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?

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