Came across this quote of St. John Chrysostom in Elissa Bjeletich’s great book, Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home and had to copy it out by hand. I think I will take it as my mantra for this school year.
All fear is a paper tiger, my dear friends. All of it. If something you fear is drawing near you, some suffering, pain, or torment- if it’s coming to you like a ghost across the water- know it is our perfect, All-Knowing and All- Loving Lord that can lead us to a higher path.
We’ve had a stretch of weeks that have been difficult, to say the least. They just are what they are. The circumstances underlying why they’ve been hard won’t change any time soon. We all face seasons like this, some of us longer than others, some deeper than others. All you can do, essentially, is to continue to live. To put one foot in front of the other, to take one breath after another, to string one prayer after another. Fear tends to stop us in our tracks. I think I’ve gotten stuck more times than not in the last two years, holding my breath.
My dear friend, mentor, and chrismating priest, Father Stephen Mathewes, gave a homily on fear this past Sunday. Tuning in with my children on Monday morning as we began our school day on a very rough morning, we all sat quietly and listened to the broadcast as part of our morning’s school work in religious studies. We tend to draw or color quietly (all of us, even me!) as we listen to his homilies. As Fr. Steve joked with the congregation at the opening, we all laughed along, noting with glee the laughter of a dear friend in the background, as this church family was our own for nearly two years before we moved. Father Steve began into his homily and the children kept scribbling furiously at their drawings. I, however, found my hand dropping from my sketch as I leaned in to catch every word. Eventually my pencil rolled on the floor.
I’ve been having a lot of arguments with myself about fear over the last month or so, and I was rather shocked to hear that Fr. Steve had apparently been listening in on my inner dialogue. His answers were pretty bang on the money, my friends. Funny how that works. (It’s a good quick listen if you have ten minutes or so!)
Given what I’ve gone through in the last two years, I realize that so often fear has overtaken me quicker than I can recognize it coming, and it’s not till I’m in over my head that I sort of gasp for air and let go of the breath I’ve been holding. I wondered about this as I listened to Father speak. What sort of radar might I have, what sort of an early warning system could I put in place? A “you need to pray NOW” blazing sign, if one could be had? It puzzled me.
Picking up my pencil off the floor as Father finished his remarks, the answer was quite literally staring me in the face. Little delicate flowers stared up at me from the page.
There’s reams and reams of commentary in the world about creating and fear- about how fear and perfectionism block us from getting to the page. I absolutely agree with them. But also ask any creator, and they’ll tell you that they create because they can’t not create. It’s like ants in their pants.
I know the feeling well.
I also know how destitute my life has been of creating in the last two years.
It’s no mistake that within the last month and a half I’ve sketched, painted, collaged, and scrapbooked more pages than nearly the last five years combined. While our life is still quite difficult, the children’s health has finally stabilized, giving us all more time to think, to sleep, to dream, to just be. Fear has a much harder foothold to find now.
It’s my giant neon sign: if I’m not creating for days, weeks on end, I’m holding my breath. If I’m holding my breath, I am not abiding in Christ, and fear has stopped me in my tracks. Creating helps me push back the darkness and take a deep breath. I won’t ever starve myself of it again, if I can help it.
Dear friend, you may not be wired as I am, but I’d bet you’ve got a early warning system you might not have considered yet. Maybe you love to read but there just hasn’t been time. Maybe your brain fog clears when you’ve taken a long hike, but it’s been months since you’ve strapped on your boots. I’m not sure what it might be, but I think you’ll be able to identify it by how starved you feel when you don’t have it. If it’s missing, if you’re starving, your PRAY NOW sign is blinking a bright, startling red. It’s your sign to remember Who is holding you, to take a deep breath, and to shred that paper tiger that’s got you all wrapped up. Ask me how I know.
As promised, I am beginning a small series regarding what I have gleaned from the Restful Teaching workshop offered by Andrew Kern and Matt Bianco of the Circe Institute. (If you ever have a chance to attend a Circe event, do go! You will not be disappointed.) Be sure to comment with your thoughts each day of the series. Each day is an one entry to win a digital copy of the Restful Teaching series. I will also grant an entry to anyone who shares this series on social media- please tag me. [Disclaimer: This series is not sponsored by The Circe Institute and I am receiving no payment from them. I just was greatly blessed by their time, and I hope you will be too! ] I hope to have these all finished by the end of January, but with our life at the moment, you never know! Thank you for your kind patience.
Restful assessment is only a small part of a holistic education, but without it, we feel a bit lost. It’s the compass that helps us on the map of our educational journey. The next question, of course, is…what map do we use?
To use Andrew’s words- what is the object of our education?
If we do not know where we are headed- the object of our education-we do not where we are going and are aimless, regardless of any curriculum we use, and anxiety builds within us and within our students.
To put it another way- for what or for whom am I doing this?
As Christians, the answer is to recognize Christ when we encounter Him. I love how Andrew puts this: the object of educating our students is to train up our children in the art of truth perception. To recognize Truth- the Logos.
No matter what we learn about, our practicing at little “t” truths, whether they be the mathematical constant of Pi or the fact that an “A” in the English language always makes an “ay” or an “ah” sound every time we see it, all points to the order and constancy present in the Logos.
Even the Greeks were looking for the unifying principle of everything. For Christians, the unifying principle is Christ- the Logos Incarnate.
With that established, we can then look at the paths that will lead us towards this object of education.
How are we heading Home?
Andrew used the examples held within the Odyssey, and Matt used the examples present within Holy Scripture- we must remember. Through out Scripture, the Lord says to us: I remember you. Come, remember Me. (Isn’t the connection to the act of communion just beautiful?) In the Odyssey, there are two groups talking: the sirens and the muses. The sirens say: Come this way. Settle here with us. Don’t go home. The muses say: go Home now (and here’s how)- they often give advice about the next step in the journey. They say: Remember who you are. Remember where you are going. Remember how to get there.
