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!


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