I write, speak, invest, network, and question to stimulate fruitful conversation. Let's talk about human flourishing! It begins with freedom. Holy leisure is the key to human being, freedom and generativity. Please join me in the adventure of realizing Christ!
Women raising children stand in a very powerful place as the mediator of reality. We are great at being womb-and-placentas for our babies. We do fairly well at providing a home life that expands their contact with the wider world. We must also be, like a healthy cell wall, a semi-permeable boundary controlling incoming intellectual, spiritual and emotional information. It’s a bit overwhelming!
As she restricts the child’s access to reality, Mom confronts her own attitude toward being impeded, constrained, limited – her own interior freedom models freedom for the child. At the same time, the child’s wonder and enthusiasm can help cultivate her own attraction to the world around her. He encounters the world poetically, and Mom is a critical matrix of support for this poetic stage of his education. This first pre-academic education underlies all later intellectual development and supports later work on the child’s ‘structure’.
Mom is also singularly responsible for the language development by which her child has a different kind of access to reality. When he begins to label, abstract, reduce, control and manipulate the world through the use of words, she’ll be there to help him voice emotional content so that he doesn’t grow detached from the intelligence of the heart as he develops in the use of reason. A truly Catholic education invites students to freely affirm the ‘Catholic proposal’ with a response, a judgment that involves the heart’s wisdom. How important it is, then, to cultivate a heart that responds to beauty, truth and goodness, and not just an intellect that affirms a code of ethics.
There are many different ‘educations’ going on at once, for parents and children. In this discussion, we looked at the classical model (Poetic, Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric stages) with an eye toward staying free, practicing freedom at every stage in appropriate ways. I gave practical suggestions for the kind of spiral growth that results in a greater freedom because it involves action that resolves the tension set up between heart and mind within a growing person. Naturally, I had to give credit to holy leisure for being the key to the kind of encounter with reality that cultivates true freedom!
This is a great talk for home educators.
I consider Mystery and Manners must reading! I have discussed different aspects of this work with parent educators, spiritual seekers, the Catholic Creatives Salon, and as a book study overview. It is a rich source of insight into the life of the artist, of the human person, and into literature’s capacity to be a vessel for truth. Everything Flannery (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis now) says about approaching a book is a lesson about how to approach other forms, people, created things.
Souls at Work continues the discussion of the way we approach form, art, people and creation. I’m sure it couldn’t have been written without my understanding of the difference between art and propaganda. If you get nothing else from Mystery and Manners, you’ll be way ahead of most readers just by avoiding flat, simplistic, propagandistic literature in which characters and story are used as vehicles for Truth Delivery and have no life or truth in themselves.
What we think about literature matters deeply, as it reflects what we think of ourselves as creations of a divine Author in stories that have an eternal trajectory. We live and move and have our being within the greatest story ever told, yet what do we understand of story, character, dramatic necessity, truth in art, and of the incarnation of Truth in lowly, concrete forms?
I suggest to potential writers, to teachers of literature, and to anyone who reads stories that they will improve their understanding of story itself, and of their own task as artists, audience, or teacher, by reading Mystery and Manners. As Flannery teaches us about the art of storytelling, she touches on such themes as the operation of grace, free will and determinism, maimed souls and broken personalities, and the responsibilities of one who would communicate Christ to others. All this, and my favorite quote has nothing directly to do with any of it!
Describing the cry of the peacock, which most people would think awful to hear, she says, “To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.” To me, that speaks volumes about her own capacity to receive mystery through sometimes ‘grotesque’ form.
One of my all-time favorite teaching experiences was a five-day poetry intensive for middle-school homeschoolers. I wrote a book just to get ready for this one, and hope to do it all over again some time. Meanwhile, I’ve adapted the material for parents, and for a high school classroom, and enjoyed those venues, too. For all audiences, I stress the importance of poetry, and poetic education, in the life of a soul.
One of the exercises I thought up generated some of the best little poems. I asked the kids to choose an object – house, hat, shoes, animal – and think of five of those as different from one another as possible. We all (yes, I played, too!) wrote out descriptions of our five-of-one-things (mine were hats) and then personified each one, based on the characteristics suggested by the descriptions. In the interest of sharing this exercise, and some poetry that’ll likely never otherwise get published, here are the five hats I came up with:
My hat Maureen is a drama queen –
so mysterious, soft and serious,
wide brim shades her violet eyes,
purple flair for a touch of surprise,
ribbon trailing her,
dark net veiling her,
Every head in the room
tough brown felt, for working hard,
he strides into a room all quiet and slow,
his sweat-stained brim rolled up just-so,
faded and hardened by wear and weather,
is just a cap.
His sole ambition
is goin’ fishin’.
Worn and faded,
with never a frown,
perked up by ornaments
hooked in his crown.
Suzy Sunshine, made of straw,
blue gingham holds her posey.
A smiling, crumpled, outdoor girl,
with freckles on her nosie.
in her best Sunday hat.
All the rest’s hats cannot touche
the satin rouche on her yellow crown.
Mrs. Milliner goes beribboned
to Sunday service to advertise.
All the ladies there
notice all the care
taken to place her flowers just right.
She’s a leader in high society,
if not in humble piety.
Every Sunday’s a thrilling show –
her glory sets most hearts aglow!
Here’s a collection of my talks that feature poetry, poems, or poetic formation.
What actually is a ‘living book,’ and what makes them live? Living books are vital, interest-catching, windows into worlds. You can hear the author’s passion and his voice. For the Kansas Catholic Homeschooling Conference, I dug deeper into Charlotte Mason’s idea that living books are essential to authentic education. We found some surprising new ways to animate our home schools, and moved past book lists to discover more living books. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing favorites from my lifetime of reading and long home schooling experience.
It’s so important to realize that good reading stimulates prayer, conversation and creativity. We don’t just ‘read stories,’ but we ‘read life’ through books, so they really must be living books, as food must be living food. I hope that a whole Catholic revival will spring up from the roots homeschooling is sending down into such good soil. The liberal arts always have their end in the person of the learner, and so living books are critically important not just as ends in themselves, but because of their contribution to the cultivation of human personhood and freedom.
(Contact me to request a recording.)
Here’s an example of the lengths I’ll go to to create a new talk for someone. For the Women of St. Ignatius, I adapted three other talks (High Resolution Beauty; A Prayer, A Poem, A Person, A Place; and Let Yourself be Loved) to create one powerful blast of affirmation of womanhood.
The Holy Spirit wants women BEAUTIFUL, EFFECTIVE, and POWERFUL. I love the way these three words have layers and layers of meaning and associations. These ladies are really great listeners and just egged me on with their enthusiasm. I was so tickled when they invited me back to speak, as WOSI is a rare, responsive, receptive audience. I find myself pulling out all the stops and giving 110%.
I just love women who are becoming more and more fully realized as they mature. Just as Mary is a manifestation of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world, women answering His call are showing us His glory. It’s such a pleasure to have something to give to women, knowing they are multiplying out into the world all that comes their way.
Here’s a great message about how we sometimes misunderstand what God is saying to us…so important to hear His real message!