Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Awladuna Akbaduna

As Oldest Daughter prepares to return to college this week, I am feeling the weight of this Arabic proverb:

اولادنا اکبدنا ماشیین علی الارض

Awladuna akbaduna mashyeen 'ala al'ard.

Our children are our hearts walking around outside of us.

(literally: Our children are our livers walking on the earth.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jerusalem Doors III, Helena's Cistern

This is not a Jerusalem door, exactly, but rather an entryway; Active Son ducks as he heads down into an underground cistern, located beneath the Armenian chapel of St. Helena, mother of Constantine.

This underground reservoir is also known as the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross as, according to tradition, St. Helena supervised the excavation of the cistern, in which she found fragments of the cross of Christ.

Our visit to the moist, cool cavern was a welcome reprieve from the summer heat above. And, the the acoustics were pretty amazing: Note the lady wearing a headset at the top of the stairway, who was making a recording while we were there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Got Basil?

We are enjoying a bumper crop this summer. And if you don't have basil, may I suggest that you plant some next summer? It is easily grown by seed and is one of the most care-free plants in my garden. Pretty, too, especially if you intersperse purple leaf with the standard green leaf plants. If you don't have any garden space, basil is happily grown in a pot.

Basil is the defining taste of our summer, which means that we are enjoying it in some way or another on an almost daily basis. We've discovered that just about any summer sandwich tastes better with fresh basil on it. My favorite, below, is a rice cracker spread first with yogurt cheese, then with an olive tapenade, topped with a slice of tomato and basil. The basil stays put better if you hide it under the tomato but I made it stand out front for the picture.

Quotidian Basil

Below is our favorite-new-recipe and one that I've promised to pass on to several friends:

Basil Balsamic Chicken and Pasta

*the chicken needs to marinate for 1-2 hours ahead of time*

Marinade Ingredients:

3-4 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Process the garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, and salt in the blender. Add olive oil and pulse a couple of times until just combined. Pour over 1 1/2-2 pounds of cut up chicken breasts chicken (about .8 Kilo). Marinate chicken for 1-2 hours, or longer, turning occasionally.

The Rest of the Ingredients:
1 lb (500 g) penne pasta
2 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped or chiffonade-ed , if you're really a gourmet cook
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
About 1/4- 1/3 cup pine nuts

Cook and drain pasta. Place in a large serving bowl and toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Next, cook the chicken + marinade, simmering on a low burner until the chicken is cooked through.

In a large serving bowl place the pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, tomatoes, cooked chicken mixture, and pine nuts. Toss to combine.

Serves six

Just as my basil plants really started producing, my dear friend at A Circle of Quiet posted this recipe:

Basil Simple Syrup
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups water

1 1/2 cups basil leaves, cut in half
Put sugar and water in a small saucepan; heat over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat and add basil leaves, giving a quick stir.
Cover and set aside to cool for one hour.

Pour through sieve, bottle* and store in the refrigerator.

With basil in abundance, I steeped 2 cups of basil instead of 1 1/2. We add a couple tablespoons of syrup (don't forget to stir) and a twist of lemon to a tall glass of ice water. My kids love this since our house is a soda and juice free zone.

Another of our favorite and plentiful summer flavors is canteloupe. Using the Basil Syrup recipe above I came up with:

Basil Cantaloupe Sorbet

About 12 cups 1-inch pieces peeled, seeded, cantaloupe
1 cup basil syrup, chilled

Puree canteloupe in the food processor until smooth. As the canteloupe is processing, slowly add the basil syrup, processing until blended.

Freeze in an ice cream maker or simply pour into a covered dish (I prefer a larger, shallow dish), cover and freeze.

Some sorbet recipes recommend breaking up the frozen sorbet, processing it again, and freezing it a second time, but I find this sorbet smooth enough for our tastes after one freezing. Couldn't be easier. This is the most refreshing dessert we make in the summer time.

Bon Appetite!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Priming the Pump III

Ironies of Faith

I bought this book on a hunch. An informed hunch, however: I have long enjoyed the insightful, eloquent essays of the author, Anthony Esolen, published in Touchstone magazine and suspected that I would enjoy any book he wrote about literature and faith. Bolstering my hunch was the fact that Mr. Esolen is editor and translator of Dante's Divine Comedy, a poem I will be re-reading with my boys this year. My hunch was confirmed: Esolen writes not only on Dante's Divine Comedy, but also Virgil's Aeneid (read this spring), Augustine's Confessions (to be read this fall), Shakespeare, Tolkien, Dickens, and Dostoyevesky. Through these authors' great works of literature he discusses the Irony of Time, the Irony of Power, the Irony of Love, and the Mighty Child.

