Since I missed the opportunity to see a friend sing in a performance of Hayden’s The Creation I’ve been wanting to listen to it. I don’t have a recording. Isn’t YouTube wonderful? We listened to this today while eating scones since my daughter was sick and our usual driving to and fro screeched to a halt. Well we started by eating scones . . . it’s rather long so some people also ran around the house, danced, and built a train track that went under my desk while others folded laundry and did dishes. I’ll let you guess who did what.
My children and I really enjoyed the story of the first thanksgiving as told by Graham Green. It’s available through amazon prime stream for free, which is how we watch movies these days. (It started with an addiction to books . . . then an obscene amount of diapers delivered to our house and now this)
The movie is a bit slow but the story is very powerful. I cried as Squanto appeared to the pilgrims for the first time and miraculously speaks their language. This is a story like St. Patrick’s or Elizabeth Elliot’s of great forgiveness. It is encouraging to be reminded that the tragedy and abuse in our lives can give us a voice to help others who are in desperate need.
Why do we accept so easily that we might want foods that aren’t good for us but question the very notion that there is such a thing as music that might be bad for us? Although we seem to be losing the terminology to connotations of snobbery the very notion of “good taste” connects the value of food to the value of other pillars of culture such as music, poetry and the visual arts. In a recent article within the Journal of the Society for Classical Learning Ken Myers explains how for centuries it was assumed that good taste is a learned skill and that the purpose of education is to train students to acquire good taste so that they would love what is good and shun what is evil.
Any mother of small children knows this is a daily and daunting task. My two year old for instance insists that he must only eat bananas and graham crackers with peanut butter. My first two children were always brilliant eaters ready to devour lima beans, raw mushrooms and lentils so I’ve been stunned by the incredible pickiness of my younger two. Especially the baby. I look at his older sister and see that with much encouragement she has begun to accept some forms of sauce and peas and broccoli. Dum spiro spero. There is time for his palate to develop although I don’t suppose it would naturally unless I continue offering and suggesting alternatives. And it isn’t only food we discuss.
Mothers are not usually at the mercy of cultural relativism. We are bombarded by the conclusions of studies and the wisdom of authorities as to what our children should eat, watch, sing and play. I am constantly worrying over the shows my children watch, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to and the amount of time they play outside. These things are important and I wouldn’t believe myself if I were to suggest otherwise. Perhaps, however we should be more concerned about the process of where we are taking our children rather than fixating on what products they are using at this exact moment. There is so much truth, goodness and beauty in the world and perhaps the most important way as a mother to teach my children to love the true good and beautiful is to delight in such things myself. Sure they may run around the house like crazy people while I play Handel’s Israel in Egypt in the background and not notice, I don’t play it for them, I play it for myself. I may only get two lines of Dante read while the kids are suppose to be playing on the Chick-fil-e playground but at least I am holding a cup of coffee and a book and my body remembers what that’s like for a moment. They may be whining about how it’s taking forever as we pray the final prayers of the evening prayer service but I need to pray those words. I hope in the context of kisses and laughter one day the children will grow to love the things my husband and I love.
“If a lesser thing allure your love,
It is a vestige of that light which – though
imperfectly – gleams through that lesser thing.”
In Canto V Beatrice speaks to Dante as they ascend from the sphere of the moon to the sphere of Mercury. Dante is overcome in the last canto by her radiant beauty and she tells him, “I am so because of my perfected vision – as I grasp the good, so I approach the good in act.” She sees the face of God and becomes godlike. “We shall be like him [God], for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2)
This wasn’t the Beatrice Dante fell in love with on earth. There is was a much more moon-like reflection of God’s beauty. It was a “vestige” of the Divine light that first caught Dante’s attention as a young man. Dante seems to use his infatuation as a picture of all earthly beauty. All of the beauties of this earth are truly delightful, he seems to say, but only as the moon compares to the sun. If we persist to heaven we will shine like stars.
As I slowly finish the Divine Comedy I hear in passages such as this the echo of Augustine. In his On Christian Doctrine Augustine tells the story of weary travelers who take a ship to return home but become so distracted by the beautiful ports and the excitement of sea travel that they never return to their homeland. (Clearly Augustine was envisioning a cushy sort of cruise like voyage and not the Mayflower). We are, as long as we are on earth, he says, like these weary travelers. We must never be fixated on the beauty that surrounds us but we must always remember that the earthly beauty delights us exactly because it reminds us of our true home.