Here is where the rubber meets the road, and this might sound a tiny familiar if you’ve read Charlotte Mason’s work- Andrew says point blank: You don’t teach a child to digest food, you FEED them. (Charlotte encourages us to set a feast before our students.) Therefore, give them the best embodiments of the Logos you can find. And then, teach them [your students] how to look at them.
As Andrew put it another way- “every single lesson is a mini Odyssey. Practice getting Home everyday.”
You’ve noticed I’ve yet to say that the map you should use is a particular method of education: Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf OR a type of curriculum like Sonlight, Oak Meadow, or Christopherus OR that you should use the Common Core guidelines or the Ontario guidelines, etc. That is because, simply put, all of these things are tools towards an education, but not the education itself. They are not the map, in the true sense.
If our education is ordered towards truth perception, as the Circe crew points out, then the curriculum- the map- is the arts (of truth perception)- teaching our students how to look at the best embodiments of the Logos. Again, I will mention here that Circe views the seven arts of truth perception as: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric (also known as the Trivium, and often referred to as the arts of language) and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music/Harmonics, and Astronomy (often referred to as the scientific arts).
To break this down even further, according to Andrew Kern’s definitions in the workshop, Grammar is the art of learning how to read and write. Logic is honing the ability to harmonize text and life. Rhetoric is understanding the art of decision making in community, and Logic and Rhetoric are arts that are often used in relationship together. Arithmetic is the math of multitudes and brings harmony to the sides of the form. (If your brain is hurting- these would include the elementary arts of numeracy, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, algebraic thinking, and higher mathematical arts like Calculus and Discrete Maths) Geometry is the mathematical art you are thinking of, but to be more specific, it holds the harmony of the multitudes (shapes). Music and/or Harmonics (Andrew and Matt used the terms interchangeably) takes numbers and shapes and harmonizes them in time. Astronomy takes all these other scientific arts and holds the harmony of them in time and space.
Let that sink in for a second, and once your brain stops hurting a bit, can I call your attention to the wonder of these arts as Andrew and Matt explained them? I’ve heard some definitions of the arts a few times, but never in a way that made me see the beauty and the wonder inherent in them. You’ll also notice that they have a hierarchy to them. You can access all of them as a very young student, but it will take time and a lot of looking on the embodiments of them to truly begin to understand the relationships inherent in them. It is a lifelong pursuit, especially as a Christian. We are always, always heading towards Home.
The map is the arts.
The path is how we choose to follow the map. The path is where the different schools of educational thought come in, the different curriculum options, the different guidelines…they are the tools we use to follow the path, but again, they aren’t the path either. They are just tools. This is where our family values and norms come into play- especially our faith. As an Orthodox Christian, I synthesize the arts with what the Church has taught and is teaching me, leaning on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. I dare to add to Andrew and Matt’s words here- our holistic pursuit of education doesn’t begin and end when we crack the books open. It happens “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Duet. 11:19).
How does this relate back to restful assessment (finding where we are standing) and restful planning (following the map)? Well, let me quote Andrew here: “How do you think you are planning peacefully, but really planning for stress? Buy a textbook.” I’m going to add an addendum and/or paraphrase here: To plan for stress, hold slavishy to a school of educational thought. Buy a curriculum or textbook and use it without consideration. Make sure every single lesson relates back to the Common Core without considering the student and the Truth you are pursuing. Andrew calls using these tools in such a way as “hewing a broken cistern”, from Jeremiah 2. None of these things are the fountain of Living Water, and “everything is meaningless if we are working outside of the question- where is the Lord?”, says Andrew.
I know, I know. OUCH.
And also, how the heck do I do that? (This has been a constant struggle for me to understand with any school of thought- I get what you are saying intellectually, but how does that look practically, in the day to day?) That is where we are headed in the next post: how to orient each day in wonder, contemplation, and inquiry as we pursue our mini-Odyssey each day.
But back to the ouch-factor. Give thanks that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning, and no matter how many times we give into stress or sin or unfortunate decisions, we get to start again, every moment. Restful teaching is both rigorous and peaceful because we know where we are headed, and we know Who we belong to, and we know Who made those arts to teach us about Himself. He holds us in the palm of his Hand. We can be at peace no matter the circumstance.
This post is third in the Wonder and Inquiry Series.
A few nights ago I could tell by the light through the trees that the sunset was going to be achingly beautiful that night, so we made our way down to the river to capture it.
One of my favorite prayers from our Great Vespers service (which happens every Saturday night in preparation for Divine Liturgy the following morning) is when we chant Psalm 140. Here’s the first verse and a lovely recording:
Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Towards the end of the service, we sing O Gladsome Light.
O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,
heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.
Now we have come to the setting of the sun
and behold the light of evening.
We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For it is right at all times to worship Thee
with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life,
therefore all the world glorifies Thee.
So often now when I see the sunset, these prayers are echoing in my mind and heart. They bring deep and abiding comfort, and remind me to always look for the light.
On Sunday, after Liturgy, we trekked to the beach (about a mile from the church) and participated in the Blessing of the Waters- in this case, the Atlantic Ocean. This blessing happens as close to Theophany as possible. Theophany is celebrated on January 6- when we celebrate the Feast of the baptism of Christ and the blessing of the Holy Trinity is revealed. After the prayers are read, the cross is thrown into the water. Some intrepid soul or souls will dive after it and receive a blessing. My children could not believe that someone would actually go in- the temperature that day was only forty degrees. They really didn’t believe me that in colder climes like Russia and Canada, they actually cut holes in the ice to bless the water and dive for the cross!