Another poetry magazine arrived in my mail this week. Time of Singing is a Christian publication. There’s a poem by me in there, but the poem I want to talk about is called “Saved” by William Jolliff of Oregon. I’ll only quote the first stanza:
In the cinderblock churches of Fulton County
the Sunday school rooms were catacombs.
Like not quite empty bins of gray potatoes
I can remember my Sunday school rooms quite clearly, too. They are an interesting subject. One of them was the tiny church library. Another was a room partitioned off by a sliding, corrugated wall (help me out here… I can’t think of the right word for that). The room contained a brown felt banner showing a cornucopia and the words “How Great Thou Art.” When I think of Sunday School, I think of long tables and cold gray folding chairs. I think of the brown Berber carpet. I think of old, kind teachers. I think of being asked questions (I don’t remember if I answered them or not; maybe very quietly; maybe I shrugged). Interestingly enough, I don’t remember the lessons. I don’t remember doing memory work (I’m sure I did do that; I just don’t remember it.) It was the things I stared at that I remember most.
This is where I would like to be right now: staring into a Rothko abstract. No pressure. No nothing. Just color and whatever it is that brightens it. Saturation. I want to be saturated in something. I’m stretched out in too many places, ready to snap, a brittle rubber band. This painting is most certainly the opposite of a brittle rubber band.
Sunday morning’s sermon taught me a thing or two about church. And about Psalm 87. Verse 2 says, “the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.” Before Sunday, I would not have known how to explain that verse. The meaning is surprising: Zion is church (the gathering of God’s people to worship Him) and the dwelling places of Jacob are homes. God loves when we worship Him in church more than He loves when we worship Him in our homes.
If that wasn’t in the Bible, I probably wouldn’t believe it. I like to worship at home more than I do at church. Church is stressful. Getting ready for church is the most stressful. Having a child fall asleep in evening church only to be awake afterward until midnight is not something I look forward to. But it doesn’t matter what I think. We go to church because that’s what God wants. That’s where God will bless us the most. I don’t know what kind of blessings they are. They are probably the invisible-to-the-human-eye type of blessings. At least for me, when going to church is often hard to do. I do believe that God does bless us, though.
During the silent prayer at the beginning of worship, I sometimes pray that our worship be a pleasing aroma to Him. I think that’s part of why God likes us to worship together as a church body; the prayers and songs and praise rise to Him in a fuller sense, like the aroma of an entire garden. It has more depth than the smell of a single rose.
My upstairs and downstairs books are both a trial to get through at the moment. I am so uninspired I’ve been watching TV, for goodness’ sake. So I pulled out an old favorite, Wuthering Heights, and found a speech near the end by Mr. Heathcliff, describing himself.
“I have neither a fear nor a presentiment, nor a hope of death. Why should I? With my hard constitution and temperate mode of living, and unperilous occupations, I ought to, and probably shall, remain above ground till there is scarcely a black hair on my head. And yet, I cannot continue in this condition! I have to remind myself to breathe–almost to remind my heart to beat! And it is like bending back a stiff spring; it is by compulsion that I do the slightest act not prompted by one thought; and by compulsion that I notice anything alive or dead, which is not associated with one universal idea. I have a single wish, and my whole being and faculties are yearning to attain it. They have yearned towards it so long, and so unwaveringly, that I’m convinced it will be reached – and soon – because it has devoured my existence; I am swallowed up in the anticipation of its fulfillment.”
— from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, 1847
I love Emily Bronte’s characters for being so extreme. They are not shallow. They are deeply involved in one thing. They allow their emotions to burn steadily and forever. This is inspiration for my own daydreams, my own writing. Leave wishy-washiness behind. Pursue my character’s core and take her to the core’s extreme. Make it devour her existence.
My daughter has the good sense to only pick where she can easily reach. I become very intent on our wild berries in the woods and down our lane, and I stretch as far as I can, catch my hair and clothes on thorns as I reach further in, bite my lip because I’m certain I can reach that big black one over there. It’s not really about gathering food to eat. It’s about getting as many as physically possible. And it results in a network of scratches and blotches of mosquito bites. Also a yummy cobbler on the counter. Happy berry-picking season:)
I received my first edition of Hummingbird in the mail today! It is a small, elegant magazine of short poetry. I read it all already, and I am impressed. Most of the poems have a delicacy I like. They are not too difficult to understand. Simple and thoughtful. A quiet book, perfect for that moment in your day when you must sit down and be still.
The editor was kind enough to include a poem of mine, as well. It is called “Night Milking.” You have to purchase a subscription to read it, so here is the address to their website.
I generally read three or more books at once, I read out loud to my children every day, and I follow a literature-based homeschool curriculum. And yet, I force myself to NOT read certain books to my children. I’m talking about good quality books, not twaddle. I want to save more difficult books for a later date when my children will understand them better, but that’s not the only reason. I think I ought to save some really good books for my children to discover themselves!
I think back to my own reading history, not at all like my children’s will be. My family had a few classics in the bookcase, but mostly Christian romance fiction. I remember the day I took down my first “grown-up” book, I remember the arm chair I sat in, and I remember the slow but very satisfying progress I made through the first chapter. It was a Janette Oke book. Since then my reading history has been characterized by phases. I’ve been obsessed with Christian romance, westerns, mysteries, Michael Crichton books, and then I dove into classics during high school by falling in love with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I still hated poetry and Shakespeare at that point. In college I learned to love more classics, even difficult stuff like Beowulf and The Fairie Queene. I respected poetry. Still hated Shakespeare. In later years, I learned to love more types of good literature, even Shakespeare (I forced myself to read it at the table when eating supper alone. Now, it is a very vivid memory of my married life before we had children. I can smell the pages of that old thrift-store book.) I am coming to my point: I came to my literature-passion a lot later in life than I expect my own children will. I came to it through my own investigation, not because anybody forced me to read the classics while I was in elementary school. In fact, I have a confession to make. I am about to begin reading the Little House on the Prairie series to my children, and I have never read the entire series myself. (!) Here’s another confession. I don’t recall reading the entire Chronicles of Narnia series either. I also had never read the real Winnie-the-Pooh stories until I read them to my own kids. You know what? I don’t feel guilty. I feel excited to be learning along with my children. Even though I have only done first grade, I have read a lot of good literature that is new to me, and as a result, I am even more excited to be homeschooling than I was before I began.
I don’t want my own kids to miss out on that excitement of finding good books on their own. Sure, there will be plenty of good books we read together, and lots of things I will be assigning them in the future, but I’m not going to be standing behind them at the library, pointing out the books they ought to read for their own enjoyment. I think that would cut down on the enjoyment part. I hope my own enthusiasm for good literature is contagious, but even if it isn’t, I know there is always hope that they might start reading Shakespeare at their own supper table with pizza and a pile of napkins.