Monday, August 17, 2009

"Elizabeth of the Epiphany" by Charlotte Ostermann, Part Four

Chapter Four – A Proposal

To be considered as a first order of business at Faculty Formation meetings until a final form can be adopted by unanimous consent.

1. That constant growth in virtue is required of all who would teach well

2. That no one should teach who is not also, in academic pursuits, an adept learner

3. That no one should teach who has not recently experienced being utterly inept at learning something

4. That the Faculty should spend some time studying the history of, and various philosophies of, education so as to be more clear on the place of Epiphany in the historical scheme of things, and to better clarify Epiphany’s similarities to and differences from other educational models

5. That the faculty study the dynamics of pedagogy both experientially and theoretically in order to become better teachers

6. That the faculty develop the habits of studying, conversing together about (and thus teaching one another) the materials covered; responding in writing to the ideas studied; reporting formally to one another and to the ‘public’ on the key ideas and their reflections upon them [Monthly reports, quarterly symposia]

7. That the first subject taught to new students be a synthesis of these Foundational Studies of the Faculty with the most current history of the development of the school, in a course to be titled, History and Philosophy of Epiphany…a liberative arts university. (Perhaps this course should be a prerequisite to admission as a student.) [Agreed, FF Mtg. 1/14 – See Manifest V1,#1]

8. That when the Faculty have succeeded in articulating fully the overarching vision, operational model, and underlying educational philosophy of Epiphany, and have mastered the Foundational Studies material to the degree they can communicate it fluently both orally and in writing, then it shall be said the doors are open to Epiphany’s first students – ‘epiphanies’ – as their faculty will have earned Masters Degrees in Education [until this point, all formal admissions will be made to the Faculty Formation program and limited to students seeking Masters Degrees]

9. That the final step in awarding the first Masters Degrees will be the design and unanimous acceptance of the ‘closed canon’ of the Master of Education curriculum – design of this program must include a clear vision for the role and qualifications of the student, and prerequisites as they apply

10. That the Masters Degree requirements shall include some form of Practicum in teaching, by which Epiphany will open opportunities to share courses in the special interests of its forming Faculty with the interested public


Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Elizabeth of the Epiphany" by Charlotte Ostermann, Part Three

Chapter Three – The Faculty

In odd moments, as Epiphany took shape before her wondering eyes, Elizabeth stumbled deeper into the new universe. Of course, as such things must, it became by turns more fantastic and more real. Just where Maria Ogelthorpe fit in, was difficult to say. On the one hand, Epiphany seemed a product of her own imagination, but on the other hand, she seemed a product of its. In the moments when Epiphany was in focus, she saw that she always had been Elizabeth. She felt the finally-coming-home elation of one who watches as on-shore blurs gradually become the welcoming faces of dearly missed loved ones. The fact that she herself was simultaneously in the waiting throng and on the homecoming ship made perfect sense…in those moments.

Trouble was, the ordinary life through which Epiphany had been born seemed to go on oblivious to it, for the most part. Although Maria could entertain thoughts of it while shopping, cooking, caring for children, paying bills, and the like, the experience of actually being there receded bit by bit until she wondered if it had been a dream. The more she shared the emerging details with key people, however, the more comfortable she became moving back and forth between the campus and her home.
The commute should have been a short one, as her home was the campus, but now and then the journey seemed unbearably long. When, in the second month, her friend Cecilia joined the faculty, the commutes were shortened, as their conversations extended Epiphany‟s reach into both lives. The two of them puzzled long and earnestly over a few burning questions: Whether the university rapidly growing on paper and in their minds was already a reality, or had yet to be actualized. Were the words being written, in fact, the first emergence of some sort of reality outside time into their temporal existence? Would Epiphany exist if they stopped writing its story, or would it push through other people if they failed to realize it? How much was it a pure Ideal, and how much was it just a reflection of their own personalities and wishful thinking? Was this a whim, or a divine calling? Were they mad, or very, very sane?

Luckily, the two months of pondering and quibbling over these issues were passed pleasantly – largely over beer and pizza – and, luckily, they were over before Mara signed on to the faculty. A brash young lady who served the ladies pizzas, beer, and witty repartee on Monday nights at Luigi‟s, Mara won a spot on the faculty without ever knowing she was being interviewed. “That’s a girl you won‟t ever catch being someone she‟s not,” remarked Maria one evening. “There does seem to be a great depth of presence about her,” replied Cecilia, “despite appearances.”

Those appearances were more than a little disconcerting, but from that night dated the keen interest of Epiphany‟s Faculty Search Committee in Maravilla Lopez. Mara‟s blowsily clad cleavage, triply pierced ears and butterfly-tattooed left thigh (all too visible below the scanty skirts she favored) contrasted strikingly with the proud cheek bones and regally condescending eyes and bearing (“Queen of all she surveys, that one is!”) of a high-born Spanish doña. Her frank familiarity and cheerful contentment with what, by her own accounts, had been a difficult life, charmed the ladies.

