Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Raising Boys by the Boy Code?

William Pollack, Harvard psychologist and author of Real Boys , has spent twenty years studying boys in our culture. He points out that, at birth, male infants actually seem to be more emotionally expressive than females. But by elementary school, most of that is gone, thanks to a gender straitjacket enforced by what he calls the Boy Code. According to the code, boys and men must not, above all, express their feelings. This rule constrains not only boys, "but everyone else, reducing us all as human beings, and eventually making us strangers to ourselves and to one another."*
Some sixty-five years before Pollack published his New York Times bestseller, C. S. Lewis suggested a similar conviction that it is emotion and sentiment that makes us human. In the Platonic tripartite psychology of head-chest-belly, it is by the middle element, the chest, the seat of emotion and sentiment, "that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal" (The Abolition of Man , p. 25). An education or upbringing that teaches boys to debunk or stifle their feelings produces, in Lewis's words, "Men without Chests": 
It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. [. . .] And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.' In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (25-26)
With his usual insight, Lewis calls our attention to an amazing truth about human nature. However, I'm not sure he goes far enough in his writings. While he urges us to preserve the child's seat of emotion, he wants to see that emotion is properly trained into "stable sentiments" that will lead the child to respond to their experiences with habituated virtue. This is well and good. In fact, Lewis supplies what Pollack may lack in this regard. 

At the same time, Pollack—and other contemporary voices proclaiming with him a similar message—may supply a consideration that Lewis omits, namely the human need to express, to hear, and to accept the immediate, raw, and untrained feelings of ourselves and others with empathy, compassion, and sensitivity regardless of whether the expressed feelings conform or no to any approved sentiments.

To illustrate the passing on of trained sentiment, Lewis gives the example of the Roman father passing on to his son his own deeply-felt conviction—"Dulce et decorum est . . ."—that it is sweet and right to die for one's country. 

Pollack and others point out the complementary truth that it is also humane to express fear and sadness without shame and to nurture and comfort others when they express those natural human feelings.

Elaine Aron is another of the contemporary voices calling for a more humane view of the sexes. She warns of the unhelpfulness of stereotypes and generalities like the often heard "When women have problems, they just want to be listened to, but men want to give and get solutions." She argues instead that "We all need to express our feelings and find solutions to problems," and she cites research that "shows with perfect consistency that people in relationships are happier when women and men behave in what in the past has been seen as a traditionally 'feminine' way—that is, warm, nurturing, emotionally expressive, and eager to discuss the relationship. [. . .] what's called 'feminine' is simply 'normal human.' Fortunately, most men do behave that way too—contrary to stereotypes."*

By relating an example from his own childhood, San Francisco psychotherapist, Spencer Koffman, paints a vivid picture of how the Boy Code stunts the basic human need to express and accept emotion:
Boys are enlisted into "gender bootcamp" at a very early age, where they are taught to be good Warrior/Kings. One of my earliest memories of this indoctrination comes from first grade. I fell off the jungle-gym. I wasn't seriously hurt, but the shock of the fall caused me to cry. The uniform reaction from every boy and teacher was not to console me, but to point out that boys do not cry. That was the first and last time that I cried in school. I was in training to become "a little soldier."*
As I face the daunting challenge of raising a boy, I pause to ask myself, How can I equip my son to become a soldier against injustice, a ruler of himself, and a comforter of many, one who is not afraid to cry, to grieve, to rejoice, to engage, and to love with a full-orbed expression of his God-created humanity?

*Quotations from Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, a book about which I have several caveats but still find to have helpful insights.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Start Here" for Homeschool Curriculum

Update: In case you haven't heard, Cathy Duffy released her revised and updated 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum in July.

Original 3/21/12 post:
For those considering homeschooling, I highly recommend 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum as an excellent starting place. Although her curriculum reviews and "top picks" are helpful, the best part of the book is definitely the first series of chapters wherein she overviews the various common approaches to homeschooling and how to identify the approach(es) that best suit the vision, priorities, and individual needs of your particular family. She takes out a lot of the guess work by providing self-assessment tools to help you identify your best matches. Then she identifies curriculum that would deliver what you're looking for.

