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Well. That was a week.

Drive back and forth to Kansas, then come back to work on a project that came my way a IMG_20171104_174016.jpgbit more than a week ago, and I took it on, knowing that it was due today (11/10) and I’d be traveling for four days in the middle of it.

Done! Last night! Ahead of schedule!

So where was in Kansas and why? I blogged about it on Monday – at Benedictine College in Atchison, a strong contender for my now-junior-in-HS’s matriculation in a couple of years. The journey there and back lasted from Thursday afternoon to Sunday evening, with various stops along the way, including the City Museum in St. Louis and the Truman Library. As I said, check out the travelogue here. 

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So, yes, one short-term project completed, and now several months of work of a different sort ahead of me, as well as whipping up a final draft of that Loyola book. And other things.  I’m learning a lot. About…things.

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Today’s the feastday of St. Leo the Great.  Here’s a good introduction to this pope from Mike Aquilina.

The Tome of Leo on the nature of Christ.

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”

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"amy welborn"

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On the homeschool front? The usual. The “special” classes are over now, which frees up time, although next week, he’ll be going to a special homeschool frog dissection and a daytime Alabama Symphony concert, so yes, we keep busy – especially since basketball has started up again. He finished Tom Sawyer, read a couple of short stories early this week – “The Necklace” and “To Build a Fire,” and has moved on to The Yearling. Which I read when I was about his age. And…I guess I liked it.

Well, no guessing about it. I vividly remember reading The Yearling and just….being torn up by it.

(And yes, Amelia is wrong. My full name is Amelie. I imagine that whomever my mother ordered the bookplate from just couldn’t imagine such a foreign name being bestowed on a true American child.)

— 5 –

We’ve done a bunch of science stuff at home this week, mostly simple demonstrations involving steel wool, alum crystals and candles. Not all together, I hasten to add. Next week I’ll do a more comprehensive Homeschooling Now post, because I do enjoy writing about all of those rabbit trails.

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We did fit in a little jaunt to our wonderful Birmingham Museum of Art. There’s free admission, so we have no excuse not to go regularly. There’s been a fairly recent shift in administration, and it shows. There’s a new sort of brightness and cleaner feel to the galleries, and I really do think some of the description cards have been rewritten – even those on the pieces I’ve seen several times seem different – more informative, less fussy.

The occasion for our visit was a special exhibit focused on Asian art and the afterlife. It was a small exhibit, but with very interesting and even engaging pieces presented well.

As we poked our heads in the Renaissance and Baroque galleries, I noticed a piece I had never seen – it must have just recently been brought out. It’s a Spanish Baroque wood polychrome statue of St. Margaret of Corona, and it’s….breathtaking. Look at this photograph (I didn’t take it – mine didn’t turn out, and so this is from the Museum’s website.). Do you see? The detail and the natural feel are almost startling to behold.

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Image: Birmingham Museum of Art.

Go here for more views and more information. 

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St. Nicholas day is less than a month away….and don’t forget Bambinelli Sunday!

 

St. Nicholas pamphlet. 

St. Nicholas Center website. 

 

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Everyone should note that today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. Jogues, Brebeuf, etc. Read Black Robe in celebration! Well, “celebration” doesn’t quite capture it. Remembrance, maybe?

Or, perhaps you might read Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America

Mosaic from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Or, you could really go to town and take a look at the Jesuit Relations which are, amazingly, all online right here

This site contains entire English translation of the The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, originally compiled and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published by The Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. Each file represents the total English contents of a single published volume. The original work has facing pages in the original French, Latin or Italian, depending on the author.

Of particular interest might be Brebeuf’s Instructions to the MIssionaries. I am going to reproduce it in full here. We are hearing a lot these days about “meeting people where they are.”

Again, not a concept of recent origin:

(From Vol. XII of the Relations, 1637)

Let us say a few words more before concluding this chapter. Father Brebeuf sent me some instructions, which I have all our Fathers read whom I send to the Hurons. I thought it would be wise to place them here, so that those who should be appointed to this mission [232 i.e., 228] might see from France the trials with which they will have to contend. I know very well that the greater these trials are made, the more ardor we see in our Fathers, who [page 115] even go so far as to wish for them too eagerly. It is better, in my opinion, while one is still in France, not to think either of the Hurons, or of the Algonquins, or of the Montagnez, or of Kebec, or of Miskou, or even of converting the Savages, but to take up the Cross wherever Jesus Christ shall offer it to us. Let us come to the point.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE FATHERS OF OUR SOCIETY WHO SHALL BE SENT TO THE HURONS.

HE Fathers and Brethren whom God shall call to the Holy Mission of the Hurons ought to exercise careful foresight in regard to all the hardships, annoyances, and perils that must be encountered in making this journey, in order to be prepared betimes for all emergencies that may arise.