They brushed away whatever troubling elements she presented to their more mature sensibilities, with indulgence born of growing affection. She was true Dulcinea to these non-quixotic Dons; Sigrid Undset to the Jane Austen Society; flaming blood-orange orchid to Cecilia‟s cottage garden and Maria‟s wildflower meadow. Mara had journeyed far from a childhood of faith, in a close-knit family, and just recently returned, wounded and wiser, to a surprisingly warm welcome. “I can‟t believe they want me back just as I am,” she had said, “but after seeing a world without families, I sure do want them just as they are!”

“Just like Innocent Smith in Manalive!” Cecilia had exclaimed. Which led to Mara‟s reading a copy borrowed from Maria; which led to them all agreeing they sometimes felt most sane when onlookers clearly thought them loopy, or thoroughly dotty; which almost led to Mara getting fired when two customers she forgot to wait on stomped out unamused by the ensuing exchange of hilarious stories of good intentions
gone haywire and generous gestures misunderstood as madness. Mara‟s studies under their tutelage thus commenced (“Now that’s an event that deserves a Commencement Ceremony!”), and she pestered them weekly for loans from Epiphany‟s new Circulating Library. Finally, they agreed to invite her to join the faculty, but not without one qualifying question.

“How would you like to go to college, my dear?” “Well, I‟d love a chance to go crazy learning whatever really interested me, but I don‟t imagine I could ever fit into the box labeled „student‟. I guess the minute I began studying to get a job, or a grade, or a pat on the back, the real Mara would jump up and say, „To heck with this, let‟s go to Europe and live a little‟. I‟m just not the type.” “Perfect!” the ladies cried in unison. “You simply must read the story of Epiphany and tell us what you think.” When she returned the unpublished manuscript the next Monday night, Mara seemed suitably affected.

“Is it real?” she asked, her eager brown eyes shining hopefully. “Do you hope so?” “With all my heart!” “Then, please, do attend next week‟s Faculty Development meeting with us. Can you get off work Monday?” Two weeks later they held an official Welcome Social, and changed meetings to Tuesday nights so Mara could join them at Sisters Pub and Pool Hall. One of the sister-owners of this bistro – the chef, Haley Commett – took particular interest in her regular customers. Camaraderie sprang up quickly with the faculty trio. (“What a mixed bag you three are, if you don‟t mind my saying so!” “Well, you have said it, and once it‟s in the minutes, there‟s no getting around it. I suppose now we‟ll need to schedule Mixed Bag nights at a pub for some reason.”)

Soon, she was introducing them to her sister Clem (Clementine Juster), whose husband Jim called her „oh, my darlin‟” (“Of course!”) with great affection. Clem was mannish looking in a lady-country-vet kind of way: short and stocky, curly graying hair too-closely cropped in a well-meant attempt at saving on salon fees, predictable loafers, corduroy slacks and tailored-shirts-under-vests. She and Jim took right to the faculty meetings, so business took a back seat to the fun of discovering each other for the next few weeks. Clem had great strong opinions whenever she had any opinion at all, but was unconcerned about convincing anyone else. In this company she felt unusually free of the typical social inhibitions that keep anything anyone actually considers important from being said.

Maria, Cecilia and Mara also spoke freely, even of Epiphany itself, which fits into very few typical conversations. When Clem accepted a faculty position, they all agreed Jim should be invited to meetings as an honorary Lecturer in the Faculty Formation program. It was so handy to have him there to fill in the details about science, history and current events – areas of their collective weakness – just enough to get on with an interesting story or metaphor.

Helen St. James, at this point, though not officially a faculty member, was tangentially involved with Epiphany‟s inception. Easily overlooked, bookish, and shy, Helen was one of Maria‟s dearest friends. Maria had discovered, beneath the layers of various ethnic costumes and a perpetual air of puzzlement, a dry wit and a capacity for rather oracular pronouncements. Not at all an academic „type‟, but well and widely read, Helen entered the monologues and conversations of others with confused and confusing insights that seemed to emerge from deep within a mind paying only scant attention to the flow of words.

Like a swatch of velvet whipped crazily onto the top of a patchwork piece, though, her utterances were sometimes the making of the whole. Maria often found that, on reflection, the key to the central meaning of such encounters was Helen‟s contributions. Helen herself, while listening with genuine interest to the unfolding story of Epiphany, did not perceive it as something that pertained to her. Not until her review of the first year (Manifest, Vol. 1, No. 6) did Maria even realize Helen‟s pivotal role in Epiphany‟s formation and rectify the omission by a public invitation to join the faculty. Helen readily accepted, and is credited with authorship of the Faculty Prayer, though her first rendering of it had surprised Helen as much as everyone else.