Because the homeschool curriculum market is continuously booming with new products, Duffy's book is already out of date. So be sure to supplement the book by checking out her website for the latest reviews. But don't skip the book or you'll loose out on the foundational guidance that will give you focus and direction as you face a flooded market of curricular options.

ADDED March 29: I should not neglect to mention that I trust and recommend Cathy Duffy personally. Having had the privilege of meeting and working with her early in my career, I know her to be an insightful professional and deeply Christian woman. She also has the valuable experience of already graduating her own home-educated students. As far as I understand her philosophy of education, it tends to run more or less in harmony with the vision and values I seek to uphold in my own homeschooling and on this blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ancient History Homeschool Studies

For our homeschool studies this year, we've added ancient history to our first-grade core curriculum. We're supplementing Story of the World, Vol. 1 with art projects and lots–and I do mean lots–of library books.

For the art projects, we are using Artistic Pursuits, Book 1, one of Cathy Duffy's top 101 picks. For now, we're skipping the first two parts of the book and are concentrating on the chronological ancient art projects in the back of the book. So far we've done "cave paintings," made pottery, and drawn pyramid-style murals. Thursday art days have become a favorite in our house.

In no particular order, I'll share with you some of our library book finds. I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many feet high my stacks of library books measure, but there is no way I can catalog them all for you–at least not in one post. And you wouldn't want me to. So here are few for starters.

The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs is a beautifully illustrated tale retold from an ancient papyrus scroll believed to date to the nineteenth century B.C. I love that it is an authentic Egyptian story and not historical fiction. There's a place for both but the authentic literature is harder to come by for early ancient history, especially when considering what's appropriate for the younger student. Plus, there are actual hieroglyphic phrases in the illustrations of the book, complete with word-for-word pronunciation and translation!

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs is a wonderful picture book biography of Jean-Fran├žois Champollion. It is well-written and nicely illustrated with lots of interesting information tucked in.

Adventures in Ancient Egypt, a time travel book written and illustrated in comic-book style, was fun for me to read, but I think I'll save reading it to Katherine until we cycle through again. It's appropriately designated for ages eight through twelve.
A City Through Time and A Street Through Time are both excellent pictorial overviews of the history of civilization from nomads through modern times. The detailed illustrations make these over-sized books lots of fun.

I think that's enough for now. Good night!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rest: The Opposite of Acedia

In reading Kathleen Norris's book, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life, I was cheered to come across the following passage on the nature of unceasing prayer:
We might well ask if these crazy monks don't have it coming: if your goal is to "pray without ceasing," aren't you asking for trouble? Is this a reasonable goal, or even a good one? Henri Nouwen tells us that "the literal translation of the words 'pray always' is 'come to rest.' The Greek word for rest," he adds, "is 'hesychia,' and 'hesychasm' is a term which refers to the spirituality of the desert." The "rest" that the monk is seeking is not an easy one, and as Nouwen writes, it "has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle."Acedia is the monk's temptation because, in a demanding life of prayer, it offers the ease of indifference. Yet I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married 'for better for worse," anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in everyday life. (p. 6)
Acedia definitely strikes me, and, for some reason, knowing that the cure is rest in God is so very comforting and encouraging. To pray always is to enter the height of creation, the Sabbath of worship and rest. It is to remember our freedom from bondage of every kind through our Savior. It is to enter into the re-creation, the Eighth Day of the resurrection. It is to be always present in the Kingdom of Heaven, hidden with Christ in God. By God's grace, may it always be the cry of my soul to be there in that hidden place.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Favorite Picture Books

We are always interested in captivating picture books around here, so I thought I'd share a few of our favorites from the last couple years. We borrow most of ours from the public library.

Jude and Katherine both love The Story of Noodles and Pond Walk. They urge me to re-request these from the library and never get tired of hearing them. As a bonus, each book comes with a recommended activity in the back. The Story of Noodles has a recipe, and Pond Walk has a craft. The Story of Noodles has changed the way we eat noodles in our family!

