Tuesday, January 27, 2015

when the light is cold

I had some apprehension before buying our little house but since moving in only one regret- I can't see the sunset. It's hidden directly behind a neighbor's old, giant pine tree.

The light-filled kitchen in our previous home was one of the things I loved most. And watching the sky as I made dinner each night such an important part of the liturgy of my day.

It is January. I am hoping that the earth's tilt in summer will grant me more of a view. Or maybe the Spirit will prompt our neighbor to cut down that tree.

Or maybe the sun will be partially hidden from me always, for the duration of our time here, and I will only get a view of the edges. Will it be enough to know that the heavens are declaring God's glory? Can I behold the beauty of the Lord- though obstructed- by faith?

For most of the year I follow the light. I watch the way it softens the earth and calls forth tulips. I watch it rest on the red nectarines. The way it changes everything in Autumn. The longest nights give the day a kind of dark hush which makes the light raw and tender.

I trust the light and am wooed by it and admire it endlessly.

And then there is January, February, March- the light seems to grimace. It is flat, like an insincere smile.

oppresses, like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes.

Winter light is everywhere and nowhere. I want to close the blinds, to hide from the cold light and it's cruel shadows. In winter I prefer to walk in the dark, the nighttime fog, the snowy trenches.

I believe God is near to us in the dark, that even the darkness is not dark to Him.

When the light is unfamiliar or obstructed, when God seems distant or indifferent, I think it's okay to recognize that and to hide in the shadow- the cleft of the rock.

It could be His glory passing by. It is too good for us to bear. (Exodus 33)

The light we cannot bear, the goodness we can't recognize- has he put us in the cleft of the rock? Is he covering us with his hand until He has passed by?

We follow His light through the year- maybe springtime we see His back. Summer His robes, Autumn the hem of His garment. In Winter we hide our eyes again.

The earth lies frozen and trembling until spring.

There's a certain Slant of light, (320)

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Friday, January 23, 2015

How to shape a soul?

Some days I can't believe I get to do this every day- read books like it's my job. 

The more I learn about Classical education, the more I believe in it. Classical education is about soul formation. It is the cultivation of virtue.

How does one cultivate virtue in a child? How to shape a soul? Through story. By reading good books.

It is so simple and so glorious. This resonates deeply with me as books are what feed me. I have been saved over and over by just the right book at just the right time, and the chance to pass this on to my kids- to provide them with the space and time to hear stories and talk about stories, for their days to be shaped by story- this is the greatest gift I can imagine. For the kids and me.

I try to think of the priorities of our homeschool day as two or three big rocks, and the rest are the smaller things which find a way to settle around the edges. The biggest rock is to read aloud. Reading aloud bookends our day- morning and evening, and is woven throughout our day. I have needed to learn and re-learn and learn again, to keep this our top priority. It feels good to zoom through the text books, checking off our lists- and that happens as well- but reading aloud is the most important. Even if nothing else is accomplished, if we have read, it is enough.

Jesus taught in parables, because the deepest truths are recognized through story. All of history is a story, our lives are a story, and the ability to find ones self within a greater narrative is, I believe, the way to live a virtuous life. 

I can tell you so many ways I fail as a mother. I'm not very strict, I've never been good at making rules or enforcing rules. I had this problem of being quite madly in love with my babies and also a personality which is very flexible and go with the flow, I'm not very authoritative by nature. I see so many moms who seem to have this thing nailed down, who can run a tight ship and I feel so far from that in many ways. 

I say this very humbly.

Ah, but books. I may have failed in a thousand ways, and will fail, but I know that I have read to my children. Maybe this is the only thing I do well. 


Something that has re-inspired me recently is Sarah Mackenzie's conversation with Sarah Clarkson, adult daughter of Sally Clarkson, in this podcast: On Living a Storyformed Life.  To hear an adult (and student at Oxford) speak so positively and eloquently of her homeschool experience- and being raised on and formed by books- is truly inspiring!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

what I'm into (1/15/15)

I started reading this classic kids lit to the kids several times, and each time I failed to finish. There is something about the way it is told- I don't read it well, and the kids grew bored. I decided to try one more time, on audio this time. And it is wonderful! The kids love listening this way. We have been curling up at bedtime and the gentle voices absolutely whisper the kids to sleep. It also saves my voice when I am tired in the evening. I am thinking we need to "read" many of the classics this way.  

(Next up: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We decided to splurge and ordered the theatrical version. I have been waiting to read this with the kids and I think they are finally old enough. So exciting!)

Dutch Blitz 
Sam got this game for Christmas, and we are addicted. I love that the kids are old enough to play fun games- and we have moved past Candy Land.

The Pioneer Woman Granola Bars


The Art of Asking- Jim got me this for Christmas, I think after googling books for creative types- or something like that. It's not a book I would have thought to pick-up, and I joked about the title- does this mean I need to start asking for help? But as I'm reading I am surprised- yes, I do need to start asking for help. This is something that I am terrible at- thankful for the unexpected nudge.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pax et Bonum (and an imperfect house tour)

This morning I woke up thinking how thankful I am for our house. I crept past the kids' rooms thinking how thankful I am for these peaceful rooms.