“Are you quite sure, Maria, that we should be writing so much?” Clem had asked. “After all, though we are called „faculty‟, we really are only students, and it seems a bit uppity to publish, doesn‟t it?” “I can see why she has us writing (Maria had coined the maxim, “It isn‟t a great idea until it‟s well-expressed.”), but I just wonder about the publishing,” said Mara. “After all, aren‟t there too many words in the world as it is, and more blather being foisted on it every day?” “But most of those are empty ones,” suggested Cecilia. “And if they are not just empty, but are really emptying, maybe we‟d better write to staunch the flow of meaning.” “Here, here” intoned Maria, “let it not ever be said that we could have written windows into another world and instead kept them to ourselves.”

“I think I understand,” breathed Helen dreamily. “It‟s like that prayer: Pour forth, O Lord, thy Words into our hearts, that we, to whom the Manifestation of thy Son was made known by the message of an Epiphany, may by that same Presence of Heaven in which we live and move and have our being, be brought to the glory of His coming into the world by creating places of words where the world may meet Him and enter His Kingdom.” She was unaware that „that prayer‟ was an original, but Clem copied the whole utterance into the minutes, and the Faculty have prayed it together ever since at the closing of all their intimate meetings.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Elizabeth of the Epiphany" by Charlotte Ostermann, Part Two

Chapter Two – The Foundress

Elizabeth of the Epiphany was born on the day of the founding realization of the University. At least, that was the day Maria Ogelthorpe took her new name, on the basis of a most extraordinary occurrence. Accustomed as she was to the phenomenon of stumbling through ideas as through magic doors into new worlds, Maria never had grown able to anticipate its coming and was ever freshly surprised. Before she knew where her thoughts about poems, education, water, holograms and Sabbath rest were taking her, she saw the Sign of the Question*E and knew the University whole cloth, seamlessly, as one imagines the disciples suddenly knew the risen Lord in the instant of breaking bread.

Looking at Maria, it would hardly be supposed she was the foundress of a university. She has neither the aquiline nose and high brow of the aristocratic intellectual, nor the lean and leonine bearing of presidential power. Yet, preside she does over the small domain of Epiphany…a liberative arts university. Her appearance – a somewhat faded, dumpy middle age nondescript enlivened by a ready smile – does not so much belie the deep interior fire as garb it in an apron and ready it for domestic duty. One might notice in her eyes a piercing capacity for plumbing the depths of things and an almost pathetic eagerness to see the quickening of kindred spirit in another‟s eyes, but only if one meets that gaze a while, and it is hard to do. Now and then she vows to “toss the hair dye and let the mop become a silver crown of wisdom”, but has not yet taken that step.

A wordy, but not verbose, woman, Maria collected into herself, in the one word „Epiphany‟, all the words that have since been written about it. She and the faculty consider it their first priority to study those words until the university becomes whole in and among them all. Though it is complete in one word, it would take volumes to contain it. The faculty intends to become living volumes and then to open the doors to Epiphany as they publish whatever overflows from that experience. Hence the early need for Epiphany Press, and their rich plans for its future.

You may ask what credentials such a woman brings to the leadership of a university. And she might answer, “Only that the notion came to me and I love it with all my heart and feel responsible for it.” Her faculty would add that her love of learning inspires them. She just seems to be the place within which the universe of Epiphany consists and has its being. It isn‟t as though she‟s lording it over anyone. She‟d be the first to tell you she is not yet even a fully qualified faculty member.
Though epiphanies scoff at the notion of credentials meted out as feed to complacent cattle, they take quite seriously the idea of true faculty formation. It is a holy calling to prepare one‟s faculties to receive and nurture the faculties of others. To this end, Maria – now Elizabeth of the Epiphany – dedicates all her leisure. A free university being free of – among other things – work for hire, she and the others are compelled to spend only their free time at the task of making ready to receive Epiphany‟s students.

Under the Sign of the Question*E the faculty are even now laboring not to question, not to answer, but to be questioned, and to respond. An „answer‟ is too like a „solution‟ to a problem, a fill-in-the-blank mask over the pain of unanswered questions. Not this easy path take Epiphany‟s profs to knowledge, but the path of patient willingness to be wounded by unanswered questions; to dwell in unknowing so as to recognize Truth when it answers. Daily they study and write, weekly they meet, monthly they report, quarterly they give public symposia and in due time should find themselves feeding a student body – like mother pelicans – from their own life‟s blood. How they dream of that day!