We also loved the books we've found on the various composers we've been studying. They are all excellent, Charlotte-Mason-quality "living books":

In January and February we discovered some great reads for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day. I got so carried away at the library that it kind of morphed into a mini-unit study on Lincoln, the Civil War, slavery, and the civil rights movement (with a little bit of George Washington and the War of Independence thrown in)! Here are just a few of the best reads:

This beautifully written book by Rosemary Wells is a chapter book rather than a picture book. Katherine, my kindergartener, and I read it together over several sittings and we were both engaged. However, she's a little young to fully appreciate it (and many kindergarteners probably wouldn't have the attention span to sit through it), so I'm saving this title for future reference. It's a very moving account of Abraham Lincoln through the perspective of his relationship with his two youngest sons, one of whom dies in childhood.

Henry's Freedom Box is a beautifully illustrated story of the amazing escape from slavery of Henry "Box" Brown. (His middle name tells his story!) This one was very frank about the horrors of slavery and was a bit too sad for my very sensitive girl to want to read more than once or twice. However, the copy I got from the library came with an audio CD containing read-aloud versions as well as a recording of a feet-stomping traditional African-American gospel song.

Words Set Me Free is the powerful story of how learning to read and write allowed Frederick Douglass to desire and eventually attain freedom from slavery. In addition to conveying an essential story in our country's history, it is the perfect story to read to an emerging reader and conveys the heart of what classically-informed educators mean by a "liberal education."

I love the story, the illustrations, and the layered message in Going Someplace Special. A pre-civil-rights girl finds a reprieve from the realities of racism in the public library where "All are welcome."

And here a couple other classic stories we've enjoyed recently:

Denham's lovely retelling of collected saint's lives is truly poetic at times. My favorite was the chapter on Saint Peter.

What are some of your favorite picture books?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sanctification as Healing Through Inward Grace

I love the Orthodox understanding of sanctification and what it means to enter the Kingdom of God. I found the following quotation from Archbishop JOSEPH in Sunday's bulletin:
"We must strengthen ourselves by truly realizing that the God of the Universe is the God who dwells within us. When we begin to enter into our interior universe, we will find how close we are to our healing. God has given us all things, we need only remove from our inner selves what is not of God."

When I poked around the internet, I found that his words were taken from an address he gave in 2005 at the Northern California Ladies Retreat. I love it so much I am copying all but the introductory remarks below.

[. . .] When we speak of illness, we often think of symptoms: a cough, a pain, a discoloration. Yet, these are only signs that an illness has already taken hold of our bodies. An illness runs deeper than the symptoms, and it is only through careful examination that a physician can discover an illness before the symptoms develop.

This is true of both the body and the soul. Our souls and minds can become infected with very real and very deadly diseases, which result in a variety of symptoms. St. Paul refers to them as works of the flesh. In Galatians, he wrote:
"Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21)
The Holy Apostle warns us that symptoms indicate that the disease of sin is so great that we cannot enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Just as an unhealthy body prevents us from going places, so an unhealthy soul prevents us from going into spiritual places, foremost of which is the Kingdom of God.

Let us also remember our Lord’s words recorded in the Gospel:
“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” (Mt 9:5-6)
Sin is a greater affliction to man. Though physical sickness may cause us great suffering, sin keeps us removed from God’s presence and sets in a place of eternal suffering. Physical wellness is of no value to a suffering soul, wracked with a guilty conscience and angry unforgiveness. Our Lord offers us forgiveness first, that might be healed of soul, so that we can join in the Mystical Union of Christ and the Church. 

If we are to enter into the Bridal Chamber, we must be healthy. The diseases that afflict us must be cured. From the example of the saints, we know that physical diseases afflicted people close to God. Yet, we also know that many diseases are brought about by what we now call ‘lifestyle decisions.’ The alcoholic suffers from the disease of cirrhosis brought about by his drinking, and the coal miner suffers from black lung because he worked too long in the mines.