You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

To conciliate the Savages, you must be careful never to make them wait for you in embarking.

You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a [233 i.e., 229] burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts.

You should try to cat their sagamité or salmagundi in the way they prepare it, although it may be dirty, half-cooked, and very tasteless. As to the other numerous things which may be unpleasant, they must be endured for the love of God, without saying anything or appearing to notice them. [page 117]

It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it all; for, when one becomes somewhat accustomed to it, there is not too much.

You must try and eat at daybreak unless you can take your meal with you in the canoe; for the day is very long, if you have to pass it without eating. The Barbarians eat only at Sunrise and Sunset, when they are on their journeys.

You must be prompt in embarking and disembarking; and tuck up your gowns so that they will not get wet, and so that you will not carry either water or sand into the canoe. To be properly dressed, you must have your feet and legs bare; while crossing the rapids, you can [234 i.e., 230] wear your shoes, and, in the long portages, even your leggings.

You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.

It is not well to ask many questions, nor should you yield to your desire to learn the language and to make observations on the way; this may be carried too far. You must relieve those in your canoe of this annoyance, especially as you cannot profit much by it during the work. Silence is a good equipment at such a time.

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.

Each one should be provided with half a gross of awls, two or three dozen little knives called jambettes [pocket-knives], a hundred fishhooks, with some beads [page 119] of plain and colored glass, with which to buy fish or other articles when the tribes meet each other, so as to feast the Savages; and it would be [235 i.e., 231] well to say to them in the beginning, ” Here is something with which to buy fish.” Each one will try, at the portages, to carry some little thing, according to his strength; however little one carries, it greatly pleases the Savages, if it be only a kettle.

You must not be ceremonious with the Savages, but accept the comforts they offer you, such as a good place in the cabin. The greatest conveniences are attended with very great inconvenience, and these ceremonies offend them.

Be careful not to annoy any one in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your nightcap. There is no impropriety among the Savages.

Do not undertake anything unless you desire to continue it; for example, do not begin to paddle unless you are inclined to continue paddling. Take from the start the place in the canoe that you wish to keep; do not lend them your garments, unless you are willing to surrender them during the whole journey. It is easier to refuse at first than to ask them back, to change, or to desist afterwards.

Finally, understand that the Savages [236 i.e., 232] will retain the same opinion of you in their own country that they will have formed on the way; and one who has passed for an irritable and troublesome person will have considerable difficulty afterwards in removing this opinion. You have to do not only with those of your own canoe, but also (if it must be so stated) with all those of the country; you meet some to-day and others to-morrow, who do not fail to inquire, from those who brought you, what sort of [page 121] man you are. It is almost incredible, how they observe and remember even to the slightest fault. When you meet Savages on the way, as you cannot yet greet them with kind words, at least show them a cheerful face, and thus prove that you endure gayly the fatigues of the voyage. You will thus have put to good use the hardships of the way, and have already advanced considerably in gaining the affection of the Savages.

This is a lesson which is easy enough to learn, but very difficult to put into practice; for, leaving a highly civilized community, you fall into the hands of barbarous people who care but little for your Philosophy or your Theology. All the fine qualities which might make you loved and respected in France [237 i.e., 233] are like pearls trampled under the feet of swine, or rather of mules, which utterly despise you when they see that you are not as good pack animals as they are. If you could go naked, and carry the load of a horse upon your back, as they do, then you would be wise according to their doctrine, and would be recognized as a great man, otherwise not. Jesus Christ is our true greatness; it is he alone and his cross that should be sought in running after these people, for, if you strive for anything else, you will find naught but bodily and spiritual affliction. But having found Jesus Christ in his cross, you have found the roses in the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing. [page 12

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – under “Saints are People Who are Brave.”  I’ve got the last page here for you. 

 

 

Stephanie Mann has an excerpt from a Willa Cather novel in which a character speaks of one of the lesser-known martyrs.

“But through all these physical sufferings, which remained as sharp as on the first day, the greatest of his sufferings was an almost continual sense of the withdrawal of God. All missionaries have that anguish at times, but with Chabanel it was continual. For long months, for a whole winter, he would exist in the forest, every human sense outraged, and with no assurance of the nearness of God. In those seasons of despair he was constantly beset by temptation in the form of homesickness. He longed to leave the mission to priests who were better suited to its hardships, to return to France and teach the young, and to find again that peace of soul, that cleanliness and order, which made him the master of his mind and its powers. Everything that he had lost was awaiting him in France, and the Director of Missions in Quebec had suggested his return.

