Sunday, April 13, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom, and Exodus

Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Charles, Missouri, USA - stained glass window of Lamb of God

Our local Catholic Bible Study group is studying Exodus right now, and in this week's lesson I came across a connection to Desiring the Kingdom that was helpful for me.

I don't vouch for the entire source, since I haven't studied it, but this PDF on Exodus has a section that makes a similar point to the one I read in the Exodus study guide.   It is about the connotation of the Hebrew word "avad" or "abad", which apparently means work but also worship, service but also liturgy:   

One of the central themes in Exodus is related to the Hebrew word avad . We first see this word in the characterization of how th e Egyptians persecute the Israelites. The Israelites were made to “serve with vigor.” 107 This word “to serve” is translated from the Hebrew word avad , which means “to serve,” but can also have the deeper meaning “to worship.” In fact, the word liturgy is derived from the Greek work for worship, leitourgia . Liturgy is to serve the Lord in wo rship. Pharaoh wants the Israelites to avad Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods, not the Lord. Sa dly, the reality is that this is exactly what has happened. The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, but, as will become clear as the story develops, they are also spiritually ensl aved. They have entered the Egyptian culture of idolatry, paganism and polythe ism (the belief in many gods). Their physical slavery is an outward manifestation of their spiritual slavery. Throughout Exodus we will see that God calls Moses and the people to avad Him. Moses will lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to avad the Lord.
You can find more analysis of the word at this source:  Is Work Worship?
If you want to see the word in Biblical context, go to this interlinear and then check the annotation.

Anyway, this solved a longstanding question in my mind:  Why the Benedictines call the Divine Office the Opus Dei, or "work of God".    It is also called the Liturgy of Hours. 

It also gives me some context for Josemaria Escriva's constant theme (which you also see in Francis de Sales, Brother Lawrence and many other sources) that the work of God is the work you are called to do at that particular moment in your life, and that this work can be sanctified -- it can be, in other words, a liturgy.

This section of Exodus also starkly depicts the same idea that Smith is trying to unpack in his book Desiring the Kingdom, that no practice is neutral, that God rightly claims it all.   Again and again, the text makes clear that Pharoah is claiming exactly what God claims, the Israelites' service and sacrifice.    And unlike King Darius in the story of Daniel, Pharoah is not trying directly to get the Israelites to worship him; rather, he is preventing them from worshipping God in the way God commands.

The Palm Sunday service in the Catholic Church always fascinates me because for this one occasion we break the Gospel reading into parts -- a narrator reads the main narrative, the priest says the words of Jesus, another man reads the parts of the various disciples, and the congregation reads the words of the people.    You can find the readings arranged for parts here , though it is different from the way our missal has it, and an explanation of the practice here.

This forces us (the congregation) to say things like:
“Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?” and
(to Peter) “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.”
and “Let him be crucified!” among other things that I most fervently pray I would never be tempted to say in real life.

However, it struck me that there is a kind of education in having to say such things.    Though we are members of the Body of Christ, we do confess our sins and transgressions and repent of them every time we go to Mass, and it never hurts to have it pointed out that the kinds of temptations that made the people say the things they did are exactly the same ones that are in our own sinful hearts.

 This roleplaying of evil is a kind of immersion into the depths of our own hearts, very suitable for this Holy Week, or at least, that is how I feel it.     As Chesterton says:  "What's wrong with the world?  I am." 

So getting back to Desiring the Kingdom, practices that we repeat again and again are the very substance of our lives.  I've noticed many times since converting (24 years ago this Easter) that when I read the Psalms over and over again, when I say the many traditional prayers commended to the Church, when I try to be more like Jesus, when I do things like go to Mass, sit down with my kids and begin the homeschool day, clean the toilets, or whatever, there is not infrequently big gap between my inner heart and what I am doing or saying.    However, the point is that I am "reforming", literally, by doing or saying these things.  

When Pharoah was forcing the Egyptians to work, he was forming their souls to some extent.  When God took the Israelites away, He freed them by reforming them towards their true selves, even though they often fought Him.   When we go to Mass or pray or do the duties of our state in life, we are being formed, if we let ourselves be.    In this way our work and our worship are intrinsically connected by the aim to which they lead.   

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Confessions about Desiring the Kingdom


I like James Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom and am enjoying the book discussion especially, but I admit to being a bit puzzled overall about how to fit it into my "corpus" of books about education.   

Some books fit onto my small shelf of pivotal educational books easily.    I think of Poetic Knowledge, Norms and Nobility, Beauty in the Word, Charlotte Mason's books, Implementing Ignatian Education in the Home, John Holt's books. 

This one hasn't, so much, not yet.   The part I am reading now is more a call to churches to take a closer look at their emphasis (and in a way, I can't help noticing, a call to churches to become more like the Catholic Church in its ideal form -- more embedded in history, more liturgical, more deeply ceremonial, more culturally awesome, more sacramental, more truly relational in the Trinitarian life, more truly philosophical, etc).   

But the book doesn't seem to have a close connection (yet) to what I am doing in my homeschool -- how I get up every morning, pray, drink my coffee, start the fire, plan my day, and get lessons ready to teach my kids.      It is written to those who are in charge of steering Christian society, or so it seems to me, and I am by no means one of those. 

However, this is not a criticism, just an acknowledgement of perplexity.   It is not the first time this has happened.   I've read other books that people were enthused about and I didn't get.   I've bought curricula that people raved about that sat on my shelf or flopped when I tried it out.   And sometimes, something that sat on my shelf suddenly makes sense and I can use it.   I had Latina Christiana for many years, wanting to like it and use it.  And now I m using it.    I couldn't understand lapbooks and now I get them (in my own way).

But what I am really trying to say is that someone on a classical yahoo group I am on linked to a follow-up thread to the old classic Circe thread that I read after I got sick last October.    And in turn, this led me to another resource -- a video talk by Jenny Rallens called The Liturgical Classroom.   I haven't finished listening to it yet, but it sounds like it connects the ideas from Desiring the Kingdom to daily life in the schoolroom and what you do with your kids.   Which has been the missing piece for me.   So maybe I will end up "getting" Desiring the Kingdom even if I am a little lost right now.

One thing I have gotten out of Rallens' talk so far (about 10 minutes in -- I have a short auditory attention span) that connects well to Smith's book is the idea that HOW teaching is done is of key importance.    If we want to help our kids order their affections properly, then it's like a whole new realm that we enter.    Sometimes I try to put myself in the hearts of people listening to Jesus.   How would He sound to a desperate sinner who saw no way out of the mass effect of his sins (like the thief on the cross?)  How would He sound to someone who crossed the Ts all his life in the comfortable certainty that this was the tribute he owed to God, and then found how much stranger and more immense the call was than he had thought?   

Teaching gives us the chance to enter that very realm every day.... the realm where everything is momentous and unexpected, and all our skills and intuitions and understanding are required.   The Kingdom of God, more amazing and terrifying than anything I would ever desire for myself.  My plans, aspirations, principles etc do give me a road-map and reality check but they don't give me a bubble-car to insulate myself in.      

What I really want, God, is a bubble-car, a comfort-zone I can carry around with me, but I accept that You don't want to form me into a bubble shape but into a truer icon of You.    I will have to remember that when I pray for the day in the morning that I am praying for You to work however You see best, whatever that implies in this particular day, and that my main call is to respond rather than to control or cope or withdraw.   

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Recitation and Question Time

I had been interested in the idea of Recitation for a long time.   It comes up often in older textbooks, the kind you find in Google Books, and it was apparently a key element in the old-fashioned schoolroom, probably at least partly because paper and books were relatively scarce and when dealing with a one-room schoolhouse or a large number of students it is easier to evaluate their understanding by oral means (plus having the older or more advanced students recite is a learning factor for the younger or less learned students-- call it the Trickle Down or Peer Learning Effect).

Robert Harris, One Room Schoolhouse
Memoria Press is one modern curriculum that makes extensive use of Recitations.   Almost every resource they sell has a recitation set attached to it, and I just recently found that they sell their grade-level recitation plans as individual sets (you can get PDF download versions too)

You can also find a thread on Simply Charlotte Mason forum talking about recitation and memorization.  

Here is a post on Recitation from a Charlotte Mason perspective. 
Here's another one.

Memorization programs like Classical Conversations and Classically Catholic Memory depend heavily on oral recitation.  

I have been depending more and more on this method as a way to avoid busywork and make sure the kids remember what I taught them and revisit it again and again.    It's very simple to do.  All you need is a page of questions and answers.   It's helpful to vary between some you know your kid is comfortable with and some that are newer and more unfamiliar.   The proportion probably varies according to the child's temperament.    I usually make a checkmark by the ones the child has an easy time with and we only recite those occasionally for reinforcement.

One-Room Schoolhouse
One Room Schoolhouse

Almost any Quizlet quiz can be used as the base for a recitation.     Basically, just search for whatever you think your kid should learn.  Quizlet allows you to study it, spell it, copy it over to your own account (so you can edit for typos or add/remove questions), and print it out as flashcards, tables, or tests.

In the past few weeks I have been going through the 1st grade Memoria Press recitation with Paddy.   Some of the questions are easy, but others aren't.   Asking him the questions is a quick way to see if he has any knowledge gaps (for instance, somehow he never learned that the English alphabet has 26 letters, though he knows that the Latin alphabet has 24).

The Happy Family by Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller

I don't call this Recitation in his weekly checklist -- rather, I call it Question Time.    Memoria Press recommends doing this in a formal manner, to teach elocution and public speaking etiquette, but I haven't really done it this way, though I probably eventually will start up a Public Speaking mini-course and do a few of our recitations in this format.  

Yesterday our group Meeting Time wasn't going particularly well, because the older boys wanted to talk and were going off topic, so I decided to ask the first grade questions to all of them -- 21 year old son who still lives at home, senior, and 5th grader.    I thought that whether they were bored or not, it would give me a chance to pick up the momentum and move on to the next part of the day. 

Instead, all three of the boys LOVED the question series.   They kept asking me to come up with more questions, and they started making up their own.   We did this for nearly an hour all told. 

Their relish for this game reminded me of when I was growing up and my Dad started a game he called Quiz at the dinner table.   He started by making up his own questions, then got some quiz books.   We had a great time, doing something together as a family that we could all participate in together.   But what I remember most is getting the approval of my Dad (who was type A and a perfectionist who rarely praised anything) when I got one right that he didn't expect anyone to know.    The quiz format gave him a way to show us approval and focused attention, which I know he wanted to be able to do.    He would tailor some questions towards the individual (my littlest brother got questions that he could answer, for instance) and some to the family in general.

I am sure that in some settings, this Q and A style would be intimidating, but in the home, it seems to be a good way to approach a topic interactively.     

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom: Flourishing as a Human

I'm going to try to get back on the book study track with Desiring the Kingdom.    For this week, I am just going to write quick notes as they occur to me.

Go to Simply Convivial for links to more discussion.

1.  Christian worship as human flourishing

Christian worship, or the sum total of Christian liturgical practice, is not solely eschatological; it is also part of what it means to be human, in natural terms.

 "It is training for temporal, embodied human community."
 "Christian discipleship is the shape of what it means to be a renewed human being."

I suppose this is because we are not divided.  Since we are what we are, made in the image of God and incapable of true human development without Him, the only thing that can make a complete human naturally speaking is this supernatural element.

2.  Law, or God's Will for our lives.

"God's law is not a stern restriction of our will but an invitation to find peace and rest in what Augustine would call the "right ordering" of our will."   

Commandments are like guardrails.

Chesterton says this too.

“If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments” 
 Charlotte Mason often talks about the freedom of not being constantly thrown into the chaos of one's own untrammeled will and reason.

I was just reading Montessori's first Great Lesson, about Creation, where she talks about how everything is created for a purpose and their "goodness" is in fulfilling that purpose.  Only we (and once the angels) have the freedom to choose to do so, however.

3.   The Need for Confession

Because of our fallen human nature, we will fall down in our attempts to live by God's will.    The more we try, the more we realize our complete incapacity to live rightly on our own (another hint that man's natural flourishing can only be realized in a supernatural context).

Thus we need to repent regularly.

Repentance is not shame and it is not an impersonal acknowledgement of error.  It is a personal thing -- ultimately a realization of a breakdown in the relationship with God and a return to Him.

All sins come out eventually.   We seem to have a deep need to confess.   People reveal what they are continually -- I can't help think of the Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter as a kind of paradigm of this.

In a way, mystery stories are parables about how secret crimes are brought out into the open.

Only confession and repentance before God gives us hope, though.   One can't help contrasting Peter's temporary apostasy with Judas's.    This time of year, my kids and I seem to often ponder together what made the outcome so different.   Or, what made Saul different from David?

If there is anything that separates those that Jesus healed from those He accused, it is the way the broken sinners turned to Him while the whited sepulchers turned to their own road.

4.   Education

Some of the educational implications seem to be:

I. Christian formation is at the very heart of all education.    If one doesn't happen to have been brought up in the faith, then pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness as best as one knows how will probably do something to get one on the right path.     There is no true learning that doesn't involve the whole self, and indeed learning IS integration, and that is something that never completely happens, which is why learning continues for life.    Socrates composed poetry while in prison waiting to be executed.  

II.  It's impossible to learn without realizing what one doesn't know and wanting to overcome that ignorance.    This seems to parallel the need for repentance and confession in getting back on the right path in the life of grace.   Aquinas calls wonder a species of fear.    One desires knowledge because one is fleeing from ignorance and error.    Socrates said that "wisdom begins in wonder" and he felt that his key task was to make people realize that they didn't know or knew wrongly, in order to open the door to the possibility of true knowing. 

III.  Knowledge is ultimately relationship.   It's not just technical proficiency or a mental encyclopedia of facts.   It's an ordering of things, an interior that reflects the truth of how things are.    This involves more than the head, but the whole array of affections and resolutions.

For some reason I think here of the Anima Christi, which St Ignatius put at the front of his Spiritual Exercises, which is in fact a manual for integrating every thought, word and action of daily life into a wholly Christian liturgy:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity.
Also his Suscipe:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, Thou hast given me: I surrender it all to Thee to be disposed of according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Homeschool Update Spring 2014

I have not been a very good blogger lately! I have been immersed in paper organization and also in homeschooling planning.    I am putting a few of the details over at a learning-log or rather planning-log type blog:  Journeys through Bookland.    It's basically a new version of my old planning/logging site, Schola et Studium.    Hardly anything I put on that site seems to fit over here.  ... basically it's just for quick updates on the homeschool, resources we are using, and so on.

I do want to mention something that's working well.... at least, as well as anything can with a pre-teen who is sometimes diligent and clever and sometimes moody and bored.  I will not mention any names!   They do eventually seem to grow out of it.

Monday through Wednesday we loop through all our subjects (pictured above)


  • Math (Life of Fred)
  • Christian Studies 1 (Bible History)
  • Religion/ Catechism
  • Piano Lesson


  • Latin
  • World History (Story of the World)
  • Composition
  • Science

  • English Grammar
  • US History
  • Drawing
  • Nature /Geography/ Civics (alternate)
Every day he does some math practice, some memory work (from Classically Catholic Memory and from the recitation lists in Memoria Press's books), and (in theory) some writing or spelling.  He also reads some supplementary books connected with the main topics.   He practices the piano and does some chores.   We do a lot of Quizlet

Thursday and Friday are catchall days.   Basically I use them for whatever seems to be missing or to need some reinforcement.    Or they can just be "now for something completely different" type days, or sometimes days when I get very busy with errands or whatever and have to go to Plan B.

They don't HAVE to be on Thursday or Friday -- life isn't that predictable.  For example, this week Monday turned crazy with several places to go and some executor business connected with my parents' estate which soaked up lots of time, and yesterday, Wednesday, we ended up doing online games for most of the "skill subjects" and then the 5th grader in question decided he wanted to do a rather ambitious research essay on Greek mythology, which he tackled in quite an orderly way and worked on for "homework" in the evening.

So today we were doing "Tuesday's" work, and for whatever reason he was like a 5 year old with ADD.   I could hardly get anything covered the way I wanted to.  It's really hard to predict whether systems will be ON or OFF, with any of my kids actually, so I generally have a bucket list of things I want to get to and draw the most appropriate things from there.

My high schooler and my special-needs teenager don't have a loop like the 5th grader -- not exactly.   My high schooler reads from a stack of books on different subjects (pictured above), and we go over math and Latin together.    He does Chemistry at Khan Academy. 

My special needs teen responds well to Montessori type methods so I usually cover the same 3Rs with him every day but in different forms, pulling out a different type of activity if he doesn't respond to one.   I have a whole stack of Kumon workbooks and other resources we have had around the house for ages, I print out things from online and we cycle through the same topics again and again.    I am going to reread Simply Classical to see if I can pick up more ideas for working with him.    He's a very busy young man though, always helping around the house and organizing and carrying out art projects, so when we have OFF days I can usually count on him to be doing something worthwhile the rest of the day.

Oh, yes, and there is Meeting Time (we meet around lunchtime, so I can't call it Morning Time) .   Here are a few of the resources we're currently using for that. 

One more thing that is mostly working is that we don't get started until pretty late in the day.  Paddy and Kieron wake up relatively late and read for most of the morning while I get things done and work on "school" with Aidan (the special needs teenager).    We have our meeting about 11 am (or at noon, if I take a walk with my husband first), then I work with the highschooler for about an hour, then with the 5th grader.    So we are finishing rather late in the afternoon, but that doesn't seem too bad to me.  It means I can keep my momentum going into dinner prep, piano practice (I am taking lessons too) and beyond.   I am sure things will change when spring and summer come.  Right now it is snowy and so spending the afternoon doing schoolwork in front of the fire seems like a good plan. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Weekends with GKC-- The Making, Building and Growing of All Good Things

 This is for Sarah's Weekends with Chesterton.   Go to Amongst Lovely Things for more Chesterton quotes. 

G.K. Chesterton quotes and commentary

Chesterton writes in A Short History of England (which I have not yet read):

But the truth is that it is precisely in the arts of peace, and in the type of production, that the Middle Ages stand singular and unique. This is not eulogy but history; an informed man must recognize this productive peculiarity even if he happens to hate it. The melodramatic things currently called mediæval are much older and more universal; such as the sport of tournament or the use of torture. The tournament was indeed a Christian and liberal advance on the gladiatorial show, since the lords risked themselves and not merely their slaves. Torture, so far from being peculiarly mediæval, was copied from pagan Rome and its most rationalist political science; and its application to others besides slaves was really part of the slow mediæval extinction of slavery. Torture, indeed, is a logical thing common in states innocent of fanaticism, as in the great agnostic empire of China. What was really arresting and remarkable about the Middle Ages, as the Spartan discipline was peculiar to Sparta, or the Russian communes typical of Russia, was precisely its positive social scheme of production, of the making, building and growing of all the good things of life.

As usual, GKC gets past the cliche, into a luminous insight, in a few rolling sentences. 

Since I have been interested in productivity during this Lent, that part of it is why I chose this particular quote, though the rest is good too.

I haven't been used to thinking of the Middle Ages as a peculiarly productive time, but now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense.   And productivity is essentially Christian in many ways (though Judaism, of course, had a huge influence upon Christianity).    Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski  wrote about this in All Ye Who Labor, which I have been trying to reread. 

Labor was despised by the Greeks, but was rehabilitated by early monasticism.   The Romans were industrious, and so were the Egyptians in a way, but they did not have that sense of the dailiness and hands-on and dignified nature of God's early commission of the human race to:

fill the earth and subdue it

St Josemaria Escriva's main theme in his writings was about the value of ordinary work in sanctifying oneself and one's environment:

Our calling discloses to us the meaning of our existence. It means being convinced, through faith, of the reason for our life on earth. Our life, the present, past and future, acquires a new dimension, a depth we did not perceive before. All happenings and events now fall within their true perspective: we understand where God is leading us, and we feel ourselves borne along by this task entrusted to us. Christ is Passing By, 45

Getting Things Done During Lent

Still here!  I am on a homeschool planning roll, plus my husband and I have both been going through old papers.  He bought a shredder and has been shredding various unnecessary statements from the past 2 decades, while I have been filing all my collected reference material using the GTD system.

My husband has piled up three or four huge garbage bags full of shredded material.  I've only come up with about a kitchen bag full of old papers I don't need anymore.   But that's because I already go through my files once a year and weed them down.  (I usually do this in the summer).

 What's new is the details of the GTD filing system, which I will share below.


Getting Things Done recommends a simple alphabetical system for filing materials for reference.   You CAN file by topic, which is what I was doing before, but Allen warns that you may end up not remembering how you fixed up your topics -- which tends to be what happens to me.

He does say that if you have some very compartmentalized areas of your life and reference stacks to match, you may want to keep materials devoted to one area in a particular drawer or box or whatever.

What I did is reserve a set-aside box for all the materials associated with my parents' estate.    The rest of my reference materials are pretty much straight alphabetical.   I haven't finished the effort.  I have about 4 boxes worth (using milk crates because they are stackable and sturdy). 

I think I will end up separating homeschool reference materials from home materials, but otherwise keeping the flat alphabetical system going.


Another thing recommended by Getting Things Done for reference materials is to have a stack of file folders and file everything that is separate as separate, with a separate title and a separate folder.    Even if it is only a single piece of paper. 

This is something I wasn't doing.  I think I was trying to save on file folders.   So I would have several loosely-associated  sets of paper stuffed in one folder, making it more mental effort to retrieve it.   Getting Things Done wants you to save your mental energy for creativity and learning, not use it trying to puzzle through your system.   


The most important part of filing reference material vs piling up what Allen calls "stuff" is that the action items are separated out from the reference material.  

Now when you have a lot of homeschool material, some of the reference files are potentially actionable.  For example, I have quite a lot on the Middle Ages, which we studied last year.  We will not cycle through again for 3 years.    But in the meanwhile, it is all there, and categorized.     David Allen said that reference material and "project support material" are basically very similar.  And dormant projects, like my Middle Ages lists, are even more like reference material, so it doesn't bother me to have it in reference boxes.


"Action items" are PRESENT actions.... things that should be getting done now.... or soon, within a specified amount of time.

It has been a huge boost to my morale -- and my ability to get through my work --  to have this separation of action items from reference items. 

You may remember our book study of Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers.    One bit of the book that has haunted me for years is the following: 

"Ask any Christian mother who accomplishes an astonishing amount of work, yet never has an air of depression, ask her, I say, the secret of her activity.    She will tell you that she works methodically, because she is guided by a rule."

 Though David Allen does not refer to spiritual things -- he specifically says that he is focusing on the method, on how to get things done, not on the bigger picture of why and what you want to do -- the method has spiritual implications, at least for me, because I tend to have a fall-down between resolution (or intention) and action.  And this is the exact area that Getting Things Done focuses on.    So for me, incorporating it into the practical aspect of my Rule of Life has made a giant difference.


get-it-all-doneMystie Winckler, who has written the book on GTD for Homemakers, wrote about this, and it has been one of my ongoing thoughts during this time of Lent and trying to work out my systems. 

Allen brings it out in his book, too.  He is writing for people who have too much on their plates -- many, many "incomings" from several different areas of life.  And if that isn't the life of a homeschooling mom of several, I don't know what is.     His system doesn't promise that you will suddenly have an uncomplicated life.    He doesn't expect you to sort out all the incomings into formal priority categories (which adds another step and often has stumped me in the past -- what does priority mean in everyday terms?)

Mystie writes:
I finally realized awhile ago that it was the desire to have life running on autopilot that was at the root of much of my “get it all done” frustrations. Running smoothly on autopilot is what is never going to happen. Keeping your bases covered, each in their turn, not stressing over those that have to wait for awhile, can happen.
This is true of me, too.    What I've noticed in applying GTD principles is not that I suddenly can do everything that comes at me during a day.   It's that I can shift gears between all the things that unexpectedly crop up that need to be dealt with -- like my teenager suddenly communicating to me that he has an ongoing foot infection -- and things that are on my calendar -- like the fact that one of my grown sons is home on spring break, so that I needed to get his room nice in preparation, and stock up on some of the things he likes.  

It also allows for things that are ongoing -- like homeschooling and cleaning.  They have to be done every day, and they are never going to "be done".

It also allows me to trust my intuition on what is more important right at the given moment.    Allen mentions this, that usually we have a basic instinct on what the "next thing" is -- it's just that when we have a lot of mental clutter, that instinct gets blocked. 

The infected foot is important enough to interrupt the normal homeschooling schedule to run to the doctor (but I can have a Plan B ready so at least some of it gets done anyway).    The grown son's room prep is important, but if I start the week before, I can work at it in little 10-minute bursts every day or so. 

This post took longer than 15 minutes, but it's Sunday, so I get to break my normal Lenten habits! : ).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Getting Things Done at Home

I am rereading David Allen's Getting Things Done -- which apparently I read first in 2006.    I decided to give it another look because I've been reading Mystie Winckler's GTD for Homemakers and I realized I had forgotten a lot of the details of the system.

Anyway, reading the book, taking notes, and applying it to my organizing system has been my main project this last week or so.  

Since I only have 15 minutes I'm just going to take a photo-walk through some things that are helping me right now.     If you aren't familiar with the terminology, GTD in 15 Minutes might be helpful. 

Collecting (ideas, tasks, etc)

My notebook and a bunch of pretty paper that I never knew what to do with (mostly acquired at thrift or dollar stores or at Michael's on sale) -- I use these as collection or capture tools.    Basically, I either write it down in the back of my notebook/journal as a thought or to-do comes up, or I grab a piece of paper and write on it, then put it in my inbox.

1.  Processing collected items

My folders -- I have an "active" folder for things I have to do, a homeschool folder, and a "projects" folder.  

Here are more folders -- one I call "scripts and routines" for checklists -- procedures I try to follow that aren't completely automated yet.    Also there is a "someday/maybe" folder for nice ideas that don't have a time frame, and then behind those there are monthly folders which are called in the GTD system "tickler files" meaning that you put things in there that are going to come up at a certain date that you don't want to forget about.  ... say, buying tickets for the Shakespeare Festival, or your child's patron saint's day. 


This is the inside of my "active" folder.     Instead of having 43 folders as Allen recommends, one for each month of the year and one for each day of the month, I have 12 monthly folders, 5 weekly folders and then inside my action folder, I have envelopes for the days of the week.  I put small cards and notes in there as things come up.   If anything doesn't fit in the envelope, it can easily go in the folder itself.   

I've had some sort of filing system for years.  I borrowed a lot from Dawn's File Crate System.    But I never knew quite how to use the monthly files, so rereading GTD is helping me with that.

Allen recommends the streamlined look and feel. ... the best file cabinets you can afford, brand new manila folders, a label-maker so you can print out nice labels for the files.  But though I would do it that way in a workplace, my "work at home" mode requires personalization and that means for me, using what I have already around the house, and figuring out ways to make things colorful while not sacrificing efficiency.    

I am sure this is a bit confusing unless you have just read Getting Things Done, or even if you have, but I am out of time for today!   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Couple of Books for our Meeting Time

I didn't remember writing about Morning Time before, but I guess I did, back here

Anyway, we have been trying to get it going again, after quite a long hiatus.    We call it Meeting Time, though, because it's usually located close to lunchtime than morning.

Trying to span between a pre-teen and a high school senior can be challenging.   This book has been a help:

I don't remember where we got it or why, but probably I read a recommendation somewhere.

It's nicely arranged for our meeting time, since it has a "this day in history" format and tells a story associated with each day of the year, along with some other historical events that took place on that day.   A couple of days ago we read about Helen Keller and today was about the naming of Harvard University.

We almost always have a good discussion about whatever the topic is, and most of the entries are of interest both to the older and the younger boy.    (Yesterday Paddy walked around with his eyes closed for quite a long time after reading about Helen Keller -- this is such a typical 11 year old experience that I am glad he didn't miss out).    Harvard wasn't quite so compelling, but we talked about colleges being founded by ministers, and about college in general. 

After that I usually read a bit from Great Treasury of Western Thought.

This one is usually a bit harder going for Paddy -- yesterday I read Augustine on language (it seemed to fit in with our discussion about Helen Keller's learning from Anne Sullivan) and today I read Aristotle on truth.   But those readings are shorter.

I have some other plans but right now that is about all we generally manage.  I want to read from the Magnificat daily mass readings and reflections, but I always seem to forget.    I also want to read some of the shorter questions and answers in the Smithsonian magazine -- we inherited a subscription from my mom, and I usually have a hard time finding occasion to read a magazine, so I thought maybe reading bits to the kids would help get me motivated to browse through them too.

When I was trying to get our Meeting Time going on, Chari helped me brainstorm, and she asked me what I wanted to get out of the meetings, which was helpful.  It made me realize I was going for Cultural Literacy, for bits of our religious heritage that don't fit in elsewhere, and for discussion starters.  And for connections across subjects.    So eclectic mix of topics is good.    Even reading from bits and pieces of books is a good thing.   I thought maybe I would read parts of my Dad's medical journals that he transcribed and comb-bound for his family, and my husband's great-grandma wrote a memoir about her pioneer days that would be fun to share too.   So you see, the possibilities are endless, and I am really glad we are doing this.   Next year Kieron will be in college, but I hope to continue with Paddy and Aidan, though I am sure it will take a different form with the different mix of persona. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blogging for Lent

chirp...chirp.. chirp...

No, neither Chari nor I have given up blogging for Lent, but we both got swamped by ordinary life at the same time.  Chari has been working full time plus following the busy athletic schedule of two boys and helping a teen with multiple college apps, and my household has been either on the road or down with sickness, or both at the same time.    I am way behind on everything I need to do but I don't want to give up my blogging habit, either.   It is definitely one of my priorities, even if it comes behind keeping up with the laundry and meals and making sure my boys acquire rudimentary literacy and work habits. 

So I thought of a strategy to keep blogging even while time is short and also to mark out Lent as distinct from Ordinary Time.     I'm going to set the timer for 15 minutes a day and just blog whatever I come up with during that time limit.      You are welcome, as always, to join me!  Especially you, Chari! 

I have another idea, but I don't know how it will work with my 15-minute strategy.  For Lent, I always try to put a moratorium on extra buying and instead, try to use up what we already have in our pantry and on our shelves, etc.    Also, my husband just changed the ceiling light in our walk-in closet, which I use as my book storage closet.   In light of that (literally)  I thought maybe I would do some sort of personal version of

Howard's End is On the Landing

where I just browse through my bookshelves and blog for a few minutes about whatever book I unearth, preferably if it is one that has been off my radar for a while.

I've done something like that before on my old blog and called it:


I was thinking of calling this series, in tribute to Susan Hill's title

*Poetic Knowledge is in the Closet*

which is absolutely true, but I thought my teenage boys might get too much hilarity out of it.    And I do try to avoid unintentional hilarity. 

OK, time's up!  I am still catching up with my Desiring the Kingdom reading, so I haven't anything to post for this week yet, but go to Mystie's Week 10 Linkup for discussion.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weekends with Chesterton: Mistaken for Explanation

Weekends with Chesterton: cultivating the intellectual life

I have been reading Darwin's Origin of Species recently, so I looked for what Chesterton had to say about evolution.  Truly, I think he had something to say about everything!  I found this, from The Everlasting Man:
“Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the impression that they do understand it and everything else”
I will have to remember that a term doesn't always suffice as an explanation; nor does the fact that something is understood somewhere by someone necessarily mean that I, or another given person, understands it ;-). 

Thanks to Sarah, for hosting Weekends with Chesterton, and please go to her site for links to more Chesterton.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Habits for March 2014

Remember last month I said I was going to make resolutions monthly instead of yearly?  This gives me a chance to revisit last month's resolutions and figure out what I am doing OK on and what still needs work.

Habits that are going pretty well:
  • Walking with Kevin daily.   We don't walk every day, or always for 2.5 miles, but it is a solid habit.   And it's nice. 
  • Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 pm.   I usually still forget at 3, but I've gotten into a habit of working at it whenever I have a few minutes of in-between time, like driving in the car.  
  • Quick-cleaning sprints.  I divided my daily times into "hours" and I tried to attach a focus to each hour.     But some of these hours don't take a real 60 minute hour, like, say, preparing breakfast and tidying the kitchen.  So whatever time is left over, I spend on working through my chore list.
  • Working on Lesson Planning daily.   This was something that just needed to be legitimized in order to find a place in the day.   I really like planning.   Now I just need to work on implementing plans ;-).
  • Making a learning environment for the children.   Having that reminder really helped me be more intentional in looking for library books, bringing out things put away, and helping them with their projects.

The other habits are in disrepair at the moment.    I started paying less attention to Flylady when I started doing more lesson planning.   Those things seem to occupy the same space in my brain.  My Whole30/No S habits got a bit battered while we went on vacation and then got sick.  Let's call it a whole series of "S" days, S for special and S for sick.  

March brings Lent.    I always spend Lent pruning whatever branches are growing too luxuriously, and simplifying my eating , spending and time-spending patterns.   I choose a couple of specifics -- this year I decided to cut out alcohol for Lent.   

I usually try to do some extra spiritual reading. 
This time I am thinking of rereading I Believe in Love. 

But the main thing I want to focus on as a theme is focusing on the half-full element of the glass rather than the half-empty part.  I have spent the past few years concentrating too much on what I haven't done, what didn't happen.   It is my default way of thinking, and I realize it has become a bad habit because it doesn't really help me do any better.     I noticed that when I pay attention to what IS working at least partially and then try to figure out what the next step is from there, I make more progress.    Or at least, my brief trials with the concept have been hopeful enough so that I think Lent is a good occasion to work on it some more.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Short Story Club: Leaf by Niggle

 For the February edition of the TUAR Short Story Club

 We are discussing Leaf by Niggle

I hope you will share your impressions of the story if you have read it before.  I don't think I'll be able to do justice to this story, which I really liked and had never read before.  We  have been either traveling or sick for the past month, and are currently up in Oregon, and I am having trouble focusing enough to write the blog post the story deserves.

I thought of starting it this way:
There was once a little man called Niggle homeschooling mom, who had a long journey to make. She  did not want to go..... 
 And so on.   Because I did identify with Niggle, with his great project that subsumed all his other projects, with his soft heart that was not always necessarily kind, with his tendency to idleness, with his essential smallness even while being aware of something much bigger than himself that he wants to accomplish, and the way he keeps postponing his preparations for the journey in order to work on it.

It is hard to read this story as something other than semi-autobiographical and allegorical.    For one thing, there is no type of plausibility built up for the idea of the journey or the voices that decide Niggle's fate.  When something stands in a story like that without explanation, if it is a story written by a craftsman, then that usually means allegory or parable or mythic elements. 

 But allegory and autobiography are  two things that JRR Tolkien tried to avoid, with his idea of sub-Creation as derivative from, but not directly parallel to, the Creation in which we exist.      He wrote of the story in a letter:   "It is not really or properly an 'allegory' so much as 'mythical'." But he also said in another letter "I tried to show allegorically how [subcreation] might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial' story Leaf by Niggle."

When I was reading Tolkien's letters in the summer, I noticed how frequently Tolkien was called away from his duties as a professor and his hobby/ love of writing fantasy by something irritatingly prosaic to do with the house like supervising the cleaning of some drains, etc.     It reminded me of how CS Lewis was at the beck and call for years of the mother of his deceased war buddy Paddy Moore, whom Lewis had committed to treating as his own mother.   

It strikes me there is a purifying, aye, purgatorial effect in these types of everyday commitments.  The artists/literary people who accept no such sort of commitment to the tiresome elements of being a good neighbor usually suffer for it one way or another, either in their art or their lives or both.

Niggle and his neighbor Parish get another chance to do it right and their collaboration eventually makes a better thing than either could have done on their own.

But that is not all there is to the story.    As with all myths and parables it goes beyond the obvious themes.  

Right now as I write this my miracle boy Aidan is trying to get my attention by putting his hands on the keyboard to block my fingers.   Even knowing that Aidan and my other miracle children are my great blessings as well as responsibilities, and my blogging is not primary in this way, I have to hold myself in check to pay him attention and not get impatient with him for interrupting my train of thought.  You see?  I identify with Niggle : ). 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Liberating Education

I wrote this a couple of years ago at the request of Sue Elvis for the blog  Australian Catholic Families.  I forgot I had written it until I was reading the latest section of Desiring the Kingdom and realized this had a bit to do with the subject of liturgical education.   So I am reposting it here. 

A little while ago, my friend-from-the-other-side-of-the-world Sue Elvis asked me to write about the Catholic college my daughter is attending. I had described bits of it in a comment on her blog -- how in the classes the young men and women wear collared shirts and nice slacks, not jeans (if young men) and dresses or skirts (if young women), how they address each other as Mr and Miss during class time, and how I thought that contributed to a culture of respect and seriousness as they read great books of the Catholic tradition and discuss them in seminar format.

Besides that, I wasn’t sure what else to say! What would interest Australian Catholic readers in hearing about a small Great Books college in California? (Well, Cardinal Pell did come to this same college to deliver a commencement address, but besides that too?) Could I say anything that wasn’t already over there on the college’s site?

While I was thinking about it, I could hear strains of music floating up from the kitchen where my daughter was enjoying her summer break by cooking something. The music was a CD of a concert that one of her tutors had performed on campus during the school year. He has a beautiful low tenor or baritone and was singing a wide variety of songs, including a rendition of On the Road to Mandalay, a Victorian song based on the poem by Kipling, which keeps running through my head as I type! The college schedules a series of concerts every year and often draws on the talent within its own bounds, since many of the students and faculty are musically gifted.

From many things my daughter has said to me, one of the best parts of college to her is getting to know adults (and some fellow students, too) who are not only intelligent and devout in the practice of their faith, but also interesting human beings. And more than that, lifelong learners. This particular tutor is taking voice lessons. Other tutors raise tarantulas or climb mountains during their holiday breaks. The school psychologist and his wife have raised a large family who are all talented Irish dancers, singers and violinists who have toured professionally. .

Some of the tutors are college alumni, and some of the students attending the college are the children or siblings of alumni. Many of the graduates from the college have gone on to do noteworthy things -- some went on to further scholarly work in different fields, some are writers, some founded Catholic elementary or secondary schools, a significant number took religious vows or entered the priesthood, and many others are mothers or fathers of families. The influence of the learning environment ripples outward just the way I now have some old songs running through my head even though I do not know Clare’s musical tutor personally and was not there to hear him sing.

This made me think about what learning is about and what we hope for when we send our children to college. Surely we hope that while there, they will be supported in their faith, that they will be treated with dignity, that they will learn how the parts (the subjects) fits in with the whole, and that they will move closer to being the people that God wants them to become. Class time is only a part of this project of emerging from childhood into adult life. There are many ways, of course, for this to happen, and not everyone needs to go to college, particularly not to a particular tiny college in the California foothills. Yet the fact that there is an option like this is encouraging to those who are interested in Catholic formation.

To some, having a dress code for classes and meals, and a requirement of addressing each other by honorific prefixes, might seem restrictive and old-fashioned, especially in informal places like southern California. Yet you can see it another way. Dressing well and speaking with courtesy is what adults do to show respect for each other and to themselves.

And to some, learning ends when you graduate from school, whenever that might be; learning ends when you have your “ticket” out into the job market. Maybe you might take some classes to keep up in your profession or industry, but many will give up any thought of continuing to read seriously outside of their field, or learn a new skill, or develop a latent talent.

Yet surely one of the most important things we can teach our young people is how rich life is -- how life is about more than just making money and passing time; it is about learning to be a human, and that learning is lifelong and deeply related to Christian themes of seeking for wisdom and sharing it with others. We all benefit when someone near us gets passionately interested in something and shares this interest with us. It broadens our world. It is like a seed planted, or a gift given.

At my daughter’s college, the tutors, and the grown alumni, and other adults, are inviting the students to see that learning is not just about assimilating what the “experts” pass down, until you can become an expert yourself. It’s about engaging in real things, things of lasting value, and acknowledging that you bachelor of arts degree is just a beginning, not an end, to lifelong learning.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wednesday with Words: Education in a Boy's Book

For Wednesday with Words -- go join Cindy for links to more words.   
  This quote below is from Harry Dee, or Working It Out, which I read because my 11 year old read it (several times) and recommended it to me. 

It was fascinating for me to find a description of an older-style classical school in boy's language, specifically a progression in Latin and Greek.     The boys are comparing their Catholic-school curriculum to Harry's, which was a home one (he had a tutor)    It's a pretty nice summary of the traditional Jesuit education.  

I'm fairly sure the Historiae Sacrae mentioned must be Lhomond's.    It's very easy Latin, really nice if you have been breaking your brain with declensions and conjugations and grammar exercises and want to just read something in your new language. : ).. 

The conversation on our nearing St. Maure's, by a natural school-boy transition, turned from base-ball to class matters.

Percy and I are in First Academic," said Tom, "'our third year of Latin and second of Greek. I wish you could get in with us; we've a splendid teacher — Mr. Middleton. He's our prefect, too. Do you know any Latin, Harry?"

"A little; I've studied it about two years and a half under a private teacher. In fact, I've studied hardly anything but Latin, Greek, and arithmetic; and I went through everything in the morning hours from nine to twelve and had the afternoon free."

"Gracious!" exclaimed Tom; "what a nice daily order — half-holiday every day."

"How did you go about Latin?" put in Percy " Did you begin with reading Historiae Sacrae? "

"Yes; for seven months I was kept on nothing but the accidence and Historia Sacra. I declined and conjugated till there was no sticking me. Then I began translating Cicero's letters. My first lesson was half a line; but I had to know everything that could be known about it, and I studied syntax in reference to each lesson. What I translated I learned by heart. Then I was made to put some English sentences into a similar style of Latin — that's what you call theme-work, isn't it?"

" Exactly," said Tom ; " you've just been going on the lines Mr. Middleton sets for us. We learn by heart everything that we translate. How far did you go in Latin ?"

"About five hundred lines of Cicero — mostly his letters. But I know it all, so that were I to lose my book I could put every word on paper."

"That's the system in St. Maure's, pretty much," observed Tom. " They are getting closer to it every year. But how about the Copia verborum ? "

"Well, besides learning the inflection and meaning of every word I came across in Cicero, my teacher put four or five new words into each of my daily themes. In that way I got in about five or six hundred extra Latin words."

"It's a great plan," put in Tom. "Percy and I are terribly interested in Latin. You see, it's this way. Next year, when we get into Humanities, we've a chance to compete for an intercollegiate gold medal to be given to the one who writes the best Latin theme; now we want to hold up our end here at St. Maure' against the other six colleges that are in it."

"And besides," added Percy, " we count on Mr.Middleton's teaching us next year; he's very anxious for us to come out well in the contest, and that alone is enough to make us work for it."

"Just so," resumed Tom, "and it's his last year of teaching. After that he will go off and study theology and come back a priest. And if we don't give him a send-off next year it won't be our fault. You'll work for it, won't you Harry?"

The picture is from a scene where the boys try to "exercise" what they suppose is a demon from a school bully.    The exorcism seems to do him good because he ultimately does take a turn for the better.    

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club: Liturgy and Culture

Linking up with Mystie for this week's reading of Desiring the Kingdom.   Go to Week Eight for links to more discussion. 

I missed two weeks' reading and discussion while @Disneyworld/ # familydownwithsevererhinovirus so I had a fair bit of reading to catch up on.    However, the past couple of sections have basically all on the same train of thought -- the manifestations of "liturgy" in the secular arenas of the mall, the military/entertainment complex, and the university -- so it went pretty easily.

Smith critiques these secular liturgies for their insufficiency and disordered nature while also making what he calls an affirmation of "apologetic contact" for them.    They are vanities, but in some way we are seeking ultimate things in them even while losing our way in the shadows.   In this way he reflects Augustine:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
Smith says:
Secular liturgies don't create our desire:  they point it, aim it, direct it at certain ends.
I will here admit that though this book is very thought-provoking, I get into some conceptual difficulties with some of his thinking.   In this reading, it was helpful for me to mentally substitute the words "enculturation" or "culture" for "liturgy".  I think this is because I tend to think of liturgy as a formal rhythmic or ritual manifestation of embodied doctrine, while the influences he talks about seem more parallel to cultic brainwashing to me.

A university has a culture.  The college my kids went to has a very different culture than the one described in the book.   A society has a culture.  The society we live in the present US is more like Brave New World than 1984.    A family has a culture.   Parents have a responsibility to shape the family culture. 

Perhaps it adds up to the same thing, liturgy and culture?  I am not sure about that.  Liturgy in the sense I am accustomed to is by its very nature directed to something higher than myself.  It invites but does not compel.    It provides a structure but not so much a propulsive force.    It is a series of actions rather than a submersion. 

The forces Smith describes in some of his examples remind me more of a bacchanal or a Roman circus, which is a surrender to something essentially lower than oneself but also more powerful.  

Now that I have said this, I will perhaps rethink my use of the word "culture."  Culture partakes of both of these, perhaps, including both the "lower" (sensory) and the "higher"(philosophical/meaning).  Culture is something like what Husserl called lifeworld or lebenswelt, the milieu which we swim in whether we are consciously aware of it or not.   Perhaps it relates to what Charlotte Mason called "atmosphere".    Culture is a complete experience and thus has a tendency to shape our thinking even while we are shaping it, but it does not directly co-opt it.  ... in a way, it is an embodiment of our desire and in that way our collective "child" but in another way, in that we are born of a culture, it is our parent.

I think this "culture as parent and child" is a useful way of thinking of our individual selves as a kind of nexus.   We can't choose our parents.  But we do choose what kind of parents we will be.

To put it another way, Chari and I have often discussed how we "educated ourselves" as children.  Growing up in the slightly ridiculous public schools of the 70's, we consciously chose something different.   In my case, this was partly due to the influence of my parents.  In Chari's case, not so much so.  We couldn't say that we weren't affected by our milieu, but we could both say that part of the effect was to point us away from it.  The point is that there is a dynamic between what happens to us and what we make of it.   Augustine talks about the flaws in his pagan schooling and family background but he also claims responsibility for what he did himself.    

Since this probably sounds a bit far from the point of this section of Smith's book, I will try to go to literary specifics.  

When Smith describes Charlotte Simmons' university experience in Tom Wolfe's book, which is very far from what she expected of a university as a sort of intellectual waypost of Athens, he is describing someone immersed in a milieu which rolls over the rational mind and forms the perspective in spite of one's interior resistance.   Charlotte feels herself losing her identity, her sense of self, in the barrage of physical and moral culture in the university.  Again, Smith uses the example of Winston in Orwell's 1984, who is compelled ultimately (by torture and brainwashing) not only to profess but to experience love for Big Brother.

This is what I would call the "cultic" experience in the modern sense of being brainwashed and overwhelmed by an environment consciously designed to subvert your freedom of will.  

This seems to me to contrast with Smith's other literary examples, of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited and Tom More in Love in the Ruins, of men in the more Augustinian situation of chasing shadows of the divine reality.  Tom More loves women and whiskey more than God, but realizes that his weak "cupiditas" is a corruption of  true"caritas".  Ryder recognizes in his relationship to Sebastian an archetype or glimpse of what lies beyond and only can be seen in glimpses.    In this examples, the "enculturating" element takes a back seat to the idea of human as affective, desiring creature in search of something transcendent.... as a being who worships.

In the university and Big Brother examples, the "true" nature of the human is overwhelmed by force.   Charlotte and Winston are opposed to the environment they live in, but their inner integrity is basically violated in spite of themselves.  In the Brideshead and Love in the Ruins examples, the true nature of the human is disordered, easily turned from "Beauty Ancient and Ever New" to vanishing and unsatisfying worldly things of beauty.    So one example parallels Augustine's discussion of the rape victims in City of God, while the other parallels his discussion of his relationship with his mistress and the birth of a son as discussed in the Confessions. 

What both types of examples have in common is the acknowledgement that humans are more than minds, they are beings immersed in their environment and affected by it, that our "interiority" isn't as separate from our milieu as we might like to think -- that we are not dualistic "minds in machines".  Augustine can't be a saint while he is living with his mistress.    A rape victim's sense of self is deeply shaken even though she knows she did not consent to the act.  

But I think the "cultic" and "affective" examples given by Smith are radically different in that the cultic ones seem pessimistic about the essential nature of free will (which is what really annoyed me when I read 1984 a long time ago) while the "affective" examples actually hinge on free will and where we aim even while they take place in a concrete, physical environment.      I also couldn't help noticing that Orwell and Wolfe are secular social commentators, so their interest is more about what society does to individuals,  while Waugh and Percy are both Catholics and though social critics, are also more focused on what we might call Augustinian themes on what man does in light of his transcendent destiny. 

This is interesting stuff, though I haven't really pulled out anything practical yet to use in my little homeschool.   It made me think that in some ways, this concept of the human as more than a mind comes very intuitively to most homeschooling moms I know.     We are confronted, immersed in affectivity every moment of every day.   A baby is an icon of the affective nature of learning.    A mom is essentially the "kardia" of the family, the one who keeps things running and working.    According to some "attachment" theory, one of the caregiver's (primarily mom's) most essential roles is to "regulate" the child's affectivity, by providing a kind of emotional rudder that helps him bring order to the chaos of his environment.  I am not talking about lecturing or punishing, either -- the mom's very heartbeat as she holds an infant close helps regulate his own, and much of mothering is just this kind of "ruddering". 

In fact, it only occurred to me now, but Smith's train of thought quite seems to dignify the role of the wife as described in the controversial Ephesians passage which I have discussed before.    According to what he seems to be saying, the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world -- or if the wife and mother is the heart of the home, she is the one that in many ways essentially keeps the rest of the organism going.    I noticed while I was recovering from illness last fall that my testosterone-heavy household (all boys and men besides me) really felt the lack even of my sort of abstracted, vague, undemonstrative kind of presence.

It also made me think of how we don't want to "compel" our children per se --  that is not how God treats us.  He invites us, as in my opinion traditional liturgy invites us, to go beyond ourselves.    Charlotte Mason also talks about how we shouldn't appeal *exclusively* to our childrens' lower desires to influence them to do the right thing.  I like her qualifier there because, for example, Plato thought learning should be accomplished by way of games for the young, and Jewish teachers (so I read somewhere) gave pupils honey to taste on their first day of school so they would associate learning with sweetness.

Following through this is a semi-practical thought -- that my habits and daily work adds up to a kind of "liturgy" if I can only see it that way.  Too often like Charles Ryder I only get a glimpse, which is why I often have to remind myself.     It comes to my mind that this is one reason why our affective natures have traditionally thought important but also inextricably subordinated to our rational natures.   Affective impulses are often very fleeting.  How many people, like Augustine, have said, "Grant me continence, but not yet?"  It is our will (basically an intellectual appetite) and our reason that firms the impulses into resolve and thoughtful action.     This is another thing I have to revisit constantly:  ordering my affections properly and using them to help me to right thought and action.  

Head over to Simply Convivial for more discussion of this reading

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seven Posts in Seven Days: Day One, A Book Meme

 OK, Chari and I are going to play.

7 day blog challenge 7 posts, 7 days

 For Day One, I found this book meme by way of Faith at Household Diary  and thought I would play since I haven't been reading so much recently and want to get back to it.   I have been doing almost all my reading on my Kindle recently.   It's eminently portable, I can highlight passages and review them over at the Amazon site, and I don't have to shuffle through stacks (don't HAVE to -- I still shuffle through bookstacks for fun)

Chari, you should play! 

1. What book are you reading now?

I have several books going usually grouped by category.    Here are my categories.

OrganizationPaperless Home Organization by Mystie Winckler
Devotional/Doctrinal:  PRactical Piety of St Francis de Sales
Fictional/LiteraryTales from the Perilous Realm by JRR Tolkien
Homeschool-Related:  Books to Build On by ED Hirsch (probably will just browse through this for future reference rather than read cover to cover)
Great BooksOn the origin of species by Darwin, and Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel.
Chesterton:  Heretics

2. What book did you just finish?

The Faithful One (a modern rendering of Job) -- a Kindle freebie.
Before that, Club of Queer Trades by Chesterton and The One Thing is Three. 

3. What do you plan to read next?

Rediscover Catholicism for our local Catholic book club
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (rereading for this)
Whatever short story Chari has for March! LOL

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

The ones I am most pained about leaving right now are:
Both of them I got more than halfway through.   But I have to be in the right mental frame to read that kind of book, and sometimes it goes away in the middle.  

There are a lot more.   I want to read all the books on Kolbe's high school list but I keep getting sidetracked.    The main one of those I am frustrated about right now is Democracy in America. 

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Any Shakespeare play or Dickens book that I haven't already read.
Oh, and The Moonstone or Woman in White, since Faith keeps saying how much she likes Wilkie Collins!

6. What is your current reading trend?

While on vacation, I read mostly Kindle freebies.  Most of them cozy-ish mysteries (not the thrillers about pyschotic serial killers) and a few SF/fantasy.   

At home, I tend to have several fairly heavy books going at once.  Or if not heavy, then substantial practical manuals like Mystie's where I want to read slowly in order to actually apply the results : ).    Again, Kindle has been helpful for me in regard to serious reading.    I don't have to have a huge stack of weighty tomes to dig through, and my place is marked for me.  

If you try this meme, please let me know so I can read yours.  I love book posts.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekends with Chesterton: Blogging, and Opinions on the Universe

Weekends with Chesterton: cultivating the intellectual life
Weekends with Chesterton

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. ... We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man's opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters—except everything.  GKC, Heretics
Nowadays this has gotten worse!  We may still care for someone's opinion on subsidizing Amtrak or on the latest movie, especially if it is expressed with humor, vigor, or "authenticity" but we get uncomfortable when things start getting deep.    I like to muse on this blog but I notice that I stay away from things that are difficult.   I was going to say "controversial" but lots of bloggers do enjoy being controversial, even though I don't much.

My own territory of choice is on the boundaries.   I like the misty terrain between what I could call "earth" and "heaven".   For example, right now I have been reading a lot about evolution.   There is empirical evidence and the theories based upon that evidence, and then there are the truths of the faith.  They are distinctly different from each other but one of my primary beliefs is that faith and reason are eminently reconciliable, and no threat to each other.   John Paul says they are like two wings.  This being said, there are lots of "difficulties" on the margins, details that remain to be worked out.   Newman said that a thousand difficulties do not add up to one doubt.   I agree.  For me, difficulties are like puzzles.   If you can resolve them properly, you end up seeing something you didn't see before.   And it is always some way in which God truly works marvellously. 

The "earth" "heaven" dichotomy takes place in daily life too.  I read the Gospels, say, and make a commitment to live out what I read.   Then I look at my life today.   How then do I live this?    There is a boundary issue.   Those practical daily boundary issues are much harder for me to deal with than the theoretical ones.  For one thing, it is going to matter in a direct way that has implications for life from that point.   For another thing, I am fallen -- while the truths of the faith and the truths of empirical investigation are always reconciliable, and the only problems are the present limitations of human knowledge and my own mental limitations, reconciling my life with the Life in the Gospels is the task of a God, not a person.

But there you go.  I am not God, but I abide in Him and Him in me.     I get to have God work in me and my life marvellously.   I have seen it happen, though often enough I get in the way. 

I suppose after all I just did talk about "everything!"    And I guess, though I was going to talk about how margin-dwelling is hard to discuss without inadvertently voicing some sort of error,  most of my margin-journeys do end up right back in the center like that.   Something like what Chesterton says about the man who travels around the world and ends up at his own front door.   When I think of it like that, blogging has been a help to me.  Things I can't necessarily say in "real life", without making people back off slowly with their eyes warily fixed on me, can be said on here.    Maybe you do back off, but with blogging, there is that option, with no hard feelings. 

This is a rambling post!  I am just finding my blogging-feet again after a couple of weeks off!  Praying that Sarah's babies, and everyone else who is sick including my family, get better quickly! 

Off now to look at Sarah's link-up for more Chesterton quotes and reflections