Therefore, to live a peaceful and joyous life, we must be mindful of how we live. We must have a ‘healthy lifestyle.’ We listen to the advice of doctors in caring for our bodies, and we should listen to the teachings of the Church if we desire to have a healthy soul.

However, I know that many of you are coming here to this retreat with much suffering. You are in pain and seeking healing. I promise that what you hear this weekend can be, for all of you, a new beginning on the road to healing. What I hope all of you will find here is hope, a hope and faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, which will give you the strength to change. For the solution to all illness is found in our willingness to take the cure. The sick person who refuses the medicine will not receive its benefits, and those who reject the teachings of the Church also reject the cure of the soul which the Church offers.

For some of you, this will be a long road. My hope is that the friendships you build here will become a means of support as you journey along the way. It may be difficult to return from here to places we know are sick. Perhaps we do not think that our homes or parishes are healthy places. Never forget that the medicine is always stronger than the disease, and that your own healing will heal all those around you. You do not need to rely on the spiritual health of others to be healthy yourselves. Our Holy Faith has survived centuries in the hearts of people surrounded by those who hated them. We must strengthen ourselves by truly realizing that the God of the Universe is the God who dwells within us. When we begin to enter into our interior universe, we will find how close we are to our healing. God has given us all things, we need only remove from our inner selves what is not of God.

I hope that all of you find in this retreat a renewed confidence in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Never forget the inseparable bond we have in the Church, and let us aid one another in this marvelous journey in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

God Himself

On my kitchen counter stands a four-by-four-inch mahogany-stained wooden frame suspended in a wrought iron stand. Both the wood and glass are speckled faintly with water spots and dust. Ornamenting the frame's face, a small pressed wild flower has been lacquered on with clear nail polish. The tiny petals are almost as faint as the water marks against the backdrop of wood. Behind the glass, the frame encloses a handwritten inscription transcribed more than a dozen years ago, the immaculate lyric script undeniably my friend Amanda's.

She made the framed quotation as a present for me in college in a season when I began to feel my first real doubts about my Christian faith. In a wave—no a sea—of fear and insecurity, I realized I couldn't just believe that God, if he existed, loved me. It made no sense. My mind spun trying to fathom how a God could love everyone—so many billions upon billions of us—and even more how he could truly love any one of us, for example, myself—as incredibly unlovable as I found myself to be.

The words in the frame spoke to me in that place. They are words attributed to Madeline L'Engle, but I believe L'Engle got them from Miguel de Unamum (see Treatise on Love of God, p. 15). Here they are, arranged to match as closely as I can Amanda's poetic turning of them: 

"They who believe
            they believe in God,
but without passion in the heart
        without anguish of mind,
without uncertainty,
                      without doubt,
        and even at times
                         without despair,
believe only in the idea of God,
        and not in God himself."

God himself. He is a self, a person, not a proposition. My mind still whirls when I try to understand how he could possibly exist, possibly love, possibly act in my life. I get dizzy like Annie Dillard at the vastness of the universe and want to lie down on something low and solid, to feel some containment, something palpably sure and secure.

I don't think the fear and doubt will ever go away in this lifetime, but I have more or less learned to sit with them. I let them wash over me as they come and go like waves, knowing that I do not sit with them alone. The same one who sits with me once stood suspended faint against the wood, against the dark. On him my hands are clasped like the dead waiting for resurrection. He is my only light.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Never the Same

Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment AlternativesPostpartum depression affects 12 to 25% of mothers, reports Kathleen Kendall-Tackett in the second edition of her book, Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Alternatives. I have been one of those mothers.

For a book addressed primarily to medical practicioners, there are several wonderful gems in this book for the lay and professional reader alike. I found it to be empowering, especially in dispelling myths. For example, we learn that PPD is NOT caused by hormonal changes or imbalances, does not go away with time, and can be as efficaciously treated with exercise and other alternative treatments as it can with drugs.