“On Corpus Christi Day, in the fifth year of his labours in Canada and the thirty-fifth of his age, he cut short this struggle and overcame his temptation. At the mission of Saint Matthias, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, he made a vow of perpetual stability (perpetuam stabilitatem) in the Huron missions. This vow he recorded in writing, and he sent copies of it to his brethren in Kebec.

“Having made up his mind to die in the wilderness, he had not long to wait. Two years later he perished when the mission of Saint Jean was destroyed by the Iroquois,–though whether he died of cold in his flight through the forest, or was murdered by a faithless convert for the sake of the poor belongings he carried on his back, was not surely known. No man ever gave up more for Christ than Noël Chabanel; many gave all, but few had so much to give.

 

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Today is the feast of St. Bruno – here’s last year’s post on him, and an image you may feel free to use:

 

…and a sentiment I hope you will take to heart….

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This evening (Thursday), the teen was working at the grocery store, so the 12-year old and I headed over to Samford University and listened to a simply marvelous concert played by Vadym Kholodenko. 

M’s piano teacher had been encouraging us to go, but I hadn’t really considered it until this afternoon, when it finally registered in my brain who the performer was – I went to his website and saw that was the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition winner, but then I noted elsewhere a tragic event in his recent past – a tragedy I realized I’d read about at the time: his two young daughters were murdered, in 2016 by their mother, Kholodenko’s estranged wife. 

Well, it was a marvelous concert – three pieces: Mozart’s Sonata No.8, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 and then – after an intermission that was almost as long as the Mozart, he returned to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37. 

The first two were lovely, with our vote going for the Beethoven, naturally, but the Tchaikovsky was at a completely different level. Vigorous, lush, strong, clear –  a little quirky – even the 12 year old was completely engrossed.

Engrossed, I must say, by the music, and a little bemused by the fact that this marvelous pianist was playing the instrument that he plays himself at recitals. I’m hoping he’s a little inspired by that.

Two observations. It had been a while since I had attended a professional solo piano performance, and I was intrigued by the atmosphere of the moments in between movements. As the performer finishes, the notes of the just-completed section fade away and he sits on the bench, hands at rest, head bowed, readying himself for the next movement. In those seconds, I was at once drawn to observe, curious at what could be discerned of his inner preparation for what was ahead, but at the same time, a little uncomfortable, as if I were privy to something quite private, that was really none of my business.

And then, of course, the context of the performer’s life, which is not the defining context, but is still there, and you can’t but let it be a part of your listening, to consider loss and sadness and finding the strength, not to just go on, but to go on bringing beauty into a wrecked world out of a wrecked heart.

This week, especially, I could not help but think of that as I listened. I could not help but be grateful for strength like his and so many others and pray, in the midst of such mystery and pain, for the kind of healing that music points to, but is even more.

 

 

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This week I read Men at Arms, the first in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. I have read so much Waugh, but never this, partly because I don’t have a huge interest in war-themed fiction and secondly because I’ve always read mixed takes on it – it’s his masterpiece, no, it’s boring…who knows?

But I was digging around in some boxes downstairs and discovered that someone, at some point in time, had acquired a copy, so why not?

Well…I really enjoyed it. For some reason, I had been under the impression that the books were quite serious and solemn, but no, they are…Waugh.  Which means that the satire factor is high, as is the autobiographical aspect – the novels are based on his journals of his own military experience during the war.

Some choice quotes:

Lately he had fallen into a habit of dry and negative chastity which even the priests felt to be unedifying. 

A Catholic character jokes mildly about Confession, and a listener reacts.

Box-Bender looked self-conscious, as he still did, always, when religious practices were spoken of. He did not get used it – this ease with the Awful. 

The main character’s military group has been living in what had been a boarding school.

And yet on this dark evening, his spirit sank. The occupation of this husk of a house, perhaps, was a microcosm of that new world he had enlisted to defeat. Something quite worthless, a poor parody of civilization, had been driven out; he and his fellows had moved in, bringing the new world with them; the world that was taking firm shape everywhere all about him, bounded by barbed wire and reeking of carbolic.

Near the end of the book there’s a particularly horrific event. When it first occurs, I had to read through it twice because the first time through, I’d thought Waugh was being…metaphorical in the scene, but then I realized…no….it really is a *******. Yikes. Since so much of the book is based on Waugh’s experiences, I wondered if this was too, but a cursory search hasn’t turned up anything. If you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about, so if you have any insight, let me know.

There are actually many of Waugh’s books available at the Internet Archive now, including this one. 

 

— 4

 

Looking for books by a lesser writer? You know I have many out there – and some of them for sale via my bookstore here. Check it out. 

