Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

I've had several posts percolating for the past week, but it doesn't look as though any of them are actually going to see the light of day before we head out for our annual thanksgiving travels (tomorrow morning, Lord willing).

So you'll have to wait for that poem I promised to post (I really meant to post it this week, Erin!) and my glowing report on the Saturday evening lecture by John Granger that D. and I got to attend this past weekend. What a gift that was! Not to mention ruminations on Andy Crouch's excellent book Culture-Making, which I just finished up last week. I also hope to do my annual list of thanksgiving blessings after we return. Those are a few of things in the pipeline...

In the meantime, check out this beautiful version of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree sung by a cathedral boys' choir. I found it a few days ago and have been playing it often as food for meditation in these hectic days. It's one of my favorite songs in all the world (I first learned it from a Bob Bennett album). It feeds my soul. I've needed to hear it in this season of thanksgiving as we move toward advent, and I hope it blesses you too.

Happy thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Great Moments in Homeschool History

There are so many things I love about teaching. High on the list are those moments when all cylinders are firing, communication is clear, and your student goes above and beyond what what you're asking them to think about or do!

The sweet girl and I had one of those moments this morning. On Fridays we do art and music appreciation...i.e. we listen to music by a certain composer and look at a painting by a certain artist. Today we were going into a new four week segment on Beethoven and Cezanne. Today was our first day with both.

Our daughter is becoming an artist. She's really amazing us lately with her ability to draw, her eye for color and design, and her desire to "do art" as much as possible. But she also loves to look at paintings. This morning she was sitting at the computer zooming in and out on Still Life With Compotier on the artchive site (great website). I was several feet away, jotting down some notes on our art worksheet/narration page as we talked about the painting together.

As usual, I asked her "What do you notice in this painting? What do you see?" I confess I was expecting her to say something like "apples" or "I see some fruit in a bowl." Instead she gestured at the painting and said, oh so enthusiastically, "What I notice are the bright fruit colors against the darker background."

Seriously. My six year old said this. Yes, I am beaming. What made it even more fun (besides the very astute observation) was how she really found excitement in this. She went on to talk about the different colors and to make sure that I really "saw" what she was getting at about the bright and dark.

Lest one think that our homeschool mornings are always full of non-whining (ha!) enthusiasm and clever answers, let me hasten to tell you about the other moment this morning that made me laugh in a different way.

We'd moved on to listening to some Beethoven. Our loud, exciting piece this morning was the Allegro movement from symphony no. 5. As a good contrast, I thought we'd play the quiet "adagio" from the Moonlight Sonata.

I should mention that the sweet girl truly enjoys music, but it doesn't seem to come close to her passion for visual art right now. Which is fine! I often let her color while she listens to music as it helps her to focus. She was coloring when I moved to the Moonlight Sonata track. I thought I would introduce it briefly, since I love it so much. So I explained what it was called and then (getting a bit misty) mentioned that it was one of my very favorite pieces of music in the world.

At which point she looked up a bit vaguely from her drawing and, without missing a beat, mused "I wonder how llamas get water? You know, when they're up in the Andes..."

Hee. All I could think of was that old Gary Larson cartoon "what we say to dogs" and "what dogs hear." Remember that? "Blah, blah, blah, Ginger..."

Yes, teaching is full of those moments too. Which doesn't make it any less fun or rewarding.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advent Devotional Reading

I usually try to do some focused Advent devotional reading each year in addition to reading from the Scriptures. While I haven't yet decided what I'm reading this year (and I need to figure that out soon...first Advent arrives Sunday, November 30!) I thought I'd post a list of some titles that I've loved and enjoyed over the years.

Madeleine L'Engle's The Irrational Season was the book where I first really learned about Advent. As an eighteen year old who had not grown up in a liturgically rich church tradition, I was immediately taken by her descriptions of the rhythms of the church year, and fascinated by the thought of ordering time differently from the rest of the world. The book journeys through the whole church year, so not every chapter will be apt for advent, but there are several chapters that could nourish your heart between here and the new year. The first four chapters contain reflections on Advent, Christmas, Holy Innocents and Epiphany, and the final chapter of the book goes full circle back around to Advent.

WinterSong, another book by Madeleine L'Engle but co-authored by her good friend Luci Shaw, is another gem for the entire Advent and Christmas seasons. During their writing careers, Madeleine and Luci both wrote a lot (prose and poetry) about the incarnation. This book is a wonderful "sampler" of some of what they've written. Good bite-sized reflections, snippets and poems. Really lovely.

The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ's Coming by Wendy Wright. This is part of a trio of devotional/meditational books Wright has written on the church year (the other two are called The Rising and The Time Between) but in my humble opinion, this is the best one. It's certainly the one I go back to most. I appreciate Wright's thoughtful prose style and I love the fact that she steeps this book deeply in the words of the church down through the ages. You'll find many, many hymns, poems and prayers from the ancient church onward included here. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and dip into it again. I discovered one of my favorite prayers by Catherine of Siena while reading this book.

God With Us is an advent devotional book that was just published last year. I was blessed to find it in our local library and it became my main book for meditation last advent. The contributing writers are Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson (just the introduction) and Luci Shaw. Absolutely beautiful, chock full of artwork as well as devotionals and poems. It follows the lectionary and it goes all the way through the entire Christmas season (all twelve days). You can go here for a longer review I posted last year after I finished it.

Last year I also found a marvelous blog, called O Night Divine. It draws on mostly Catholic resources and is filled with creative ideas to help individuals and families make Advent more meaningful and prayerful.

Do you have a tradition of reading or meditating during Advent? Are there books, paintings, poems, or hymns that have meant a lot to you in your personal and family Advent traditions? Do share!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things To Do To Get Ready for Winter

The Monday poetry stretch over at Miss Rumphius inspired this poem, although now that I've finished it, I've decided it's probably not a true list poem. Not sure I'll post the link over there after all, but thought it would be fun to post it here anyway. If you're a fan of to-do lists, I hope you'll enjoy it!

Virtual gold-stars to anyone who gets the picture book allusion about mid-way through, or what poem I'm echoing a bit in the final line.

Things To Do To Get Ready for Winter

Since I can’t hibernate,
resign myself to hunkering.
Check my tea stash in the cupboard
by the stove. Adjust the thermostat
and pile on the fleece blankets.
Pray for those still out in the cold.
Plan what we’ll read on the
Thanksgiving trip, dig out the
Advent and Christmas music.
Be grateful for a little girl
who likes snow, but be prepared
for her to flit from window to window
like a wind-driven flake whenever
we see a flurry or a squall.
Enjoy the holiday catalogs,
but think “make” and “do” not buy.
Rearrange the Austen movies;
double-check my list of books
to put on hold at the library.
Try to find the Advent candles
I bought last year and promised
myself I wouldn’t lose.
Store summer colors like Frederick
but take note of industrious squirrels
who scramble through piles
of copper covered leaves,
looking for just the right place
to hide one more acorn treasure.
Find gloves, hats, scarves
and see if Sarah has outgrown
her boots. Tighten loose
buttons and replace lost ones.
Treasure small things, small
deeds, small kindnesses.
Hug my husband more often.
Stand in awe before bare branches
lit like moonlit candelabra.
Make my mother’s winter
vegetable soup. Don’t forget
to wear socks to bed, even though
I know I’ll kick them off
and lose them under the covers.
Practice lying still and dormant like a seed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cherry Ames Back In Print

I just found out that the Cherry Ames books are all being brought back into print. If you were a fan of girls' series/formula fiction when you were growing up, you might have known Cherry...but maybe not, given how old the earlier books were even in my childhood. They were written by Helen Wells; the first one was published in 1943.

I've always thought of Cherry Ames as Nancy Drew with more to do. Like Nancy, Cherry was bright, attractive, intelligent and pretty good at sleuthing. Unlike Nancy, Cherry had an actual profession, one that meant more to her than her amateur detective work (which was clearly just a hobby on the side). Cherry Ames was a registered nurse. In the first book in the series: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, she's eighteen, fresh out of high school, and headed to nursing school at Spencer Hospital. That was the only Cherry Ames book I actually owned for many years (I think it was a hand-me-down from my older sister) though I eventually picked up a couple more at yard sales and read a few more I found in libraries.

Those early books are steeped in American patriotism. Given their publication dates, it's not surprising. Cherry goes to nursing school in the first place because she wants to help out in the war effort. Her twin brother Charlie becomes a fighter pilot.

I always liked the earliest books best because of the camaraderie between Cherry and her fellow students (and almost all of the really good characters you come to love in book 1 end up enlisting as army nurses) and because the war lends a certain urgency to what Cherry's doing. In the later books, she hops around from job to job. Her resume must have been pages long...and amazingly, she never seems to lose a job or get fired, just makes the change of her own free will! She ends up nursing in all sorts of locales such as nursing homes, boarding schools, dude ranches, clinics, department stores, camps and doctors' offices. Oh, and I think a jungle and a ski lodge, just for good measure. Along the way she meets up with various good-looking young men. She dates but never marries anyone (unless that happens in a later book I never read) with the implied reason being that she's happily "married" to her profession. Hee.

Not great literature by any means, but an interesting slice of Americana and, at least in the early part of the series, some memorable characters and intriguing story lines. Not bad bits of detective work either. I actually preferred these to Nancy Drew, which I generally read only when nothing else was available. The boxed set of the first four volumes (Student Nurse, Senior Nurse, Army Nurse, Chief Nurse) looks lovely; the Springer Publishing Company is putting them out in "facsimile hardcover editions" that look just like the originals, selling them individually but also as five boxed sets of four, reprinting the entire 20-book run.

I confess I also love Cherry Ames because she reminds me so much of my mom. Yes, my mom was Cherry Ames...or rather, my mom was a registered nurse. She would have been just a bit too young to train with Cherry during WWII (I never asked her if she read the early books as a teenager...I should!) but she went to nursing school and trained at a mission hospital in the early 1950s, just a few years after the fictional Cherry and friends. She still has very fond memories of that time, and of the few years she worked as a nurse before she began having children. Just the other day, in fact, she emailed the family to let us know she'd been back in touch with a fellow student she hadn't seen in years. They spent time reminiscing, she wrote, about the days they had spent:

"clad in our blue & white stripes underneath the stiff white aprons, taking care of not only patients with "everyday" ailments, but patients with polio, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, how we made the patients' beds ourselves and actually had to wash and sterilize our own needles & syringes (something totally unheard-of today), and how a note in our mailbox saying, "Please see me. ELC" ("ELC" being Esther L. Creasman, the Director of Nursing) meant we had either goofed up somewhere and needed correction, or we had done something commendable deserving of praise (and ELC was lavish with both, which really kept us on our toes!)"

And I read that description and thought "yep! My mom was Cherry Ames!" She even looks a bit like her, doesn't she? Yes, that's my mom on the top right in this nursing class photo from 1951.

I'm proud of my mom, and delighted that books that capture a little bit about the nursing era she experienced are back in print.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Poetry Break: Emily Dickinson

He ate and drank the precious Words--
His spirit grew robust--
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust--

He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book--What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings--

~Emily Dickinson

Monday, November 10, 2008

When Storied Words Make Their Way Into The World

I was reading an online article from TIME magazine a few days ago, a political article written post-election. It was one of those articles attempting to analyze how the election went and why. It was fairly interesting, but I confess I was sort of skimming along. Suddenly, a phrase jumped out at me. The author of the article was describing what she considered to be one of the more important facets of the election, the "youth vote." And what did she call it? "The golden snitch of politics..."

The golden snitch of politics. I couldn't help it: I started chuckling. It's not as though this is a highly creative or even necessarily unique use of the phrase...I've applied "golden snitch" myself when writing about the Harry Potter phenomenon (in a review I once referred to the wonderful themes of the stories, especially the ones that are so rich and ripe for fruitful conversation with children, as the "golden snitch" of the series). I daresay other people have used the phrase already in all sorts of other contexts, because it's a (literally) colorful phrase, and such delightfully handy short-hand. One knows immediately what any author who uses these words means: the big prize, the goal someone seeks or longs for the most, the elusive thing everybody is after.

Still, this was the first time I'd really noticed a Harry Potter phrase or word so casually applied in a mainstream journal dealing with a topic that was completely non-literary, so I thought I would make note of it. Because it's fascinating, isn't it, when "storied words" cross over into other areas of writing and discourse.

It got me thinking about Tolkien and Lewis, both such important writers in the 20th century. Have any of their phrases or words hopped over into common parlance? (Of course they published long enough ago now that some of their phrases might have done so and already faded from fashion...)

Not long ago I was making a written comment to a student in an online church history class. I can't remember the precise context, but I think we must have been discussing the marvelous unexpectedness and greatness of God at a certain time in history. And I wrote the phrase "Not exactly a tame lion!" fully expecting that an anglican seminarian would get that context without me having to spell it out. I don't know how easily one could use a similar phrase in mainstream culture and expect people to understand it, though given the ongoing popularity of the Narnia stories perhaps more than I think. (I do think they've tried to tame the lion considerably in the movies...though that's "a horse of a different color". Hmmm...there's another one....)