The most powerful part of the book, in my opinion, is the section describing the rituals surrounding birth and the transition to motherhood in cultures where researchers have found a surprising absence of PPD. I found these descriptions beautiful, moving, and illuminating, especially in the context of the voluminous research summaries that make up the bulk of the book.

Kendall-Tackett describes the social structures that protect new mothers including a distinct postpartum period, social seclusion and mandated rest, household and childcare assistance, and social recognition of her new role and status:
In almost all the societies studied [which displayed low instances of PPD], the postpartum period was recognized as a time that is distinct from normal life. Postpartum is a time when mothers are supposed to recuperate, their activities are limited, and they are taken care of by female relatives. This was also common practice in colonial America, and was referred to as the "lying in" period (Wertz and Wertz, 1989). [. . .]

In cultures where there is a low incidence of the blues or depression, there is a great deal of personal attention given to the mother. This has been described as "mothering the mother." In these various cultures, the new status of the mother is recognized through social rituals and gifts. For example, in Punjabi culture, there is the ritual stepping-out ceremony, ritual bathing and hair washing performed by the midwife, and a ceremonial meal prepared by a Brahmin. When she returns to her husband's family, she returns with many gifts she has been given for herself and the baby. Ritual bathing, washing of hair, massage, binding of the abdomen, and other types of personal care are also prominent in the postpartum rituals of rural Gautemala, for Mayan women in the Yucatan, and for Latina women both in the U.S. and Mexico. Here is a description of one of these recognition rituals performed by the Chagga people of Uganda

"Three months after the birth of her child, the Chagga woman's head is shaved and crowned with a bead tiara, she is robed in an ancient skin garment worked with beads, a staff such as the elders carry is put in her hand, and she emerges from her hut for her first public appearance with her baby. Proceeding slowly toward the market, they are greeted with songs such as are sung to warriors returning from battle. She and her baby have survived the weeks of danger. The child is no longer vulnerable, but a baby who has learned what love means, has smiled its first smiles, and is now ready to learn about the bright, loud world outside." (Dunham, 1992: 148)

There is something very wrong about a culture where we expect and are expected to pop out a baby and get right back on the horse acting as if we are the same person we were before we birthed a new life into the world. We are not and will never be the same.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How to (Not) Waste Kindergarten

When my friend, Cinda, gave me a proverbial slap across the face last spring, it mostly brought me back to my senses.

I had emailed some veteran homeschool mom friends asking for advice on which math curriculum to use for Kindergarten/early-elementary instruction. Cinda wrote back:
I was really surprised by your email. I have attempted to answer it a few times now, but found my answers trite and unhelpful.  So, in short . . . don't buy curriculum! Buy some good books, live at the library and do what you already know to be true, and good, and FUN! Color, cut, paste, cook, run, dig, paint, build, plant, these are the curricula for a kindergarten student. You are probably doing all of these things, but don't stop to fill in a workbook page. Workbooks don't teach, parents do!
Oh, snap! I've always prided myself on being someone who thinks outside the box, and there I found myself—totally in the box when it came to Kindergarten and, especially, math.

I was so grateful for the reality check. I decided to ditch all formal math curriculum along with any other textbooks, worksheets, or formal instruction in science, history, social science, or world languages.

Well, we did do a once-a-week co-op Science class for the fall semester, but that was mostly for fun and to meet people and plug in to our new community.

And, well, I just couldn't give up the reading and writing instruction.

I'd like to say that my daughter brought this on herself. I had hoped to put off writing and penmanship instruction until a later grade, especially given that fine motor skills tend to develop later than mental-visual abilities like reading. But then my four-year-old went and taught herself to write the alphabet. She was printing letters and writing rough notes on her own initiative—with poorly formed letters and poor penmanship (i.e., pencil grasp and posture), not to mention rather inventive spelling. I did not want those habits to become ingrained. As the saying goes, "What they learn first, they learn best."

To top it off, I read essays (like this one) by Wanda Sanseri and became convinced that the best way to learn to read and write is to start with learning phonograms and spelling. So I got Sanseri's program, Spell to Write and Read (a.k.a. SWR) with the corresponding Cursive First package, and I love it. I followed the SWR Kindergarten plan and tend to agree with Sanseri about the pacing: if it's too slow, it's boring and loses momentum and effectiveness.

