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.


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