church’s response to the questions posed by modernity. Schleiermacher wanted to rescue Christianity for his very smart friends. They were sophisticated: they knew that the resurrection, like all miracles, was just a myth, and knowing this felt no need to continue with religious forms. 

Ok, that’s understandable, Schleiermacher replied, but real religion doesn’t have anything to do with doctrine or history. It’s a matter of feeling. It’s sensing the infinite; it’s experiencing one’s utter dependence; it’s that feeling “as fleeting and transparent as the first scent with which the dew gently caresses the waking flowers.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, as far as it goes. And thus liberal Protestant theology was born. In Schleiermacher’s version of Christianity, what matters is interior, subjective. For this, dew-covered blossoms do just as well as Word and Sacrament. And the Resurrection? Well, it’s a wonderful metaphor, isn’t it?

Continue reading “When Life Doesn’t Give You Lemons”

Elizabeth Corey on “Learning, Justice, and Gift”

Over at Public Discourse, Dr. Elizabeth Corey reflects on learning, justice, and gift:

If people are more than wage-earners, then they must see that all of life is not about the practical activity of getting ahead. If they are more than political actors, then we must have education that is not expressly political. In other words, if we want to “do justice” to the total human condition, we must explore all the things that comprise the liberal arts: religion, philosophy, art, music, and literature.

It’s a great piece, and well-worth reading. Dr. Corey serves on the board of Brazos Fellows, as well as an erstwhile instructor in the fellows’ Course of Study. Here she highlights Brazos as one of several examples of the kind of education she’s talking about:

Other people are also developing similar ideas to promote liberal learning outside the university context, both large-scale online and small-scale local. One notable local initiative is taking place right now in Waco, Texas, where I live. Following in the tradition of other, more established fellows programs like John Jay and Falls Church, the three-year-old Brazos Fellows program at Christ Church is an intentional community of young people who gather for a year to study and pray in a traditional Anglican church setting. They read Augustine, Aquinas, George Herbert, Flannery O’Connor, Karl Barth, Tertullian, Athanasius, and many others. But the program is not “merely” academic: its aim is for each fellow to develop a rule of life that is also spiritual and embodied, in community with others.

Head over to Public Discourse to read the whole thing.