In a great article on The New Criterion Mark Bauerlein explains a bit why the humanities are worthwhile. After being classically educated and hearing again and again that the reason to study Latin was “to increase an understanding of English vocabulary” and “to learn how to think logically because of those declensions and conjugations,” I’m happy to hear him point out how self destructive these arguments actually are. Here is a longer excerpt:
“In a word, the defenders rely on what the humanities do, not what they are. If you take humanities courses, they assure, you will become a good person, a critical thinker, a skilled worker, a cosmopolitan citizen. What matters is how grads today think and act, not what Swift wrote, Kant thought, or O’Keeffe painted. No doubt, all of the defenders love particular novels and films, symphonies and paintings, but those objects play no role in their best defense. Ironically, the approach resembles the very utilitarianism the defenders despise, the conversion of liberal education into a set of instruments for producing selected mentalities and capabilities.”
Bauerlein goes on to suggest that the best defense of the humanities is in fact the humanities themselves. If teachers of the humanities would only be so humble as to admit that they are stewards and guides we might all still be able to make our way to enjoying the good stuff. If they would only be so kind as to sit down so we can see the picture hanging on the wall behind them we might get to enjoy it. As in the case of learning Latin, the point is after all so that you can read and enjoy things that were written in Latin. O tempora! O mores!
(The above picture is my own, hand study charcoal on toned paper)
I was so excited to read this article from the New York Times about Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal. However, as a Christian, it is always interesting to see how a non-Christian interprets a believer’s motives and inspiration. Who can understand Dante’s somewhat disgusting prayer, “Enter into my breast; within me breathe / the very power you made manifest / when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.” (Paradiso I.19 Mandelbaum) In other words he’s begging Apollo to flay him alive so that he will be no more himself but completely at the power of divine inspiration. It is as profound to the Christian and as disgusting to the non-Christian as all of the “bloody Jesus songs.”
Inspiration – the word itself means an intake of breath. Whose breath? This is the incomprehensible question. If breath is only oxygen from the meaningless nowhere then it is merely an absurd formality to invoke the muses or any other divine agent. Here is what Marilynne Robinson makes of it in the above referenced article:
“I would be curious to know what story or part of a story by O’Connor should be attributed to the Lord. It can seem self-aggrandizing or simply bizarre to ascribe any thought or work to a seemingly external source, named or unnamed. Nevertheless, Hesiod, Pindar and any number of poets and prophets before and after them have declared indebtedness of this kind.”
When one considers that none of us are here by our choice and that we are entirely made up of atoms that we did not assemble ourselves and have heard our whole lives long words and thoughts that we did not invent it seems a bit absurd to me to be so confused at how one could attribute a story to an exterior being. As the Genesis narrative tell us, all breath, even a sneeze, is the result of the original Divine inspiration.
(The above print is my own, Pentecost gelatin monoprint)
Do we purposely close our eyes to the wonder around us? Try staring at an object for an extended period of time and your vision fades. We can’t look at a color very long until our eyes are over exposed and we need to close them or look at something else to give them a rest so that we can begin to see those colors again. If we look at one color long enough it will be imprinted on our eyes until we’ve had a chance to recover, like the blinding flash of a friend’s camera. We also can’t see everything around us since we only have two eyes and they both face forward. We have limited vision and we can’t look at any one thing for very long. So we stop looking. Or to put it another way we look at so many things we don’t see any one thing.
Drawing focuses our attention on one thing. We look at the subject and really look. We stop and notice certain parts, certain intricacies we’ve never noticed before and we wonder. We compare what we think we see to what we know and sometimes what we know changes as a result. Drawing well is a very slow experience and it takes a great deal of practice but it teaches us to really see.
The artist isn’t a copy machine. After the lengthy conversation between eye and hand something else is revealed, a different interpretation of the subject. A gardener develops intimate knowledge of her plants not so that she can leave them untamed but so that she can harness their wild beauty and strength and reign them in to the splendor of a bound garden. A gardener frames a bit of nature and sets it apart from the rest as a place of encounter. In the same way an artist studies nature and then rearranges her. An artist binds a bit of vision to a point and sets it apart from all the other looking. What will we encounter when we see it?
P.S. One thing you may see in the above drawing is an excellent opportunity for a kids’ coloring sheet. If so, enjoy!