Are you shopping around for St. Nicholas things for your school or parish? Remember that Creative Communications has republished my St. Nicholas booklet. It’s available here, and also through the St. Nicholas Center – a great resource – the best resource for all things St. Nicholas whom, of course, we celebrate two months from today – but if it’s your job to plan, you know that two months isn’t too soon.

 

 

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For every thing there is a season…and now’s the season for In Our Time to begin again. If you haven’t yet obeyed my hectoring on this program…as I said…now’s the season. The first program was on Kant’s Categorial Imperative, and after listening I can say that I actually do understand it a bit more than I did before. The second was on Wuthering Heights, which I’ve never read, a fact about which I’ve felt guilty, but no longer. I enjoyed the program a great deal and learned a lot, but it absolutely wiped out my curiosity about or interest in reading the book, although I am more curious about Emily Bronte and what was in her head and heart. Today’s program was on Constantine – I’ll listen to it tomorrow, I’m thinking.

A related program I listened to this week was a recent episode of Start the Week – the BBC4 program that airs (of course) on Mondays during which a few guests with various books to sell or other cultural achievements to tell us about deal with each other’s work in the context of a greater theme. I don’t listen to it every week because of the reliably smug political views on display, but this particular episode centered on Les  Miserables, so I listened, and was glad I did. The participants were the author of a book about the book, then the actor Simon Callow, who’s written a book on Wagner, then a literature scholar and finally an opera singer and director. The conversation centered on Hugo, Wagner and the contemporary opera Written on Skin. The big questions were the role of fiction in culture and social change and  the writer as public intellectual as well. Good, meaty stuff.

— 6 —

Only a bit of Lost has been watched since last week. The older son’s work schedule and then school have taken precedence, as they should. We’re up to the beginning of season 3 – another spectacular season-opening scene – and might be able to squeeze in an episode this weekend. But football of all types is also happening, so maybe not.

 

— 7 —

Well, the Bearing Blog family is about to head back to the US after several weeks in Europe – if you haven’t been keeping up with Mom’s very thorough travel blogging that puts anything I’ve ever attempted to shame – go over there and catch up. For sure if London is in your future, her blog will be a very handy guide. It looks like it has been a wonderful trip and perhaps it will inspire readers to save up vacation time and money – no matter how long it takes – and plunge into that Big Trip – where ever the destination might be – the lake over in the next county, the region across the country, the mountains halfway across the world. There will be bumps along the way and when you look back, you might think that you’d do some things differently if you could, but chances are slim to none that you’ll look back and say, “Yeah, that was a mistake. We shouldn’t have done that trip at all – ” 

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Ferrara, June 2016

 

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Although you probably won’t hear him mentioned at daily Mass, Hermanus Contractus, or, less sensitively,  Blessed”Herman the Cripple,” has a place on today’s liturgical calendar.

I wrote about Herman and one of the prayers attributed to him, the Salve Regina, in The Words We Pray. Here’s that chapter.

I have copies of the book here if you’d like to order.

Or get it online almost anywhere, I think. Or request it from your local Catholic bookstore.

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As I mentioned last week, The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is available. Amazon doesn’t have it shipping until next week (and by next week, it will probably be…the next week) But you can certainly order it from Loyola, request it from your local bookstore, or, if you like, from me – I have limited quantities available. Go here for that.

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Bible stories? For kids? Aren’t there plenty of books like that out there already? Well, yes and no.

Here’s the niche I want to fill with my book:

When do most Catholics, adult and children, encounter Scripture? During Sunday Mass. So it made sense to me to offer a book that would reflect that reality and build on it.

So the stories in the book – written for a 5-11 age reading/read aloud level – are arranged according to the liturgical season during which you would most likely hear them in the context of Sunday  or a feastday Mass. That means, of course, that it’s not comprehensive – if you don’t hear it at Sunday Mass, it is most likely not in the book, although I did make a couple of exceptions for readings that are strongly associated with a particular season and might be heard during a weekday Mass.

The stories are retold, faithful to Scripture – I am a stickler about that. Some re-tellings of Scripture impose, for example, emotions or thoughts on figures in the narrative that aren’t actually explicitly in Scripture. I don’t do that.

Following the narrative of each story are thoughts relating the story to either the particular feast or liturgical season or some other spiritual or theological point (sacraments prayer, virtues, and so on), and then finally, a question for reflection and a very short prayer.

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The book includes lovely maps as endpapers, a basic liturgical calendar, wonderful illustrations, of course, and an introduction that will hopefully help families and catechists use the book in meaningful ways.

What I hoped to do was to bring children and families more deeply into the dynamic of reading the Scriptures as a Catholic– that is, in unity with the Church. We hear the Scriptures in a liturgical context, we apply them to our own lives, we return to the liturgy with new insights – and we’re always part of that weOf course reading Scripture as an act of individual devotion and study is good and important, but even that must be in the context of our awareness of Revelation as a reality that’s for and about the cosmos, not just our little microcosm in one corner of it, and so to situate our hearing of the Word in the Church, the Body of Christ.

