“What are you seeking?”

Editor: please enjoy this reflection by Brazos Fellow Emily Engelhardt.

Already it is Mid-February, and I am digging in my heels as the end of the fellows program looms on the horizon. Jesus’ question, “What are you seeking?” which he asks two of his disciples in the first chapter of John, has prompted me to refocus with these last few months of Brazos Fellows ahead.

We began in August asking the questions: Why devote nine months to the study of theology and church history? What is the purpose of this fellowship? Is it worth dedicating time and energy to this work?

The question of where to set our focus is not unique to Brazos Fellows. Life is ordered towards one thing or another, and we must all decide how to orient our lives. I fully expect to be on a lifelong journey of learning to focus and refocus my sight on God.

what-do-you-seek

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The Lost Art of Catechesis

Fr. Lee Nelson, rector of Christ Church Waco, writes on “The Lost Art of Catechesis” over at Crossway:

I have spent the last six years planting Christ Church, a parish church in Waco, Texas. Around the time I began this work, the draft of To Be a Christian was released. At the urging of our launch team, I began to teach it, going question by question through the whole. It was an exciting time! For me, it was as if the blood was rushing back into my veins as I read questions and asked the people to respond with the answer before explaining the meaning of each answer more closely. Metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes flooded into my mind and the people in that initial group responded with questions which never ceased to probe into the depths of Christian teaching. Within a few months, a group of twenty-five had expanded to over fifty. And within a year, our congregation was over a hundred strong. The joy of retreating back to the basics of the faith, and doing so in a leisurely manner, without a set agenda, and without cheesy, off-the-shelf curricula gave life to us. People immediately started putting the teaching into practice, especially as we asked each week: “How is this going to matter tomorrow?” A group of college students began to pray morning prayer together. They’ve been doing so for nearly five years. As our people learned about healing, we began to pray intently for the healing of our members. People have been healed. We not only gained strength in practice, but our cohesion in matters of teaching was amplified. Many found that they simply could not buy in, and they have found another church to join. Many found that they became enthusiastic in ways they couldn’t have predicted. And others found themselves renewed in the faith that they had received as children and young adults.

It’s worth reading the whole thing–especially if you’d like to get a sense of how Brazos Fellows grew out of a church-wide culture of study and prayer. You can also listen to the episode of “5 in 10” in which Fr. Lee discusses his love for catechesis here.

Feasting and Fasting in Time

Editor: Please enjoy another guest post by Brazos Fellow Savannah Anne Carman.

My parents instilled a sense of propriety in my siblings and I. This sense of propriety manifested itself in family rules, such as not playing Christmas songs before Thanksgiving, as well as in my parents’ method of discipline. “Is this the place?” my mom or dad would ask when we were acting out. The reminder to remember “timing” formed a lasting disposition of respect: There is a time for giving and receiving, as during Christmas, but there is also a time for gratitude, and my parents wanted us to give each practice its due time. I was reminded of this when the Brazos Fellows recently finished our unit on Christianity and the Body. Our readings included sayings by the Desert Fathers and St. Basil the Great’s On Fasting and Feasts. Contrary to popular belief, the desert Fathers’ primarily concern was not sex, but rather food. They believed that the first sin was “ravenous greed,” and thus set to order their desires, and first and foremost their desire for food.

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Ars Moriendi

Editor: Please enjoy a guest post by one of this year’s Brazos Fellows, Savannah Anne Carman.

“What is water?” asked one of the two young fish in David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech in 2005. “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” In other words, the assumptions we imbibe from our context are often one of the greatest obstacles to clear thinking. This is the trouble Wallace’s fish runs (swims) into. How do we see what we swim in? How do we recognize our assumptions? A few weeks ago, the Brazos Fellows had a visiting instructor, Bruce Hindmarsh (professor at Regent College in Vancouver, BC) to discuss early Christian culture. Dr. Hindmarsh suggested that one way we expose our assumptions is to study the past. When we look at the Victorians, for example, we realize that they were hush-hush about sex but quick to discuss death, while our culture is the opposite. This is not to suggest that the Victorian era is an exemplar for all times, nor that sex is always and only an inappropriate topic. On the contrary, this is only to demonstrate that sometimes our sense (or lack thereof) of propriety keeps us from discussing important topics, especially death.

Death was the theme of our conversation with Dr. Hindmarsh. In our readings and his elucidation of our text from Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, we were reminded of the literal close proximity of death to early Christians. In addition to facing periodic persecution, early Christians made it their practice to meet together in catacombs. This was not just a default, as if they had no other places to meet. Rather, they gathered in the catacombs for two reasons. One, early Christians held strong convictions about the dignity of the body, to the degree that they rejected the conventional practice of cremation and instead practiced inhumation, burying the entire body. They would bury individuals outside the city and underground in material that, as Dr. Hindmarsh described it, was much like honeycomb, malleable at first but quick to solidify after exposure to the right conditions. This durability made for a reliable burial site and gathering place.

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Highlights from the Brazos Fellows Fall Retreat

This past weekend, the Brazos Fellows enjoyed a wonderful retreat at Cedarbrake Renewal Center. Our theme was “Speaking to God: Christian Life and the Habits of Prayer,” and Fr. Nicholas Krause led us in several excellent sessions on the theology and patterns of prayer. The weekend held lots of time for silence and rest (we believe that retreats should be, well, retreats!) as well as good food and conversation. Enjoy perusing these photos from our time together: