Advent, first ’21

First weekend of Advent, 2021. Two family birthdays and Thanksgiving Day AND a family tradition of tree hunting & homemade donuts… it was all packed into a handful of days this year. It makes for a good kind of chaos and girding up of the loins for all the celebration. Of course, it was bookended with illness in my home, which just added to both the crazy and the exhaustion… but God’s grace was poured on like the best gravy. This life is a gift, and celebrating the start of a new Church Year is absolutely something to treasure. So we pursue this. We cultivate it. We dig in. And it is very good.

Saturday, 11.27
Family Advent Feast

Menu:
Started with Lindt chocolate truffles and a toast with merlot to King Jesus when we lit the Hope candle
Red Wine Tri Tip Steaks (used this for inspiration, but tweaked it like I always do…)
Mushroom risotto (my daughter loves to make this… but we don’t use a recipe… we just go by method, look, and taste)
Roasted veg (olive oil, s&p, garlic powder, Italian herbs; brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, beets, and red onion)
Garlic pull-apart bread (used this for inspiration, then made it monkey-bread-style using a butter-olive-oil-s&p-crushed-garlic-Italian-herbs mixture for dipping each piece of dough)
Salted Caramel Cheesecake (used this recipe for the most part, but used Nilla wafers for the crust. And added a fat pinch of sea salt to each layer of this, because DUH. Extra pink salt in the caramel as well.)

Readings:
Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season
Isaiah 9:2-7
Poem, Advent Calendar by Rowan Williams

Carols:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Savior of the Nations, Come
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Kids’ Gift:
Stratego, 1986 version

Sunday, 11.28
First Sunday of Advent

Menu:
Creamy tomato soup (in my instant pot)
Grilled cheese sandwiches (36 of them, sliced into halves)
Green salad with balsamic vinaigrette
Sliced honeycrisp apples
Double chocolate brownies with toffee & sprinkles on top

Rested with:
Fellowship with friends
Honoring my husband’s birthday
Sharing a meal
Disposable dishes
Playing Fishbowl with all ages
Handel’s Messiah on CD
Singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in harmony

Advent Hospitality

Happy New Year, Church! That’s right: with the dawn of Advent season comes the new start of the liturgical year. While I did not grow up from the cradle with a big emphasis on the Church Year, my parents were naturally very purposed about setting aside certain things for celebration and observance. There was a definite cyclical rhythm to our year, mostly informed by Christian holidays and weekly Sunday habits, even though I am not sure my mom would have been able to direct you to any books or church traditions for their origin or information. It simply came naturally to her! She has always been good at decorating, showing hospitality, feeding people, and celebrating holy events with simple festivity. Actually, let’s be real: Mama has not always jumped into festivity with simplicity. She can cook up and decorate with incredible flair, detail, abundance, and bounty. As a child, when it came to holidays, I never doubted that our cup overflowed. But it was my mother who taught me by example that celebration & hospitality are both extremely flexible, and that there is just as much value & delight in the simple as in the extravagant. Mama showed me that there are different blessings attendant in those different expressions.

Now as the mama in my own home, I seek to train my children in a similar way… and I try to do it as she did: by action and example rather than by words and description.

Peter Leithart said: “We don’t keep the rhythms of the church calendar out of traditionalism. We mark time Christianly in order to honor Jesus, the Lord of ages whose Advent starts a new age of human history. We observe the church calendar to evangelize time.”

One of my favorite times to do this is during the season of Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I have written about this before, but I will share it again this year, because it is always good to share ideas for cultivating a family culture bursting with feasting and joy and multi-generational fellowship. I honestly can’t remember how many years we have been doing this, but my children have no memory of NOT marking Advent in this way… so it is definitely a notable part of our family culture.

Each Sunday of Advent is kicked off for our family by an open invitation to any of our family members (my parents always come, my grandma frequently comes, and my brother’s family has come a couple times) to join us for an Advent Feast on the Saturday evening prior. This is the big meal of the week, where I use our fancy dishes, light extra candles and use ironed linens, make time-consuming meals or things which require special ingredients. We always toast our glasses, cheers to the King! with wine (or sparkling cider), starting the meal with Lindt chocolate truffles and ending it with some kind of sumptuous dessert. We read Scripture, a liturgy, and/or poetry. We sing Advent hymns in harmony around the table. We give our children one group gift at each Saturday feast (books, board games, videos, matching jammies…).

On Saturday, while cooking for the family Advent Feast, I also prep for Sunday… because on each Sunday of Advent, we invite friends over (we aim for two families each Sunday – and then if someone has to cancel last-minute we still have fellowship to look forward to) for a simple meal and afternoon of fellowship. The meal format is almost always soup, bread, and cookies. All of it can be made ahead on Saturday, easily heated up after church, and can be added to (sliced apples? cheese plate? green salad?) if our guests offer to bring something for the meal. I also often opt for disposable dishes, in order to make clean-up extra easy. It not only makes friends feel welcome & at-home without worrying about breaking Great-Grandma’s china, but also enables me not to have two hours’ worth of dishes to wash afterward. We like to play board games or group games with our friends, and often sing some Advent or Christmas carols. Again, we start our meal with a piece of chocolate and a toast to the coming King!

It’s not that it doesn’t take a lot of prep, planning, work, and money… but it feels simple and predictable, completely doable and entirely special.

This is one more of those little “glimpses of paideia,” where we are teaching our children through our family habits and purposed culture about what we believe is important. Where ought our focus be? How should we spend our season of Advent? There is no one right way to do it. This is simply the way that my family has cultivated a practice and a love. It folds in people from our church, our homeschool co op, our family members. It involves food and music and books and gifts. It points us toward Christmas without making us go crazy. It gives boundaries to our plans, so we do not overschedule. It brings our hearts back to Incarnation. Which is really another topic for another post another time…

For now, let me simply leave you with a few links with suggestions for posts and books which I have found enculturating for myself over recent years as I have sought to cultivate a family tradition of marking Advent – this anticipation of the miraculous so extraordinarily astounding that it has been the beginning for the historical church for centuries.

The History of Advent

Lists and links to all kinds of Advent things by Sarah Clarkson

Psalms of Advent by Peter Leithart

Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins

Joy to the World by C.H. Spurgeon

Let Us Keep the Feast by Jessica Snell et al

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Ashiterah Ciuciu

Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross

Around the Year by Maria von Trapp

The Great Architect

After contemplating God as the ultimate Artist last week, I was intrigued with the idea of God as the ultimate Architect this week. Someone who is very methodical, mathematical, organized, precise. Someone who knows about building and fortifying and anchoring.

What is an architect?? A brief definition is that an architect is the person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building. Last week, we pondered God as an artist in the context of Genesis chapter 1—so let’s briefly think about that chapter again, envisioning God as an architect.

God divided light from darkness, waters from firmament, waters from other waters, and gave names to each thing, like an architect might divide rooms with lines on a blueprint or framing during the building process, and different rooms are assigned different names for their different purposes. Dividing “kitchen” from “bathroom” from “bedroom” are helpful distinctions. He also gathered some things together into one place, like someone might organize their building supplies, putting like items together. Bricks here, planks there, pipes in another place. And then He added depth and layers. Have you seen how a blueprint does that? Makes a simple 2-D sketch suddenly have a 3-D aspect? God adds trees and flowers and vegetation… and they carry seeds within them so they can continually reproduce and fill the earth. God planned where to put lights, and organized them to bless the space they illuminated. Just like an architect places canned lighting and chandeliers and sconces around their design to illuminate and accentuate particular places in their work.

Without going ad nauseum through the early chapters of Genesis, I think you can see how God shows characteristics of an architect. Dividing and lining up and saying how far to go, adding character and light and depth, naming places and describing what their uses will be so that their purpose can be not only obvious but also fulfilled. God was intent upon creating a good work, and indeed He called it very good upon His completion.

Interestingly, when I searched online for something about “God as a great architect,” the top hits were actually Hindi, Mason, and Mormon—I really wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. The idea of the Creator of the universe, of all things both massive and miniscule, using aesthetic and mathematic, logically and artistically bringing order out of chaos, building foundations and erecting heights—just think about the redwoods along the coast of California and the layers of rock down the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon—what could be more foundationally Christian than recognizing our Creator as an architect?

So are there places to see in Scripture where God is referred to in this way? Of course there are!
Hebrews 11:10 calls Him the builder and maker of the city which has foundations.
Psalm 127 also describes God as the builder, without whom we labor in vain.
Hebrews 11:3 talks about the universe having been created by God, which makes me think about the aspects of architecture and building and constructing: the knowledge and wisdom that would be behind it.
In Job 38, we can read all about God’s testimony to Job, describing His creation and authority over it.
We read about God laying foundations in Psalm 102:25 and Isaiah 48:13 and Hebrews 1:10.
In John 14, we see Jesus talking about His Father’s house with many mansions, and He goes to prepare a place for His people.

So he lays foundations, he builds, He fortifies, He prepares places. Therefore, while nowhere can I find God specifically called an architect, when we remember the definition of an architect being that of a person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building—that is absolutely something that God has done, and does. He is the greatest Architect.

Calling God the great architect of the universe is actually a conception discussed throughout centuries by theologians and apologists. Science, especially geometry and astronomy, were linked to the divine for medieval scholars, because of the geometric and harmonic principles found there. They believed that to seek knowledge on those things was a way to seek and worship God. Thomas Aquinas said that “God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.”  In Calvin’s Institutes, John Calvin repeatedly calls God “the Architect of the Universe,” particularly when commentating on Psalm 19—“the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (vv1-6)

Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” It is His genius that not only displays the artistic side of creation but also the engineering, mathematical, tangible side. He didn’t just throw planets and comets and galaxies across the blank canvas when He created solar systems. He put order and logic into the plan. His works are measured, calculated, precise, exact.

Creation Magazine said that our sun is a star in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a spiral galaxy (there are three types: elliptical, irregular, and spiral). Astronomers estimate the Milky Way is made of over 100 billion stars! And our solar system is ideally placed in one of the arms. If we were too close to the center, we would be swallowed by a massive black hole. If we were somewhere else on the arm of the galaxy, we could be in danger of colliding with other stars. And our stable sun, our special star, is exactly specifically created to bless: it is the right color (white), because if it were red, it would be much cooler and its light could not give plants the energy they need. If it were blue, it would be hotter and emit dangerous radiation. God also has our planet orbit precisely far enough so the oceans don’t boil yet close enough to the sun so they don’t freeze.

We can witness so much of God’s majesty by looking at the things He has created. The blueprints He designed, which He has used millions upon millions of times over, are marvelous. Every snail shell, every toenail, every oak leaf, every sunflower seed, every mountain crag, every tree trunk, every honeycomb, every embryo.

Job 38 is one of the most beautiful Scriptural expressions of God as Creator, as Architect. Here are verses 4-13:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?”

God laid the foundations, determined the measurements, stretched lines and fastened foundations, laid the cornerstone. He shut the sea in with doors, fixing a limit for it, using bars and doors to precisely keep the waves and tides in their place. He commands the sun so that dawn knows where to be and when. This should make us tremble with awe and wonder and praise.

Romans 1:20 tells us that nobody has an excuse not to know God, to see His handiwork, to recognize His power and authority and workmanship and design. We can look at the stars or the insects or the mountains or the tides or the path of the sun, and clearly perceive the hand of the Lord at work.

My encouragement for you today is to look around you and see the Hand of God in the order and mathematics and lines and strength and measurements and glory of creation around you. And then, as a bearer of His image, replicate to the best of your ability and imitate your Father in heaven when you figure math problems and sketch castles and plant seeds and write essays. Divide things, name things, give structure to things. Bring order out of chaos and build upon Him as your strong foundation. He is Your fortress, the mightiest structure of all.

Little Artists, Imaging

Theme: God is the Artist. We are little artists, imaging Him, reflecting Him, looking at our Father and wanting to do what He does. What are we called to do as we imitate the Artist, and how do we love His art?

Verse: Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that He had made,
and behold, it was very good.”

Catechism: New City Q4-5
Q: How and why did God create us?
A: God created us male and female in His own image to know Him, love Him, live with Him, and glorify Him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to His glory.
Q: What else did God create?
A: God created all things by His powerful Word, and all His creation was very good; everything flourished under His loving rule.

Where does Scripture talk about God being the Creator?
From Genesis 1:1 clear up through Revelation 10:6 Scripture is absolutely packed full with reminders that God is the Creator, the Artist, the One through whom all things exist and have their being. Just a few snippets to glance through are John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 33:6, Jeremiah 10:12, Hebrews 11:3, Isaiah 45:18, Jeremiah 32:17, Isaiah 40:28, Proverbs 16:4, Revelation 4:11… but look for yourself and you’ll find that there are many more.

I don’t think it is unusual for God to be acknowledged as Creator, at least in Christian circles – but I have heard people hiccup at the nuance of God being an artist. They would argue He is more of a scientist or an engineer or a composer or an author than an artist. Yet, I think we are severely limiting the glory and scope of God if we try to put Him in a single box anyway. (That should go without saying, but there: I said it anyway.) One isolated facet of our incomprehensible, unfathomable Creator is that He is the King of art, Master of artistry, ultimate Painter and Sculptor and Framer and Architect. There should be absolutely zero argument from His people that He produces good and true and beautiful work, and we ought to take exceptional delight in observing His work and seeking to imitate it.

Not infrequently, when driving home after my daughter has ballet lessons, there is a stunning sunset out her window. She once commented that it looked like a painting from a great artist. I told her she wasn’t wrong. And yet, the nuance really is reversed: it is the great human artists who are the imitators. They only paint representations of what God has already painted, created, sculpted, and gifted to us.

When thinking through the creation account in the beginning chapters of Genesis, if you think of it as God taking the chaos and mayhem of everything being void and without shape, it does not conjure up an image of beauty or goodness. But then He takes it into His hands and uses His words as paints and brushes, to separate and delineate. He put in a horizon line and vanishing points when He put firmament and waters into their own specific places. He added depth, dimension, shadow, and vibrancy when He placed lights in the sky to rule day and night. He added color and texture and movement when He placed plants and creatures all around. And He painted Himself into the portrait when He placed mankind in the garden.

In Ephesians 2:10, we are called “His workmanship.” I have always envisioned God as a carpenter in that way. Wearing a toolbelt or something. Ha! But it is so much more rich and fat and beautiful and powerful than that. As we have been studying the works of artists like Leonardo daVinci in recent weeks, and I absolutely marvel over the things that have been produced by the work of mens’ hands, I find that I am somehow underwhelmed by the work produced by the work of God’s words.

I want to grow in wonder and awe of His artistry. The sculpted detail of tree bark. The blended colors washing the sky that are ever changing in sunrise, sunset, rainbow, and aurora borealis. The straightest of all horizon lines when I stand at the edge of the seashore and look out past the waves. The self portraits, countless in multitude, which take their turns walking the dust of the earth for their apportioned days – they were molded from dust, walking on dust, they will return to dust…

Yet one of the most fascinating aspects of His creation and artistry to me is that it is both finite and infinite, temporal and eternal. What returns to dust from my body when it decays in the depths of soil will someday be raised and glorified. I don’t understand the artistry techniques He uses, but I love the Artist and trust His skill. As I marvel at the beautiful and complex works of art in His created order, and then also find the creations of mankind fascinating, may I be drawn to look up to Him in praise and gratitude and awe. May I glean inspiration for my own creativity because of His lavish grace as my Father.

How to Study Art

I am no pro at homeschooling, especially when it comes to certain areas. I know enough to know that I will forever continue learning! Not only about art and history and algebra and scientific formulae, but also about education itself. I want to forever grow in my understanding of education and in my skills of educating the people entrusted to me.

Art is one of the many good and lovely things we like to study, but I can not pretend to have all the answers or methods or practices down pat. We try different things at different times. What we are currently doing is something we are currently loving! But what we love (and therefore do) changes from time to time as my children change and grow, and as their mama finds different ideas or resources as well.