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Speaking of books, I am finally getting around to “publishing” some of my out-of-print books for Amazon Kindle. There are other means of epublication, of course, but I can only handle one formatting effort at a time. You can find it here:

I’ll be doing Mary and the Christian Life next. Just as soon as I finish some actual other work this coming weekend.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on this, I have taken the free version of Mary Magdalene down for the moment – just until I give it some time on Amazon. Then the free pdf will be back up at my website. I’ll do the same with Mary and the Christian life and the others: remove the free version for the first few weeks it’s on Amazon, and then offer it free again as well.

— 5 —

So how’s the homeschooling going? Thanks for asking! Well, if a bit scattered. I am not sure how the “unschooling” part is coming – we’ll see at the end of September – at that point, we’ll take a look at all of the daily and weekly record sheets (which are being maintained) – look at topics read about, books read, trips taken, and see what that looks like. What I keep telling him is that he needs to think about nine months from now – what does he want and hope to see when he looks back over the whole year?

Decent advice for the rest of life, I think.

— 6 —

So no big changes from what I’d said we’d be doing: Komen Pre-Algebra math review pages every day (fractions and decimals so far), Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra – finished chapter 1 and are beginning chapter 2. He’s been reading various magazines (National Geographic, National Geographic History, Archaeology) and non-fiction books on topics that interest him. He’s currently memorizing the list of US Presidents as a framework for History Bee prep. We do our daily liturgical prayer/Saint of the Day/poem reading. The Spanish curriculum arrived yesterday, so he’ll start that next week (his choice).  He had some heavy duty music theory this week – learning about the different kinds of minor keys/scales, which is all new to me, too. We had to do some supplementary video-watching for that. He’s watched various science/nature related videos – this on Daddy Long-Legs, for example.   Various videos from The Kids Should See ThisWe went to the zoo.  The homeschool boxing class got underway.  Piano lesson.

Another trip to Moss Rock Preserve. He climbed, made the acquaintance of a stick bug:

 

September will be very busy. His science center classes will be on Tuesday mornings. Photography class Thursday mornings. Boxing Tuesday afternoons. Piano Thursday afternoons. Getting two teeth pulled. Piano recital in mid-September. Our zoo does a “Zookeeper for a day” thing – really half a day, and of course, it ain’t free, but I justify the cost by saying…well, I’m not paying $600/month tuition any more, so I think I can swing this.  He’ll be doing that – in the reptile house – one afternoon in September, as well.  I thought they only allowed his age group to do this zookeeper for a day thing in either the children’s zoo (farm animals) or with birds, but when I contacted them, they said they’d just added the reptile house as an option – which is of course, our favorite. Although he likes birds quite a bit, too. But given the chance to hang out with the big snakes and lizards for an afternoon? Much more exciting.

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I have taken some reins from the unschooler, though…you knew that would happen, didn’t you?

He reads a lot, but it’s very much leisure reading, which is just fine, but I did think…well, maybe I should be a bit more directive on this….so we agreed that he’d always have a “school-type” book going as well, of either his or my choice. So we’re starting with Animal Farm – which will be a good way for him to dive into various areas of history as well.

Then I read this article – “Memorize That Poem!” which is very, very good. 

It’s so good, I’d invite you to share it with any educators in your life or circle. We have done quite a bit of poetry memorization around here over the years, but it really fell by the wayside last school year with both of them in school. This was the nudge I needed for revival.

By the 1920s, educators increasingly questioned such poetry’s “relevance” to students’ lives. They began to abandon memorization in favor of teaching methods that emphasized self-expression, although the practice remained popular until about 1960 — and still endures in some foreign language classes (to pass a college Russian course, I had to memorize some Pushkin).

The truth is that memorizing and reciting poetry can be a highly expressive act. And we need not return to the Victorians’ narrow idea of the canon to reclaim poetry as one of the cheapest, most durable tools of moral and emotional education — whether you go in for Virgil, Li Po, Rumi or Gwendolyn Brooks (ideally, all four).

How does memorizing and reciting someone else’s words help me express myself? I put this question to Samara Huggins, 18, the winner of the 2017 national Poetry Out Loud contest, in which high school students recite poems before a panel of judges. She performed “Novel,” by the avant-garde 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud — not an author who, at first glance, has much in common with Ms. Huggins, a teenager from the Atlanta area.

Yet every good poem grapples with some essential piece of human experience. “Rimbaud wrote that poem when he was young, and he was talking about love. I related to him,” Ms. Huggins said. (He writes: “We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips/Trembling there like a small insect.”)

