May 10, 2012

A favorite Ming vase, which I used to look at while listening to chamber music, Metropolitan Museum, New York (personal photo)


Purpose of endeavor

April 18, 2012

“We need a nobler economics that is not afraid to discuss spirit and conscience, moral purpose and the meaning of life, an economics that aims to educate and elevate people, not merely to measure their low-grade behavior.”

–Theodore Roszak, from the introduction to Small is Beautiful, by E. F. Schumacher

Nature study

January 19, 2012

“I am not always in sympathy with nature-study as pursued in the schools, as if this kingdom could be carried by assault. Such study is too cold, too special, too mechanical; it is likely to rub the bloom off Nature. It lacks soul and emotion; it misses the accessories of the open air and its exhilarations, the sky, the clouds, the landscape, and the currents of life that pulse everywhere.

…What I have learned about [nature’s] ways I have learned easily, almost unconsciously…My desultory habits have their disadvantages, no doubt, but they have their advantages also. A too strenuous pursuit defeats itself. In the fields and woods more than anywhere else all things come to those who wait, because all things are on the move, and are sure sooner or later to come your way.”

–John Burroughs, The Gospel of Nature

Multum non multa

October 7, 2010

“In those days a boy on the classical side officially did almost nothing but classics. I think this was wise; the greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be mediocre in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

On being a realist

September 7, 2010

From time to time I think of a story in a book I read long ago: There was a pretty young woman, who said she only wanted to loved for herself, but deep down she liked being thought of as pretty. The devil came and tempted her (I think by telling her her true thoughts), she protested that she wasn’t vain, and in the end he called her bluff by making her ugly after all.

Many years later, the devil went back to see how she was doing. (Of course, he expected to take great satisfaction in her misery.) He found her house, peeked through the window, and saw: the now ugly young woman, her equally ugly husband, and a predictably ugly little baby, eating a meal in the firelight. But they were all very happy. What? Didn’t she know she was ugly?

Though some people my family knew wouldn’t let their kids read this book because it had the word “devil” in the title, I think there’s something Christian about the story. I am often afraid of letting something go that I say I can do without, on the grounds that letting go might not be realistic. I really don’t think I’m being realistic unless I’m like a Peter who’s looking at every wave around just to make sure I know what I’m up against, instead of at Jesus. Like that young woman, I secretly think I need a little beauty of my own to get along in the world.

At any rate, somehow the pretty young woman got over being turned ugly, and she found she was happier for it. She’s the realist. I think that’s very hard for the devil to understand.

“There is a need for rhythm, detachment, slowness. Why can’t students grasp all they’re taught? Because they do not have time to become conscious of, to come back to, what they heard, to let it really enter their minds. A contemporary student registers knowledge, but does not assimilate it; therefore that knowledge does not “produce” anything. A downpour of rain is immeasurably less useful for a drought than a thin, constant drizzle! But we are all the time under a thunderous downpour–of information, reports, knowledge, discussions, etc. And all of these flow around us, never sticking to us, immediately being pushed away be the next deluge.”

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, September 30, 1977

I’m thinking a lot lately about this downpour of knowledge, because I’m trying to decide whether my daughter will be prepared for the onslaught of formal study in college in three or four years. Already it’s hard to get in both music practice and study during a day. But as long as my daughter really is reflecting, I don’t think it’s taking the easy way out for her to go slowly, so that one has time to look at a topic from all sides before moving on. The main thing is to encourage that reflection.


June 2, 2010

My own limitations are a relief. They take me out of an abstract and unrealistic realm where I expect myself to be the best at everything, and cause me to focus instead on my own priorities. And this focus is not all pushed towards the future or the mental, but also includes each day’s satisfactions. It feels grounded in the senses–warm skin when hugged, the smell of pines in the sun, or the sound of the sparrow chorus each morning at 5 a.m.

In small doses, a sense of possibilities can be invigorating. But as a way of life, it’s tyranny. It pushes me to know and do what only God knows and does. I’m not writing out of false humility or lack of confidence, but out of sheer gratitude that life happens now.

(This is a short, not-so-well-honed insight, but since it took me about a week of battling with my thoughts to come up with it afresh, I thought I’d write it down.)