books · faith

A Year With No Books

A few years back I made an odd new year’s commitment; a year with no books.  It was an experiment actually.  My logic ran like this- if you are so obsessed with ancient Christianity why not give up your books?  Why not live one year without reading, like a first century Christian housewife?  I have always had a love/hate relationship with academic style spirituality.  The notion that one can become a theologian by learning and discerning without some sort of asceticism has always bothered me, but then again I am sometimes a scholastic wannabe, imagining myself gaining spiritual knowledge through the things I read, progressing somewhere between a novice and a priest.  At other times I denounce the Gutenberg Press as the catalyst for the modern spiritual demise.

Years of research and deep reflection on the nature of learning has left me with some pretty outrageous opinions regarding compulsory education.  I am not even sure that it is beneficial that we make children learn to read. I understand the pragmatic necessity of a literate populace, commonality being a strong motivation.  However, there are many benefits to being illiterate- at least in theory.  This theory was strengthened when I got to know a boy named Peter, born with Down Syndrome, and a saint indeed.  His spiritual integrity had nothing to do with acquiring more and more spiritual knowledge, but rather his mystical and other-worldly love of the Church, the saints, and Christ.

If you believe that I am carried away by some romantic notion of Christianity, let me assure you that my understanding of Christianity and its mission is much more nuanced than that.  I regard Christian education to be one of the highest callings, especially the education of children.  And yet, I am more and more convinced that Christian education is a contradiction of terms.  Something about John 1 makes me wonder- the Word as Man, the God-Man, the Logos. And then there is Acts-  the upper room, speaking in tongues, the Revelation and the resulting mass conversions and birth of the Church. Those gathered experienced Pentacost, and they spoke the language of God.  These theophanies did not come as man crouched over a book -revelation came as they waited upon the Lord, as a mighty rushing wind, setting their heads on fire!  Sometimes I wish my head would spontaneously combust and burn away my ideas, my knowledge, my gods.

I do believe we can read without making words our god. However, I do not believe reading is essential for Christian theosis.  We can become like God without reading, and sometimes I think we would have it better if we didn’t read so much.  And hear I sit writing something for you to read- I’m bad, I know.

Sometimes I feel like my spiritual state corresponds with my purchasing power.  When I am down, backslid, and otherwise apathetic I buy a book and read about lofty things.  It gives me the satisfaction that I am progressing.  The more things I can buy the better Christian I become…nonsense.  Christ gave us the disciplines of Christian piety, and they have nothing to do with consumerism.

My year without books was an experiment to see if I could live without the written word.  Could I pray, could I listen, could I be silent? Could I fast and deny myself intellectual gratification?  Could I give of my time by being truly present?  Could I give up my consumerism by simulating a situation in which many who are less fortunate than I experience as normal? Could I listen in Church? Could I live like an ancient Christian housewife?  No books, no words, just prayer and work and presence?

It was a strange year, but I did it.

After the year was up I did not return to my old reading self.  For one, I gave up reading theological books almost completely.  I read the stories of the saints, and I love a good tale.  My year without books reminded me of the women I met in southern Mexico who lived on dirt floors and shared a community outdoor bathroom.  They owned Bibles and that was all, and yet I wept at their piety. It humbled me.  I learned how little I pray in that year, and how hard it is to come out of my mind and into the moment.  I also began to understand my own heart.  I also sought God differently, like I did as a young woman, as one crying out, or rather pouring out my heart.  A new year always reminds me of the year I gave up books. It was good. I missed my books, but it was good.

I attached the account of St Romanos below, one of my favorites and a witness to the Gospel as the Word.

St Romanos the Melodist of Constantinople (556)

He was born in Emessa in Syria, probably of Jewish parents. He served as a deacon in Beirut, then in Constantinople at the time of Patriarch Euphemius (490-496). He was illiterate, had no musical training, and was a poor singer; thus he was despised by many of the more cultivated clergy. One night, after Romanos had prayed to the Mother of God, she appeared to him in a dream, held out a piece of paper and told him to swallow it. On the following day, the Nativity of Christ, Romanos went to the ambon and, with an angelic voice, sang ‘Today the Virgin…’, which is still sung as the Kontakion of the Feast. All present were amazed at the completely unexpected beauty of the hymn and of Romanos’ singing. St Romanos went on to compose more than a thousand Kontakia (which were once long hymns, not the short verses used in church today). He is almost certainly the author of the sublime Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God, which has served as the model for all other Akathists. He reposed in peace, while still a deacon of the Great Church in Constantinople. Many of his hymns were inspired by the hymns of St Ephraim of Syria.

books · faith · homeschooling · Uncategorized

Orthodox Education

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An excerpt from the description of Sakharov‘s  I Love, Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony.

Because Fr Sophrony traversed the major religious and intellectual movements of our time, his spiritual make-up is enriched by various currents of thought. Notwithstanding this diversity, never does his theology transcend the boundaries set out by the Orthodox tradition. The patristic heritage has for him indubitable authority. He absorbed the legacy of the Fathers in its living depth. This came not by way of an academic research, but through his ascetic strivings on Mount Athos. His wide spiritual and intellectual background elevates the Orthodox tradition to an authentic level where it opens up to universal dimensions.

This came not by way of academic research…
What came?
The patristic heritage.
What is the patristic heritage?
It is The Way.
It is Christ as ultimate reality.
But through his ascetic strivings…
To follow The Way we must abandon ideas and pray.

Orthodox education is at it’s best when prayer is at the center.  If we as educators labor, let us labor to pray.  Let us strive to unite the mind in the heart.  Let this be the heritage we seek.  And trust that Christ is ultimate reality, and all good things come from Him.

books · Lent

Faust & Frankenstein

“Es irrt der Mensch, so lang ‘er strebt”
“Man must err, as long as he strives.”

 

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When I told Father Gregory that I was reading Frankenstein he scolded me and said, “NOT during Lent.”  I reassured him that Frankenstein is the stuff Lent is made of…that it is a profound critique of one of man’s supreme passions…the pursuit of knowledge.

I finished Frankenstein and proceeded with Goethe’s Faust…another dark tale of intellectual and spiritual greed.

Faust- Man’s greatest attempts at playing God makes him no more than a sorcerer.

Frankenstein- And what he conjures is monstrous.

What does all this have to do with Lent, and the struggle?

Lent is rest…it is a noetic oasis…it is the time when man strips his intellect of grandeur and becomes as the dust…it is a way out of the madness we have created,  to undo 0ur conjuring.

Lent is the struggle to cease the struggle…a paradox that weakens us as it gives strength. 

 

 

 

books · food · kids · learning · seasons · winter

Long Cold Winter

“Ho, Mouse!” says Hare.
“Long time no see!”
So they pop white corn. 
And they brew black tea.
            -Bear Snores On
books · family · homemaking · seasons

Homemaking Inspiration

I was able to steal away for a couple of hours on Monday after I dropped my older girls off at drama practice.  I went to my favorite book store and bought the second Madame Chic book with my birthday money.  It is a really soft and yummy read.  I love homemaking books…and cafe lattes.

Throughout my homemaking journey so far I have discovered a few inspirational resources that I return to over and over again.  I love my home…but I have not always loved it like I should. In those times of drudgery I turn to my library.  Today I thought I might share a few favorites with you.

The Spirit of Loveliness   Emilie Barnes.  Anything by Emilie Barnes is good when it comes to homemaking.  However, this book is my favorite.

Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman  Anne Ortland.  A classic, but written in a more formal style.

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy  Sarah Ban Breathnach.  This book is wonderful for reviving the seasons and learning to love the everyday little things.  However, I do not ascribe to much of her religious philosophy in this book.  I read it for seasonal inspiration.

My Lady of Cleves  Margaret Campbell Barnes.  I love the womanliness of Anne in this book.  She is the fourth wife of Henry VIII.  If you enjoy Tudor drama…you will love this book.  This historical fiction is well written and always seems to draw me in.  The myth of beauty is debunked in the portrayal of the woman Henry VIII called a Flanders Mare.  Anne’s beauty is what I consider true beauty, and too bad for King Henry that he did not appreciate it. She would have been a wonderful wife and queen.

 The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Woman’s Work”    Kathleen Norris.  This is a very introspective and spiritual look at a woman’s vocation.

books · homeschooling · kids · learning · play · winter

January Preschool

Make coffee filter snowflakes.
Learn the snowflake song by Jean Warren.
Cotton-Ball counting.
Have a tea party and serve Blueberry muffins and Ceylon tea.
Make bird feeder pine cones.
Learn the Seven Continents song.
Make a paper patch quilt and practice shape recognition.
Learn the meanings of the words: greedy and generosity.


Cut and glue vegetables from magazines onto a cut out soup pot.  
Practice the names of vegetables.  
Help make a pot of soup with mommy.  
Play which onion is bigger.  
Practice setting the table properly.
Field Trip Ideas: Ice Skating, Quilt Shop, Kitchen Store
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books · faith · family · kids · learning · Nativity · Orthodoxy · parenting · seasons · winter

A Few Nativity Pictures

A collection of Christmas books.

Wrapped up to be a sweet surprise for the evenings of December as we prepare for Jesus to be born.

Our Jesse tree.  We have since abandoned the hanging of the ornaments.  Brother Bear seems to have decided that all paper products should be torn to shreds.  We are reading, praying, and lighting a candle.  However, I often find myself praying this prayer, “Lord please accept this very imperfect prayer.”  Evening prayers are interesting with a toddler and baby.  The interruptions and noise make me feel like we are just scraping by sometimes.  But, we keep practicing.  Glory to God for all things.