“Reciting a poem will help you express what you’re trying to say,” she told me. “It’s like when I need to pray about something, I’ll look into a devotional, and those words can start me off.” Ms. Huggins grew up Episcopalian, but even the resolutely secular need to borrow words of supplication, anguish or thanks every now and then.

Susan Wise Bauer, a writer whose best-selling home-school curriculums are based on classical and medieval models and stress memorization, told me that “you can’t express your ineffable yearnings for a world that is not quite what you thought it was going to be until you’ve memorized three or four poems that give you the words to begin.” She learned William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” when she was 8. “Every decade I grow older, I understand a little more what he means about that sense of loss of wonder,” she said.

Understanding a good poem is hard — all the more reason to memorize it. Ask students to write a paper on Wordsworth, and once they turn it in, they consign the text to oblivion. But if they memorize his lament, years from now — perhaps while they are cleaning up their child’s chocolate-smeared face after birthday cake — they may suddenly grasp his nostalgia for “Delight and liberty, the simple creed/Of Childhood” and the bittersweet truth that “Our noisy years seem moments in the being/Of the eternal Silence.”

Of course, this writer’s evangelizing on behalf of poetry brought to mind all of my own evangelizing about the role of literature – and sacred literature, prayer, liturgy and yes, faith – in bringing us out of our own small narrow worlds and situating us in reality – which is much bigger than we are, and bigger than we  know.

So yes, poetry. We’ll be back at it –  next week. One good poem a month, that’s all. Now to figure out which one…

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  • Are you getting ready for school? Catechists, homeschoolers and Catholic school teachers are.  Pastors and principals, too. If you are a mind to, please take a look at all the resources I have available for catechesis.
  • Do you work in youth ministry? Please check out my books for teens and young adults here.

prove-it-complete-set-1001761

  • Are you planning adult education? Consider these resources.

Or this:

  • Are you teaching First Communion children this year? Take a look at Friendship with Jesus and Be Saints. 
  • Are you teaching religion to elementary age students? Friendship with Jesus, Be Saints, Bambinelli Sunday, Adventures in Assisi, The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 
  • And…the new book:

 

Note: the Amazon listing indicates it will be released tomorrow. This isn’t correct. It will be 9/1, according to Loyola. 

  • Can you help catechists, Catholic schools and parish programs?  Consider gifting your parish, school or favorite catechist with copies of these books.  Click on the covers for more information.

I have copies of some of these – the Prove it books, the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days and the Book of Heroes as well as the Prove It Bible available in my bookstore. 

Again – even if catechesis isn’t something you are personally involved in, any catechist, parish school, library or program would welcome a donation as a beginning-of-the-year (no matter when it begins…) gift.

Also: Did you know that public libraries accept suggestions for books to purchase? Usually you have to have a library card in their system to be able to recommend a book – but do look into that – you could give a boost to a lot of Catholic authors in this way.

And don’t forget that I do have some ebooks – in pdf form – available at no cost.

Mary and the Christian Life

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus

The Power of the Cross

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Well, after several months of dipping, a day or two of  immersion here and there and finally a stint of sustained reading, I have finished Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel.  What a delight.

I had heard of the 19th century writer and early sociologist, but didn’t know much. Then I listened to the episode of In Our Time dedicated to her and I was intrigued, mostly by the fact that she had taken an extended journey to the United States and written about it.

The fruit of that travel is in two works: Retrospect of Western Travel and the more topical Society in America. 

It’s too bad de Toqueville gets all the love, because Martineau offers just as much. Retrospect is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, an astonishing first-hand view of the United States in its early history which includes encounters with most the most eminent personages of the age, from Andrew Jackson to Emerson, from the Beechers to Garrison.

And she goes everywhere.  New England and the Middle Atlantic, all through the South "amy welborn"from Charleston to New Orleans and up to Kentucky, and throughout the Midwest. She covers everything, from a close reading of the political system, to social morays to intellectual and religious life. Her impressions of slavery are particularly acute and impassioned.

Back in March, I wrote a bit about volume 1 – go back and take a look, especially if you want to read about her irritation at this newfangled obsession called a rocking-chair. 

I highlighted so much in reading that I can just skim the surface of sharing what interested me, so skim I shall. Different points will strike different readers. What interests me in writing of this kind are the moments in which I see the present in the past – in which Martineau notices aspects of American society that are still a part of our makeup, in which she happens upon quirks or incidents that might still be familiar to us today. I’m also interested in observations she make that confound our impressions of the past. Don’t look for rhyme or reason in these quotes. I’m just going through what I highlighted in volume 2 – most recently read – as the moments struck me:

At a school program in Cincinnati (a city, by the way, she believed should be nation’s capitol.)