So I'm curious. Can you think of an instance where you've heard someone use language from a beloved story (Harry Potter, Tolkien, Lewis, or any other) in a completely different context? Did it surprise you to find it where you found it? Or...to make this even more fun...are there certain words or phrases from stories you know and love that haven't crossed over into common usage but you think they could...or wish they would?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"Biblical" Voting

Don't hesitate to read this post because of the title: I promise you that I am not going to pressure you about the "right" person to vote for in this election, or even the "right way" to vote! (Of course, at 3:48 EST on election day, you've already voted anyway, yes? If not, don't forget to go the polls later today!)

I've just been reflecting a bit on the passions and anxieties that have permeated this particular election cycle. That always seems to be the case in presidential years in the U.S., but perhaps this year more so than ever, for all sorts of reasons.

And I've been reflecting on the stressful rhetoric from both sides about doing the "right thing" and voting the "right way." That's true in all kinds of communities, perhaps most of all in communities of faith.

I still remember the first presidential election I could ever vote in. The year was 1988 and I was an earnest 20 year old who really wanted to "make a difference" and "do the right thing." I was at a Christian liberal arts college with a history of social and political activism, and talk about the campaign felt almost constant. Somewhere along the way I picked up a little pamphlet, or was given one, entitled "Can My Vote Be Biblical?"

I don't remember the pamphlet very well, beyond the fact that the writers seemed to think that the answer was yes. They provided me with a little check-off list of issues. I very carefully went down the list, putting check marks in various columns, seeing where one candidate did better than the other (or so I thought) in certain areas. I was surprised to find that the line of check-marks looked kind of ragged: no one candidate had a lock on the issues I happened to care most about, and I'm pretty sure at least some of the issues I cared about hadn't even made it onto the pamphlet.

In despair, I threw up my hands. Can my vote be biblical? I thought. And I decided the answer was no! Not if "biblical" meant: does any one candidate adhere absolutely and perfectly to the values that I feel Jesus would think are most important.

20 years later I have to smile at my earnest youthful idealism. I still resonate with my own youthful anguish over the realization that politicians (then and still now) will never be perfect, or even anywhere close to it. But my idealism is tempered by the realizations that 1) I'm not sure I even know what "perfect" means, 2) we've got an impaired and in many ways corrupted political system that in many ways promotes awfulness between people of good ideals who should know better, and 3) as U2 once sang, "kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but you (God) go on and on..."

I now think that my vote can be "biblical" but not at all in the way the writer of that pamphlet two decades ago thought. Voting is, after all, an action like any other, though seemingly fraught with more weight and importance than some others. It's a verb. I vote, just like I hug my child or cook dinner or have a conversation with a neighbor or write a story. (And hmmm...I have days when I am pretty sure that most of the latter actions and how I do them will have deeper ripples and repercussions than the button I pushed on the voting screen today.)

Voting is something I do, and because it's an action, a choice, it's rooted in who I am. In other words, it comes out of how I'm shaped at the deepest core. If I'm shaped by a biblical vision, the one that sees the big story from creation to revelation, the vision whereby I understand that the whole world is held together and sustained by a passionate, loving God who was willing to empty himself to win humanity back from the power of sin and death, if I'm shaped by a vision of God's kingdom as the everlasting kingdom, humanity's call to create and cultivate in a broken world, the hope of Jesus that anchors the soul in the midst of any storm (even financial and cultural ones!) and the reminder that this world is not our home...well, all those things and more will shape the way I think and do a lot of things. Including, but not limited to, voting.

Kind of hard to put all that in a pamphlet though.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Living Word

The sweet girl seemed especially attentive during our morning Bible reading today. We spent a longer time than usually really talking about the reading, which happened to be from the end of Joshua. She was very excited about Joshua's recounting of the story of the people of Israel, from Abraham onwards to that very moment. We've read many of those stories together since September. I think she is beginning to really grasp the bigger picture, the full story of the Scriptures.

She had that "lit up" and interested look when she suddenly exclaimed "Mommy!" in a tone that usually precludes the announcement of a new insight. And then she said this, in a very excited tone: "The Bible has an ending. But Jesus doesn't!"

Wow. Just wow. I love it when the light goes on for her, because so often, in God's gracious providence, it makes lights go on for me too. I love that she's grasped the preciousness and wonder of God's written story, but that she can discern the difference between the story itself and the author behind it. The written Word, as we have it, does indeed have an "ending" -- we can turn the last page and close the book. But the Holy Spirit invites us to step into the ongoing story that doesn't stop with the last page and began long before the first one was ever penned. And the Author of the Story himself, the Alpha and Omega, the Word that spoke all into existence, has no ending. Amen and Amen!