Since I've been thinking this summer about the relationship between humility, language, and knowing, I was pleasantly not surprised to find that Esolen's introductory chapters were grouped under the heading: Humility & Vision. Before filling out his definition of irony, Esolen illustrates the irony of humility through Robert Browning's, The Ring and the Book. He concludes:

"We judge by what we see, and unless we love deeply, we see ourselves." -and-

"For irony, as we shall see, has to do with what people think they know, or what they think they can expect."

And, the implications of Dante on the humility of knowing:

O Light that swell within Thyself alone, who alone know Thyself, are known and smile with Love upon the Knowing and the Known! (Paradise, 33.124-26)

And now we are primed for Esolen's definition of irony. First, a negative definition:

"Until fairly recently, most writers on irony have defined it as speech that means something other than (or opposite to) what is literally said. The problem with this definition is that it at once too narrow, too broad, and beside the point. Liars mean other than what they say, but the lie is not in itself ironic; and you may, with irony, mean exactly what you say, but in a way that your audience...will not understand. The definition is beside the point, since moments of dramatic irony, or what some have called 'irony of event' may not involve speech at all, but only strange turns of fate." p. 14

For his positive definition Esolen again draws from great works of literature and the truth of God's Word, using examples from King Lear, II Henry IV, and The Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians:

"What do the cases have in common?...Each involves a problem of knowing. The irony lies in a stark clash between what a character things he knows and what he really knows. This clash is staged to let the reader or the audience in on the secret. We are, then, not merely watching ignorance, but ignorance unaware of itself and about to learn better...The irony reveals, with a kind of electric shock, order where randomness was expected, or complexity and subtlety where simplicity was expected." p. 15

Throughout the rest of this introductory section Esolen continues to draw upon literature and Scripture to make rich connections between humility, irony and the image of the Invisible God, and irony and the providence of God. Just one more beautiful example that I've been meditating on the past couple of weeks, and which I read just after hearing a sermon on Luke 14:

(picking up the story of Abraham and Isaac) "But the providential wisdom does not end there. Examine the celebrated icon of the Holy Trinity by fifteenth-century Russian artist, Andrey Rublev.

The genius of the icon lies in the profound theological insight. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, distinct yet as one, are the three angelic visitors to Abraham, sitting at table, while Sarah prepares the lamb. But the outlines of their robes form, in a kind of absent presence, the negative of the chalice: the cup of wine consecrated to become the blood of Christ, given for all. They are the ones invited to the feast, as Abraham thinks; but the truth is that they are inviting to their feast Abraham and all his descendants in faith. (Wow! italics mine.) And since they are announcing the conception and birth of Isaac, the artist has implied a long arc of providential meaning, extending from this moment under the terebinth trees of Mamre, to the birth of Isaac, to the 'sacrifice,' to the true Passover lamb, the Christ. God give himself wholly to man, that man may rise to enjoy the life of God...They (believers) will enjoy the wedding feast of the Lamb, himself, his own life, given as food to those he loves. (Rev. 19:9)"

And all this in only the first 58 pages of a 400 page book.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Jerusalem Doors II, Church of the Holy Seulchre

Below is the main door leading in (or out) of Christendom's most revered religious site: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Though now inside the walls of the Old City, the site on which the church stands was outside of the city at the time of Christ's death and is said to include Calvary and the Joseph of Arimathea's grave.

The site and the church have a fascinating tradition: early Christians were said to worship at this site and though they fled from Jerusalem when Titus attacked the city in AD 70, they later returned to worship at Calvary and the tomb. In an attempt to keep discourage Christian worship, Hadrian had a temple to Venus built on the site, ironically, marking the site for good.

When the Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena, converted to Christianity, she had a church built on the site; the church has been destroyed and rebuilt more than once, with the current church dating back to the time of the Crusades in the 12th century.

Another door, located off the main courtyard of the church

And who is the keeper of this basilica? Talk about confusing. I've heard the explanation several times but I still need to copy it from an old Fodor's travel guide:

"By a tradition established by Saladin to avoid misunderstandings among the different Christian sects, the keys of the Church were kept by the Moslem family of Joudeh, and the opener of the door was a member of the Moslem family of Nuseibah. At Easter, three sects are allowed to have the long, curiously-shaped key. On the Holy Thursday it goes to the head of the Franciscan Monastery; on Good Friday, to the chief Dragoman of the Greek Orthodox Monastery, and on Holy Saturday to the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church. An 18th-century decree gave six churches the right to share the sanctuary: Latin (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian (Jacobite) and Abyssinian. The latter two are allowed the privilege only for special ceremonies during the year. No Protestant sect has the right to share the sanctuary. The status quo and the designation of space within the sanctuary are jealously guarded by each denomination and regrettably have often been obstacles to restoration of the church."

An interior door

Door to the Coptic Chapel

And, here's a fantastic site with great pictures, maps, and in-depth information about the authenticity of the site: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Priming the Pump, II

I first read The Abolition of Man some years ago but since I know my tendency to not grasp Lewis's profound ideas the first time around and also my need to be reminded of truth once grasped, at least in part, I decided to read it again a few weeks ago.