Many prizes of books were given by the gentlemen on the platform; and the ceremony closed with an address from the pulpit which was true, and in some respects beautiful; but which did not appear altogether judicious to those who are familiar with children’s minds. The children were exhorted to trust their teachers entirely; to be assured that their friends would do by them what was kindest. Now, neither children nor grown people trust, any more than they believe, because they are bid. Telling them to have confidence is so much breath wasted. If they are properly trained, they will unavoidably have this trust and confidence, and the less that is said about it the better. If not, the less said the better, too; for  confidence is then out of the question, and there is danger in making it an empty phrase. It would he well if those whose office it is to address children wore fully aware that exhortation, persuasion, and dissuasion are of no use in their case; and that there is immeasurable value in the opposite method of appeal. Make truth credible, and they will believe it: make goodness lovely, and they will love it: make holiness cheerful, and they will be glad in it: but remind them of themselves by threat, inducement, or exhortation, and you impair (if you do any thing) the force of their unconscious affections: try to put them upon a task of arbitrary self-management, and your words pass over their ears only to be forgotten.

(Her comments remind me of the present day in which we think if we just tell children and young people to have self-esteem and believe in themselves!  ….it will happen…)

She often comments on the generosity of Americans:

This account of our three first clays at Cincinnati will convey a sufficient idea of a stranger’s impressions of the place. There is no need to give a report of its charitable institutions and its commerce:  the details of the latter are well known to those whom they may concern; and in America, wherever men are gathered together, the helpless are aided, and the suffering relieved. 

However, she notes as well the “illiberality” of many Americans – by which she means prejudices, and right after this passage, she comments on anti-Catholicism. (Martineau was a Unitarian, and no fan of Catholic practices, but she was also committed to freedom of religion and expression. Although she does infer that one of the reasons that prejudice is bad is that it might just prompt the growth and strength of the object of prejudice….)

The Catholic religion spreads rapidly in many most of the recently-settled parts of the United States, and its increase produces an almost insane dread among some Protestants, who fail to see that no evils that the Catholic religion can produce in the present state of society can be so afflictive and dangerous as the bigotry by which it is proposed to put it down. The removal to Cincinnati of Dr. Beecher, the ostentation and virulent foe of the Catholics, has much quickened the spirit of alarm in that region. It is to be hoped  that Dr. Beecher and the people of Cincinnati will remember what has been the invariable consequence in America of public denunciations of assumed offences which the law does not reach; namely, mobbing.

To more prosaic topic – corn on the cob.

This day, I remember, we first tasted
green corn, one of the most delicious of vegetables, and by some
preferred to green peas. The greatest drawback is the way in which it is
necessary to eat it. The cob, eight or ten inches long, is held at both
ends, and, having been previously sprinkled with salt, is nibbled and
sucked from end to end till all the grains are got out. It looks awkward
enough: but what is to be done? Surrendering such a vegetable from
considerations of grace is not to be thought of.

On New England education, class, and a contrast with Old England:

Their common and high schools, their lyceums and cheap colleges, are exciting
and feeding thousands of minds, which in England would never get beyond
the loom or the ploughtail. If few are very learned in the villages of
Massachusetts, still fewer are very ignorant; and all have the power and
the will to invite the learning of the towns among them, and to
remunerate its administration of knowledge. The consequence of this is a
state of village society in which only vice and total ignorance need
hang the head, while (out of the desolate range of religious bigotry)
all honourable tastes are as sure of being countenanced and respected as
all kindly feelings are of being reciprocated. I believe most
enlightened and virtuous residents in the villages of New-England are
eager to acknowledge that the lines have fallen to them in pleasant
places.

But she has harsh words for Harvard College:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those
of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic
college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of
pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her
principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she
will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a
considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. [Almost 200 years later…has anything changed??!] She has a
great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in
comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will
therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls
are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly
salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed
to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent
and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and
more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise,
whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the
time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer
with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic
classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to
work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is
made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle
and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but
“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and
hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest
orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new
ones.

When I was at Boston the state of the University was a subject of great
mourning among its friends.

Martineau was hard of hearing, and used an ear horn. She visited schools for the visually and hearing impaired in a few cities and observed:

The benevolence which undertook the care of this class of unfortunates,
when their condition was esteemed hopeless, has, in many cases, through
a very natural delight at its own success, passed over into a new and
opposite error, particularly in America, where the popular philosophy of
mind comes in aid of the delusion. From fearing that the deaf and dumb
had hardly any capacities, too many of their friends have come to
believe them a sort of sacred, favoured class, gifted with a keener
apprehension, a more subtile reason, and a purer spirituality than
others, and shut out from little but what would defile and harden their
minds.