It is bizarre but true, I've found with every move there is one last word- some word spoken or phrase left taped somewhere after all has been moved out. Without intending to, it would become the word I was moving into, the theme of our next home.

(The first: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?)
(Second: Every wise woman builds her house)
(Third: The Examen)
(Fourth: It is what it is?)

This time it was Pax et Bonum. Left after the house was cleared, on a yellow sticky note over the place where my desk used to be. I left it as a blessing for the next occupants.

I believe that Peace + Goodness is meant to dwell with us, that it is what we are meant to cultivate and pursue in all of our ambitions. I think it is what led us to buy this house.

The previous owners lived most of their lives here, and it seems they both passed away within the last year or so. From the way the house was cared for I imagine they found deep satisfaction here- contentment has settled into the bones of this house. Anytime I am tempted to think of our house as small I think of them- clearly small is a relative term, greatly influenced by generation.

We didn't set out to become minimalists, but we did want a fifteen year mortgage (Yay, Cleveland home prices). I admit I was nervous about moving into a smaller place, the main reason being that we love having friends in and the kids friends. I determined that I wouldn't let a smaller place deter me, and so far it is just fine. We naturally want to gather in small circles. Kids are oblivious to room size.

The only constriction we have encountered so far was the need to get rid of a lot of extra stuff- which feels good anyway and has been entirely positive. I was amazed by how much stuff we had which could be put to better use by donation rather than long forgotten in the basement. There is no extra storage here so I keep a donation box in the garage- anything that doesn't have a home is donated. 

By the way, I don't necessarily think that being super organized or minimalist is the only or best virtue. I admire people who can live with a lot going on and prioritize the living over keeping things in order. I often wish I could be more like that. But I seem to need order or I can't think.

I haven't decorated yet. When I took these pictures at Christmas we still didn't have anything on the walls, we plan to update the kitchen and the bedrooms are still in the works. But for now, here is a little imperfect tour of our house . ..

The view from our front entry (in the early morning):

We love this added on den. The wood looks a little bright photos, but we don't plan to change anything. There are windows on three sides and lots of trees, perfect for bird watching.

Here is the front room in daylight. (I've since rearranged the furniture. Of course.)

From the entry . . .

This table never stops working . .. 

We are hoping to knock out that wall on the left and open up the kitchen. Also move the bucket of curtain rods :-P.

The kitchen is the room I worried about, since I spend exactly 93% of my life in there. But then I read The Smitten Kitchen, and if so much inspiration can come from her 42 square foot kitchen, surely I can work with mine!

The basement is partially finished. We carpeted it and organized all of the toys, dress-up clothes, games, books for the coziest, greatest kids space ever- which the girls loved for two weeks, until they spotted six ants and now refuse to ever step foot down there again. (Oh I have the most nervous kids).

It isn't perfect and there is still a lot to do. Updating- especially the outside- will be an ongoing project for many years. But there is peace and goodness here. And I love it. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Lila by Marilynne Robinson

My soul devoured this book. I want so badly for it to be true. I want to believe there really are such kind people in the world. That things that happen have meaning, that we exist on purpose and for a purpose and that the world will break your heart yes and take your breath away too, but to rely heavier on the latter.

I want the theology she struggles through in this story to be truer than true- that love carries us in her arms and we all find our way, eventually, home.

Some deep part of me believes that it is.

(I love everything Marilynne Robinson has written. Her prose keeps me weeping and hoping, I finish the book quieter and gentler and every common bush is afire with God. One of the loveliest love stories I have read. I am beginning to think that only a good theologian can tell a really good love story).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January is all fog

I spent days thinking about the new year. I made dozens of resolutions, lists and lists, as though a new year will magically make me a different person. More hours in the day. A kitchen that cleans itself. Every year the same. I hover around failure. I stir the soup.

January is all fog. All grey and mist, the clouds dip to the streets, fill up the trees. I wake in the in-between light when sky reflects the snow and one doesn't know if it is day or night.

Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going. (Heb.11:8)

We got a bird feeder for Christmas. Word hadn't spread until yesterday when snow covered the ground, and then the birds came. They came in pairs and dozens, birds and birds and birds. All morning we watched them and looked up their names. Occasionally a swoop of ten or more, then gone. We refill the feeder at noon.

I watch from the sink, the way their color will shock, a sudden red in the fog of white and evergreen. 
The world is hard and spent and then there is this life. Wild lurks at our edges.

I know that I will relinquish the lists. The endless self-improvement, the SMART goals and sensible five year plans. Who knows, who knows.

My resolution this year is only to feed what is wild. Only life. Only what is tender or raw or broken or beautiful. To be more alive this year, more human. To feel deeply and believe madly and to not know where I am going. And to pray. To walk in failure and weakness and vulnerability- fog and uncertainty- where the wild red watches.