But it was certainly a lot of seat work for a Kindergartener who turned 5 in November and a mom-teacher who hadn't particularly wanted to do formal desk learning in Kindergarten.

Now, when I say it was a lot of seat work for Kindergarten, I'm comparing that to, well, no seat work. We actually averaged about 1.5 hours a day for 3.5 days per week doing formal homeschooling. That's less than six hours a week. As I would often like to point out to my daughter, that's nothing compared to what most people expect or experience for Kindergarten.

However, we don't want to be "normal" schoolers; that's why we're homeschooling.

Part of me remains conflicted about whether it was the best choice to charge ahead with the penmanship and spelling-reading with a young Kindergartener. (With kids who are NOT already writing, I would probably put off formally starting SWR until first, maybe even second, grade. But the phonograms can be learned in preschool or earlier, as my sponge of a toddler has demonstrated this year.)

On the whole, with perfectionism aside, however, I'd say it's been a great year and my daughter seems to have really flourished.

Mid-way through the fall semester, I realized the Science co-op class, although fun and socially expedient, was mostly a distraction from what I wanted to spend my Kindergarten homeschool time doing. 

So, for this last semester, we've been spending more time on the essentials: We've gone to the zoo and the beach, on walks at the lagoon and hikes in the open nature preserve, to the botanic garden and to many local parks. We've attended over a dozen free "Music at Noon" concerts and listened to classical music at home. We've read lots of Bible stories, Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Aesop's Fables, and library books. I've tried to send the kids outside to play on the hill in the flowers at least once a day, even if only for 10 minutes. We've had lunch al fresco under the trees. And craft time every afternoon after naps. (Yes; my five-year-old still needs her daily nap, and, because we're homeschooling, she still gets it.)

I'd like to be proud that my daughter can now, at the end of Kindergarten, spell at a second grade level and write with beautiful cursive handwriting. But, I know that what's much more important is that she get to be the kid she is and develop her natural, God-given intellectual capacities for observation and intuition, problem-solving and creativity through the developmentally appropriate avenue of unstructured, imaginative play and a wealth of direct experiences with beautiful, living things and ideas.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Sabbath, Sunday, and the Eighth Day

As someone with family roots in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, I found that the following article in the Orthodox Study Bible pulled together a lot of previously half-clear ideas, in a beautiful, compelling, and highly satisfying way.

"When the Lord commanded the Hebrews, in the fourth of the Ten Commandments, to "Remember the Sabbth day, to keep it holy," He also gave them the reason: "For in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Ex 20:8, 11 cf. Gn 2:1-3). When Moses restated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, he added another reason: "Remember you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God ordered you to guard the Sabbath day and to sanctify it" (5:15).

The Hebrews were called to "remember" (Ex 20:8), to "keep" (Lv 19:3, 30), and to "hallow" or "sanctify" (Jer 17:19-27; Ezk 20:19, 20; Neh 13:15-22) the Sabbath by resting from almost every kind of work. God provided them this sacred time each week to help them contemplate His awesome work in creation and their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. Stipulating the faithful observance of the Sabbath was one of the main ways God ordained to reinforce the people's covenant with Him (Ex 31:12-17; cf. Lv 24.8). Originally, communal worship was not linked with the Sabbath observance; but with the development of the synagogue, probably during the Hebrews' exile in Babylon (sixth century BC), the Sabbath naturally became the day for synagogue worship, as it is for the Jews today.


At first, the early Jewish Christians continued to observe Sabbath regulations and to worship on the Sabbath (Acts 13:13-15; 42-44; 18:1-4). But they also met for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Co 16:1-2), called the "Lord's Day" (Rev 1:10), since Jesus rose on a Sunday. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in about AD 107, confirms that Sunday was the main day of worship for the early Church: "They have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord's Day instead—the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death."