Martineau wrote extensively on what she saw in the slave-holding South, but also gives an interesting view of the impact of abolitionist activism in New England, and includes this very wise and still very true observation:

The same delusion (if it be mere delusion) is
visible here that is shared by all persons in power, who cannot deny
that an evil exists, but have not courage to remove it; a vague hope
that “fate, or Providence, or something,” will do the work which men are
created to perform; men of principle and men of peace, like the
abolitionists; victims, not perpetrators of violence.

And what strikes her as one of America’s most telling features?

The only times when I felt disposed to quarrel with the inexhaustible
American mirth was on the hottest days of summer. I liked it as well as
ever; but European strength will not stand more than an hour or two of
laughter in such seasons. I remember one day when the American part of
the company was as much exhausted as the English. We had gone, a party
martineau retrosepct western travelof six, to spend a long day with a merry household in a country village;
and, to avoid the heat, had performed the journey of sixteen miles
before ten o’clock. For three hours after our arrival the wit was in
full flow; by which time we were all begging for mercy, for we could
laugh no longer with any safety. Still, a little more fun was dropped
all round, till we found that the only way was to separate, and we all
turned out of doors. I cannot conceive how it is that so little has been
heard in England of the mirth of the Americans; for certainly nothing in
their manners struck and pleased me more. One of the rarest characters
among them, and a great treasure to all his sportive neighbours, is a
man who cannot take a joke.

Americans love their enthusiasms as well, and for Martineau, these enthusiasms, however nutty they might be,  point to something deeper: an imaginative spirit.

When Spurzheim was in America, the great mass of society became
phrenologists in a day, wherever he appeared; and ever since itinerant
lecturers have been reproducing the same sensation in a milder way, by
retailing Spurzheimism, much deteriorated, in places where the
philosopher had not been. Meantime the light is always going out behind
as fast as it blazes up round the steps of the lecturer. While the world
of Richmond and Charleston is working at a multiplication of the fifteen
casts (the same fifteen or so) which every lecturer carries about, and
all caps and wigs are pulled off, and all fair tresses dishevelled in
the search after organization, Boston has gone completely round to the
opposite philosophy, and is raving about spiritualism to an excess which
can scarcely be credited by any who have not heard the Unknown Tongues.
If a phrenological lecturer from Paris, London, or Edinburgh should go
to Boston, the superficial, visible portion of the public would wheel
round once more, so rapidly and with so clamorous a welcome on their
tongues, that the transported lecturer would bless his stars which had
guided him over to a country whose inhabitants are so candid, so
enlightened, so ravenous for truth. Before five years are out, however,
the lecturer will find himself superseded by some professor of animal
magnetism, some preacher of homœopathy, some teacher who will
undertake to analyze children, prove to them that their spirits made
their bodies, and elicit from them truths fresh from heaven. All this is
very childish, very village-like; and it proves anything rather than
originality in the persons concerned. But it does not prove that there
is not originality in the bosom of a society whose superficial movement
is of this kind; and it does not prove that national originality may not
arise out of the very tendencies which indicate that it does not at
present exist.

The Americans appear to me an eminently imaginative people. The
unprejudiced traveller can hardly spend a week among them without being
struck with this every day. At a distance it is seen clearly enough that
they do not put their imaginative power to use in literature and the
arts; and it does certainly appear perverse enough to observers from the
Old World that they should be imitative in fictions (whether of the pen,
the pencil, stone, or marble), and imaginative in their science and
philosophy, applying their sober good sense to details, but being
sparing of it in regard to principles. This arbitrary direction of their
imaginative powers, or, rather, its restriction to particular
departments, is, I believe and trust, only temporary. As their numbers
increase and their society becomes more delicately organized; when,
consequently, the pursuit of literature, philosophy, and art shall
become as definitely the business of some men as politics and commerce
now are of others, I cannot doubt that the restraints of imitation will
be burst through, and that a plenitude of power will be shed into these
departments as striking as that which has made the organization of
American commerce (notwithstanding some defects) the admiration of the
world, and vindicated the originality of American politics in theory and
practice.

Finally, she has an interesting section on “originals” in America:

There must be many local and professional oddities in a country like
America, where individuals fill a larger space in society, and are less
pressed upon by influences, other than local and professional, than in
Old World communities. A judge in the West is often a remarkable
personage to European eyes…..

….Originals who are so in common circumstances, through their own force of
soul, ruling events as well as being guided by them, yield something far
better than amusement to the observer. Some of these, out of almost
every class, I saw in America, from the divine and statesman down to the
slave.

Martineau ends her book with a remarkable reflection on travel itself, which I’ll share in the next post. 

 

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