Friday, August 14, 2009

"Elizabeth of the Epiphany" by Charlotte Ostermann, Part One

A Tribute, Perhaps a Sequel, to G. K. Chesterton‟s “Manalive”

* Epiphany:
- Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles – Feast: January 6
- A sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into, the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence
- A literary work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment
- A student at Epiphany: A Liberative Arts University

Chapter One – The University

Epiphany was founded January 6, 2008 by its faculty and a woman named Elizabeth of the Epiphany. Since then, its primary purpose has been the development of its faculty – a laborious process expected to take five to ten years. Epiphany‟s students must be, above all things, patient. They will likely tire long before graduation if seeking a degree (at least, that is the hope). The motto on the Epiphany seal is Semper Incipe (Always Begin), and it is this constant beginning of things that puts the brakes on the education engine here. For instance, Epiphany had hardly existed an hour before new institutions were springing up on the campus: Epiphany Press, the Blessed Order of Elizabeths, Incipe – a foundation dedicated to the beginning of good works, Euphonium – Epiphany‟s chorale, and Manifest – its news and literary journal.

Elizabeth, as soon as possible after the Epiphany, began the formation of her faculty. One by one she selected the young ladies, poets, eccentrics, clowns and G. K. Chesterton enthusiasts who had the wherewithal and what-not to get on board. She looked for women with full, yet unbusy lives – women for whom one more full time job would be a mere bagatelle. By the end of the first year, they were four – the Founding Faculty – and were ready to begin.

Meanwhile, Manifest had quadrupled its circulation (from four to sixteen subscribers) and was in a fair way to become a leader in the Catholic Renaissance of the 21st century. Epiphany Press had plans on the drawing board for six book-length manuscripts, two study guides, a collection of essays and poems, and several pithy pamphlets. Euphonium had held its first public recital and several members of the chorale expressed interest in becoming students. Incipe had begun at least eight truly good works, and the entire faculty, by year‟s end, aspired to become Elizabeths in the Blessed Order. In fact, life at Epiphany barely left time for faculty formation. This is what made it so delicious to steal away together, just the four, and prepare themselves to be feasted upon by future students.

Their preparation was very like the preparation of a banquet – great slabs and haunches of common meats roasted manfully on spits, delicacies with complex recipes and flavors fussed over with detailing love, hearty portions of honest buttered vegetables and bread, lovely and whimsical table decorations and garnishes fashioned with creative flair…but I digress. Alas, such is the way of things at Epiphany. One thing leads deeper, backward, higher, onward to another until one‟s path through the curriculum describes a veritable maze. This first year, as we have seen, was a rich one, and bodes well for the future of the University.

It should not be supposed that, because Epiphany is a young school, it is bereft of traditions. Indeed, its traditions took off like its institutions, blossoming wherever Elizabeth dropped a little maxim, or a hint to the faculty of great things to come. Beloved of all epiphanies (for each student will be known as an „epiphany‟) are the words Semper Incipe. It is the animating permission, the empowering edict of every heart, to be told “always begin” and thus, to be freed from always rushing to complete delightful things. End a thing if you must, or if it insists, or if it is odious to you, but do, do begin with abandon. (You may well ask how the heart of the students can possibly be known before any matriculation has begun. I can do no better than answer, in the words of the foundress, “Oh, my dear, how could you ever imagine we would accept any student whose heart we had not known and prepared our own to receive?”)

Other early Epiphany traditions are rooted in its mottoes:
We take ourselves seriously, that others may, and unseriously that we may fly.
(A great sense of whimsy, wry humor and self-spoofing buffoonery traditionally pervades life at Epiphany.)

Free education for free persons
(Yes, an Epiphany education may be costly in some ways, but shall always be free to students. This accounts for much of the long wait for proper students. Rare is the bird that judges grass better than gold thread for building a nest.)

Epiphany … a liberative arts university
(Never, in the history of Epiphany, would Elizabeth have it called either conservative or liberal. With true human freedom in mind, she made swift work of omitting the worst of those terms from the Epiphany tradition, and keeping the best.)
Banquets figure prominently in the body of Epiphany tradition. The annual, catered Fancy Dress Ball – to raise money for Incipe‟s good works; the as-required and thus rare Solemnity of Investiture in the Blessed Order of Elizabeths; the summer Family Choir Encampment offered by Euphonium, which includes a week of fireside feasting; and the Quarterly Faculty Symposia for public discussion of the faculty‟s studies, which must have food aplenty to go with the home-brewed beer – traditions all, from Epiphany‟s first weeks. The Founders Tea, begun on Epiphany‟s first anniversary, is sure to be as stimulating and delightful as the four ladies and their invited guests – potential faculty and students with the requisite conversational skill that makes Epiphany events so pleasant – made it this year. If one word could give the essence of Epiphany tradition, it is “commonplace”. Flush with layer on layer of warm allusions and associations, “commonplace”, though inadequate, will do nicely.