ST. Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, honored the Church's practice of celebrating the Lord's Resurrection every Sunday by decreeing, in AD 321, that every Sunday would be a holy day. For Orthodox Christians, Saturday is still the Sabbath, the Day on which the Church especially remembers the departed, since Christ rested in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday.


As the day after the seventh day (when God rested from His six days of creation) and as the day of Christ's Resurrection, Sunday early on came to be understood in a mystical way among Christians as the "Eighth Day." It was on the day "beyond nature and time"
(St. Maximos the Confessor), "the beginning of another world" (Epistle of Barnabas). "Wether you call it day, or wether you call it eternity, you express the same idea" (St. Basil the Great). 

Fittingly, during the week after Pascha (Easter), called Bright Week, the Church celebrates Pascha for eight days, almost as though it were one continuous day. By tradition, babies are named on the eighth day after birth. And from ancient times, Christian baptistries and fonts have been built with eight sides, indicating the newly baptized are entering the realm of the Eighth Day, the day of eternal rest (Heb 4:1-11) in Christ's Heavenly Kingdom.

A long treatment is given on the same subject by St. Gregory Palamas in his "Homily 17: Explaining the Mystery of the Sabbath and of the Lord's Day and Referring to the Gospel of New Sunday." (Click the link to download a free PDF of the homily courtesy of Mount Thabor Publishing. If you're like me, you may be amused by the numerology in paragraphs 2b-6a; I mostly skipped over those sections.)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Great Homeschool Conventions

I am really looking forward to attending the California convention of the nation-wide Great Homeschool Conventions organization. I have heard lots of good things about how the conventions are run, and I am already impressed with their low prices and amazingly large collection of speakers and curriculum exhibitors. Anyone else going?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012


Well, I thought about it. And I decided that, instead of using prizes for rewarding progress, what seems right to me is celebration.

What makes celebration different from prizes or even inherent rewards is it's essential communal and relational nature. It is further distinguished in being an activity performed in harmony rather than an object (or pronouncement) that is bestowed upon one person by another. In the acting together, we honor and affirm what we celebrate and experience joy communally. It is in this same sense that we "celebrate" the liturgy.

Recognizing that a kindergartener may need more proximate goals and celebrations than that far off "someday" when she can read any book in the library all by herself, I started looking for some smaller milestones we could celebrate together. Accordingly, this past Saturday, I took Katherine for a mom-and-daughter date to celebrate her successfully reaching the "half-way through Kindergarten" mark.

We walked down to the neighborhood nail spa together and got our nails done. While we were waiting for the polish to dry, we dove into Tales of the Kingdom. (The illustrations in the original hardcover printing had piqued her interest earlier when she found the book on her crowded bookshelf filled with both new and hand-me-down treasures.) Katherine seemed a little distracted by all that was going on in the salon, but she was still listening. When we left, she immediately started asking me to tell her more about the characters in the book. We tried stopping in for tea at the nearby bakery so we could continue reading, but the place was closed for refurbishment. After some discussion, we settled on Rubio's. We read until we were hungry for lunch and then enjoyed our tacos and read some more. Katherine was riveted by the Tales (and I cannot recommend them enough).

When we were home again and ready for naps, I prayed over Katherine aloud and thanked God for bringing her into my life and for helping her work diligently to finish the first half of Kindergarten. Then, as I tucked her into bed, I performed my familiar litany of affection over her with kisses and hugs: "I am so glad you were born to me. I am so glad I get to know you and be with you everyday. I love you so much. You are my special bonny, and I am so glad you are in my life." I could tell that she felt peaceful and loved and happy all the rest of the day.

Is all this attention and affirmation really different from praise? Perhaps it is merely a particular kind of praise, the kind of praise I can embrace because I find it to be authentic and loving and not manipulative. It's the kind of praise one would be able to freely give to a peer or even a superior without fear of being pedantic or condescending. It's a praise that is actively with the other, that honors and affirms the other, a praise that is inseparable from gratitude and festivity. It is less like the praise we give a dog in training and more like the praise we give our Lord. It is a kind of praise that gives blessing to both the one being praised and the one praising. Like participation in the liturgy, these special mommy moments are gifts, foretastes of heaven given to Marthas who finally leave the kitchen and sit down to drink in the little Christs in their lives.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Prizes, Praises, Gifts, and Inherent Rewards

Today my daughter was a bit tired with her school work and was having trouble staying focused and motivated. She asked me if I would please start giving her prizes ("like maybe stickers or something") for doing a good job with her assignments.

