Caleb’s Crossing

Beautiful prose by Geraldine Brooks:

Whatever joy there might have been in the summer that followed Caleb’s coming to us, it ended on a day so sweet and still that I moved through it as if floating in a bath of honey. It had rained hard the night before; that kind of heavy, sharp-scented summer rain that lays the dust and washes the pollen from the air, leaving everything rinsed and bright. The fragrance of ripeness and bloom grew more pungent as the morning waxed fair. The harbor sparkled, and when the lightest of breezes rippled through the sea grass, each blade shimmered like a filament of beaten silver.

On a day so Godsent, your mind is untroubled, the entire world seems well. You gird for tragedy on a different sort of day.

— from Caleb’s Crossing (2011)

Living in the Present with Children

Probably all mothers of young children hear this saying: “Enjoy them while you can. They grow up so quickly.”

I’m here to remind myself that I am enjoying them. I am living with them. I take care of them. I don’t cart them off to daycare to let someone else be with them most of the day. I don’t even bus them off to school. I teach them myself! We have lots of cuddle time on the couch as I read countless pages of books to them. We have good times all year round.

I am living in the present with my children, day by day, moment by moment. We live in phases, and this is the phase for enjoying the children at home. In some other, future phase I suppose I’ll be enjoying some extra time to myself.

Perhaps those older people hinting that I’m not doing enough to enjoy my children are actually being wistful. They wish they could relive a past phase. Perhaps they should enjoy their present time, a time to sit back and reflect. It’s not too easy to reflect in the middle of a busy homeschooling day:) All these phases of our lives have good aspects and bad ones.

As I end this post, I am reminded of a spiritual truth: God only gives us the grace to get through the things that actually happen. He gives us grace for each moment of our lives as they unfold. An alternate life in my imagination is not something God gives grace to live. That’s a good reminder for me to be present and be mindful of what God has actually blessed me with.

Books I’m reading now

I am reading two good novels right now, and they are slow readers. Something about the language slows me down. Not to mention I’ve been busier lately, preparing for birthdays and school routines and an upcoming season of homeschool co-op.

My downstairs book is Remembering by Wendell Berry (1988). The main character is a farmer who is also a husband, father, and speaker at farm conventions. He is trying to adjust to a hook on his right arm where some farm machinery removed his hand. He leaves behind an almost ruined marriage as he goes to San Francisco for a convention where his bitterness embarrasses him in front of the audience. If I were my husband, and I was still a writer and still part me, this might be the book I wrote. Hurray for Wendell Berry and his down-to-earth farming sense combined with excellent descriptive prose and a sound insight into the human farmer condition.

My upstairs book is Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2012). It took me awhile to understand who this book was really about, but now that I’m more than half-way through, I am delighted with the story. It’s about the daughter of Calvinist minister, Rev. Mayfield, who converts many Wampanoag Indian to Christianity. It is also about the first Native American man to graduate from Harvard University. Puritan stories are always interesting to me because I am raised in the Calvinist tradition as well. And it’s Geraldine Brooks writing the story, which means the characters are deep and rich, very sympathetic. I might write more about this book when I’m finished with it.

I am so thankful for good literature.

A Winter’s Day in Charlottenlund

A Winter's Day in Charlottenlund by Peder Mork Monsted, 1918
A Winter’s Day in Charlottenlund by Peder Mork Monsted, 1918

If the weather had cooperated the kids and I would have gone owling this evening with some people from the Horicon Marsh. But the wind picked up and the roads drifted over. We didn’t go.

This painting captures that trick of late afternoon winter sun. Monsted is a Danish artist and worth looking at. His paintings are crisp and bright. He paints trees as he sees them – no generalizing or trying to make them pretty. I think it must be his love of nature that shows through each painting, infusing it with beauty. Art is not just a pretty picture. It’s a message, a worldview, a special interpretation. It says, “Look at me,” but it also says, “Look the way my artist looked.” The viewer brings something to the interpretation, too, some associations or memories. But I think the thing that draws us into a work of art is the invitation to look through someone else’s eyes. Even if the painting is so realistic it looks photographic, it is still a painting, still a product of an artist. The artist cannot paint something, disappear, and then everyone can pretend it was made by divine means. Look at real nature for that. A painting is a look into humanity, even if it is a landscape.

My thoughts after this evening’s book study meeting…

Another evening with five ladies and Miss Mason’s philosophies on education. We discussed curriculum, and the wideness of the range of ideas brought to the children. We discussed science and math and how to keep the children from getting bogged down by technicalities. We discussed hanging works of art in our bathrooms. We discussed loving music and hating it, loving history and hating it. I think we are all agreed that we homeschool partly because we like how much we’re learning. It’s like we’re making up for those awful history textbooks, those hours of sitting in desks doing nothing, those teachers who did not inspire us the way good books do now.

I don’t think we’re really doing this for ourselves. We all have strong convictions about home education being good for our children. But I do know that my selfishness could extend in two branches, one desiring a quiet chunk of time during school hours for my personal writing and housework, the other desiring to teach things that I really enjoy. Either way, I’m certain my children would survive. Homeschooling isn’t really about survival, at least not in my case. It’s about making a choice to lead my children down a certain path which I believe is better than the other paths available.

It is God’s grace that the good path to lead them down is one I also enjoy to walk.

Gilead

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

— from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, 2004

This is my second time through Gilead, and I pulled far more out of it than the first time. I think it helps to read Home first. This particular quote is near the end. It struck me as encouraging. Sometimes it’s difficult just to find a reason to keep going. We come up empty when we search for one, and then we have to trust that God has reasons we know nothing about. And even if God has only one reason for me to be living right here, right now, then that reason is sufficient. There’s no reason to flee the scene. No reason to hide. No reason to not get up in the morning.

Waiting

Waiting by Gyula Zorkoczy (1873-1932)
Waiting by Gyula Zorkoczy (1873-1932)

A devotional book I picked up last night spoke exactly to the sore spots in my heart. God is enough. God has done everything for me, and of course He is going to help me today. Of course He will help me tomorrow. Of course He will keep helping me, whenever I need help. If I am a lonely person waiting on a quiet roadside or a lonely person waiting in the midst of loud people, God is already there with me.

Sometimes I think theology could be as simple as that. God is enough and He is near.