Sometimes I feel all out of whack and ready to slide, like the objects in this painting. But Cezanne, master that he was, created a balanced and workable composition, even though the stuff on that crazy table looks as if it ought to be sliding onto the floor. To extend the metaphor, I might be an unstable apple married to a tippy pear, living near a heavy basket of fruit placed at the very corner of a precarious table-land, and still God has everything in perfect control.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words–
And never stops–at all–
And sweetest–in the Gale–is heard–
And sore must be the storm–
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm–
I’ve heard it in the chillest land–
And on the strangest Sea–
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb–of Me.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
When I need cheering up, I sometimes choose a thick, juicy Russian novel from my bookshelf. Engrossing myself in Tolstoy or Turgenev usually works, but when pressed for time, I think I might choose this little poem instead. It carries healing winds of literary charm and positivity on its graceful flight, and then it lands on a weathervane which points away from self-pity.
Young Woman with a Water Jug, Jan Vermeer, 1660-1662
Everything is in perfect balance, the gap is bridged between in-here and out-there, and details are so meticulously and lovingly accounted for. A little Vermeer-gazing can add some stability to a less than perfect day. It also points to a time in the future when such a moment of perfection will be every moment for eternity.
This comes from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Rochester has just asked Jane to marry him. Jane has not answered yet.
“Do you doubt me, Jane?”
“You have no faith in me?”
“Not a whit.”
“Am I a liar in your eyes?” he asked passionately. “Little sceptic, you shall be convinced… You–you strange–you almost unearthly thing!–I love as my own flesh. You–poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are–I entreat to accept me as a husband.”
“What, me!” I ejaculated.
[The dialogue continues with many exclamations.]
“Jane, accept me quickly. Say Edward–give me my name–Edward–I will marry you.”
“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”
“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
“Edward–my little wife!”
[How I enjoy the dynamics between this famous couple!]
The Tree of Crows by Caspar David Friedrich, 1822
My children really want Halloween. They think the costumes and candy and jack-o-lanterns look like fun. Telling them it’s not a Christian holiday doesn’t change their minds about Halloween. I can explain Reformation Day to them, but they still want Halloween. Maybe I have to rethink the whole thing. Do they want candy? Fine. We recently bought a bag of candy corn. Costumes? We have some dress-up clothes. Pumpkins and scarecrows? Those are fall things, not necessarily Halloween-specific. Spooky scenes? I’ll show them some Caspar David Freidrich art. Who needs Halloween?
As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless… It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness; we older persons are amazed at the lavish display of any one of these to which the most ignorant child may treat us… [A]las, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.
— from Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, 1922
I am learning to homeschool from Charlotte Mason’s wisdom, which she recorded in her six volumes of education theory. This quote particularly strikes me. Even in the midst of a poor-obedience day, my children will surprise me with unexpected hugs and kisses, flower bouquets just for mommy, and astute questions about life. They truly are “delicate spirits.” I feel like a clod-hopper trying to stamp morality into them. I need to simply allow excellent art, literature, and God’s Word do the work through me.
Philosopher in Meditation, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632
How much do we really meditate? Does daydreaming count, I wonder. I don’t think it does. I think meditating is more deliberate. We have to be aware of our thoughts, and move them along–chug, chug, chug–through our brains. I think prayer is a form of meditation, and so is active reading. In this painting, one gets the feeling that the philosopher’s thoughts are rising like a twisting staircase to a higher realm.