"Hmm. I'll have to think about that, Katherine," I told her.

I understand that staying focused on penmanship and spelling seat work can be very difficult, especially when you're only five years old, and I understand that, at any age, it helps to reward and motivate ourselves along the way as we take small steps toward a larger goal. At the same time, I really don't want to give the message that my children's behavior earns them petty prizes. I don't want Katherine to do "a good job" in order to get some unrelated trinket; I want her to see that working hard is it's own reward and has inherent benefits.

Although well-intentioned, the instructors Katherine has interacted with in community classes over the years have perpetuated this idea in her mind that she should perform in order to receive evaluative praise ("good job!") and prizes such as hand stamps and stickers ("because you did such a good job today!"). The fact that, at the tender age of five, Katherine already associates her performance with behavioristic evaluations and prizes saddens me, even if it does not surprise me. I slip into this kind of evaluation and behaviorism, too, even though I loathe it in principle.

I run out of attention and energy and find myself blurting out assessments such as "Nice work, Katherine!" when what I really mean is "I am happy for you! I'm glad you accomplished what you were trying to do!" or "Thank you for doing what I asked you to do. I really like it when you obey right away/help me out/are kind to your brother/work diligently at your school work/etc."

Although we all mean well when we say "Good job!" or "Nice work!", at the end of the day, we're giving an evaluation, and, even though it's positive, it's still an assessment, a judgement, a "you statement" at the core. We are communicating the message that our children need us to tell them whether or not their performance measures up. And we are, in the same way, habituating them to distrust their own ability to assess their performance and to rely instead on other people for their self-worth and self-image. We are talking over their own intuitive knowledge and drowning out the still, small voice of God within them, as if they could not hear him except through us.

Of course God does call parents to communicate his truth to their children, but I am not talking here about passing on the history of salvation, the doctrines of the creeds, moral principals, or other timeless truths. I also do not mean to imply that we should withhold our warmth, love, acceptance, or affection from our children. I am calling attention to the times when we evaluate our children's performance instead of teaching them to listen to God's Spirit in their hearts and to act out of awareness of and love for God and others.

When we use "I statements," instead of evaluations, however, we communicate information to our children that they don't already have within them, information that can help them become more compassionate and relational and can equip them to make loving choices. We share our feelings, our values, and our preferences: "I am so happy to see you and your brother working together as a team." "It's important to me to have a tidy home." "I like it when you help me set the table." We express our gratitude: "Thank you so much for helping me with the laundry! I really appreciate it!"

While I empathized with Katherine's desire and told her that I do love to give her fun things like stickers, I made a distinction between gifts and rewards. I told her that I give her things like stickers or treats for fun and just because I love her; she doesn't have to do anything to get those kind of things from me because they are gifts. Then I asked her why we work hard to learn our spelling and penmanship, even when we feel tired or bored. We talked about how awesome it will be when she can pick up any book in the library and read it all by herself, when she can write letters to friends and write down whatever she wants to say all by herself. Reading and writing are the inherent rewards of learning spelling words and penmanship. We talked about how it takes a lot of hard work over a lot of days and weeks to get there, but how worth it it all will be. Then I thanked her for working hard and told her I love her.

So, today's most important homeschool lesson turned out to be less about why we don't spell "was" as "wuz," and more about why we keep at our work even when it's difficult: We do it for the long-term, inherent rewards. We get fun stuff, too, but not because of our performance. And most importantly, we are loved all the time and that, thank God, has nothing to do with anything we do.

For more insight into how evaluative praise effects children, see Po Bronson's 2007 article in New York Magazine, "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: the Inverse Power of Praise."