The Abolition of Man, How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality

And now, after 19 years of raising children I am coming closer to articulating one of the fundamental truths for affecting the lives of my children. Just in time, as a friend and mother of four small children is coming over tomorrow to ask me about child-rearing and home education. And, about time: it takes me a long time to synthesize and articulate my own philosophies so I am thankful for clear thinkers such as Lewis, who do the hard work, giving words to my intuitions and daily practices. And because there is nothing new under the sun, I am glad to consider the view of the ancients, as does Lewis, in his essay, "Men Without Chests".

In his critique of modern education, Lewis laments that in our attempts to protect children from propaganda by fortifying their minds against emotion and with mere knowledge that we famish their natures. Says Lewis, "the right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments". (p.24)

Lewis cites examples from ancient wisdom:

~"St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections"--or, ordering of affections--" in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it."

~"Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought."

~"In the (Plato's) Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of a gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her."

It is this proper ordering of sentiments/emotions which give men chests:

Again drawing from Plato's Republic: "As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. (Italics, mine)

And thus, it is this proper ordering of affections, learning to love what is love-worthy, which should be our greatest goal as we raise and educate our children. An online friend who has been living this and writing about this idea for some time recently summed it up like this, per her notes from a recent conference:

"In his reflections on classical education he (John Hodges) makes the point that education is not just To Know something but rather To Love something. Education is the shaping of the sensibilities (Ordo Amoris). Truth, beauty and goodness cannot be separated. That is a pretty cool idea, no?

So, where to begin? As a Christian parent and educator, I begin with God's Word:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things..." ~Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Do we know, perfectly, what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise? I don't think we do, which is probably a good thing or else someone would write a curriculum or textbook about it. But we are not lost in the cosmos: God's revelation of Himself, the perfection of all these qualities as given to us in His Word and His Son, Jesus, provide the perfectly veiled clues which lead to discovery for those who humbly approach Him; It is His Word which leads us in the joyful 'work' of making these discoveries of truth in community with others and, particularly with our children as we seek to teach them to love all that should be loved and in its proper order.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jerusalem Doors, Damascus Gate

Last month we had the pleasure of introducing our dear-visiting-from-Boise- friends to one of the most interesting places on earth: the old, walled city of Jerusalem. Though just a 70K (44miles) trip from Amman, as the crow flies, the journey took our merry little band five hours with border crossings. At once a place of unity and separation, the Old City provides a fascinating and heady swirl of ancient and living cultures of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I love the architecture of the Old City so I'll post a mini-tour by  way of some of the the doors of the city.

Damascus Gate

We entered the old city by the Damascus Gate, or in Arabic, Bab Al Amud, Door/Gate of the Column. The the original gate was probably built during the second temple period, this "modern" gate was built in 1542 by the Ottoman ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent. The gate leads into the Arab quarter and the Arab bazaar, one of the most bustling sections of the Old City and our favorite place to shop.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Priming the Pump, I

This summer, for the first time in a long time, I've enjoyed the leisure of time; time for study, contemplation, and planning for the coming school year. Approaching the year with some general goals in mind, I find that before I fine-tune the schedules and curriculum details for the year--which often are fine-tuned as I go along--I need nourishment for my educator-soul. And so it is to books which will help me to consider and reconsider the big-important-ideas and to ask the big-important-questions I turn.

One of the books that has been helping me to prime the pump:

The Art of Assertion

Who would have thought I would have been so deeply inspired by a rhetoric book which applied the art to the academic essay? It was the author's high vision of good and right language as a manifestation of love in relationship, care for souls, that drew me in:

Particularly inspiring is the author's consideration of Plato's explanation of rhetoric as "the art of soul-leading by means of words." ( Phaedrus 261a) : "Such soul-leading is a liberal power, one which in its finest and fullest manifestation is a form of love: the finest rhetorician not only loves wisdom, but also loves others who do so. The finest rhetor, then, is a friend...The best university is a rhetorical community of friends, and the ultimate purpose of this book is to teach the reader how to live within such a community with words so full of care that they release the light of brilliance." p. 13

-and- "The care of words and things--that is, the care of things through the care of words--is a generous, disciplined forum: this human activity is rhetorical throughout, the true influence of friends who have, as Phaedrus puts it at the close of the Phaedrus, 'everything in common' (279c), in particular the shared motion toward the real. pp 13,14 (I think I need to read Phaedrus now, too.)

These ideas prompted me to dig out an old audio tape by author and educator, David Hicks, on the logos:

The study of language is connected to the formation of character.

The goal of education is a good person speaking well.

"Everything behind or beyond the logos is a mystery to us. Only when the mystery speaks, when it is clothed in the language of the law or the flesh of the Savior can we begin, and only just begin to comprehend it."

The big-important-ideas: language as love, soul-leading, discipleship, relationship, virtue, revelation of God