My friends at PaideiaSoutheast.com recently reminded me that if something is genuinely worth pursuing, it is worth pursuing even if you don’t do it perfectly… dare we say, even if we do it badly.

I feel this way about art. My kids have always loved painting and sketching and coloring and embroidering. They are good at these things, and they love practicing these things. They also happen to be great activities for our long sessions of reading aloud! We have a whole plastic milk crate overflowing with how-to-draw books. Our favorites range from Ralph Masiello to Draw Through History to a variety of things by Dover that the kids try to replicate without the detailed step by step instructions.

But we also want to study art history, excellent artists, and renowned works of art ~ and preferably, without spending a heap of money and a ridiculous amount of time on such things.

The way we currently do it (and love it) is by folding Art Study into our Collective time. This year, I am sharing this with our homeschool co op, so I have been a bit more purposed & organized about it than in previous years. (Which is super excellent! I needed that push toward accountability!) Over the summer when I put together Collective plans for our upcoming co op year, I chose thirty-one pieces of art that we would study.

On Wednesday at co op, I spend about 5-8 minutes showing the piece of art to everyone, giving a little bit of background about the artist, and then telling about the specific piece of art. What is its size? What medium was used? What is unique about it? What is typical about it? What is its history? Why was it created? How long has it survived?

On Thursday, we watch a YouTube video or two about the artist and the specific piece of art. I like to find a coloring page or color-by-number sheet for the kids to do that day. On Friday, we finish that up and review what we remember from the previous days of studying it.

Then on Monday and Tuesday I try to have the kids imitate the art, usually just with sketching. What elements do they include in their imitation?

This is how we study art and this is why we study art.

It is good to remember that we are created beings, and we are made in the image of our Creator, so therefore we ought to delight in imaging Him, copying Him, imitating Him, creating like Him. We are imperfect, we get frustrated, we don’t have tons of time to put toward it… but we dabble in this area, we delight in it… and it’s just one more way that God allows us to taste and see that He is good.

~~~

Example: the Mona Lisa by Leonardo daVinci, c. 1503-1519

The Mona Lisa is described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” I have even seen this in the Louvre myself! It was much smaller than I had expected it to be, but I had not particularly studied it ahead of time. It is actually 21”x30”—painted in oils on a white panel of poplar wood. It was primarily painted between 1503 and 1506, but supposedly daVinci iterated and touched it up repeatedly even as late as 1517. X-rays reveal three layers of earlier versions below the surface.

She is the portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant—he commissioned the painting, but never received it. Interestingly, daVinci himself kept it until right before his death when he sold it to the King of France, who apparently hung it in his bathroom. It is now property of the French Republic and has been on display at the Louvre since 1797. Only the very elite could have their portrait painted during this time in history, and you needed to “sit” in order for the painter to capture your likeness. You must live rather a life of leisure to have time for such sitting. There was no selfie stick! Since this is the portrait of a cloth merchant’s wife, it is a reminder that things were changing during the Renaissance—and this was done in Florence, which was known as an economic hub of the era.

This was a new way to do a portrait, because it was not a proper bust length. This was considered a half length – it was more natural. Including hands, a background, and a turned angle of the sitter’s body was a new formula of painting pose for this location. It had been done in northern areas, but this was brand new for Italy.

This is also where we can see a painting technique that daVinci loved, called sfumato, which literally means smoke. He uses this hazy quality in order to bring an atmosphere of unity. And it brings the figure herself emerge out of the darkness without it being a stark contrast. He apparently used multiple coats of a translucent (semi-transparent) oil paint, which added to the effect of depth. It looks like she is seated on a chair, and there were two columns to her sides… and in fact, there may have been columns on it originally, and it may have been cut down.

The Mona Lisa is one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at US$100 million in 1962 which is equivalent to $870 million in 2021.

What is loved about this painting? And why is it so famous?
People love to talk about her slight smile; it is her smile which causes critics to call her a mysterious woman. People love to notice her missing eyebrows—which was a sign of beauty in that era, women would pluck or shave off their eyebrows. Notice the gauzy veil over her hair and top of her forehead—a little reminiscent of the Lady with an Ermine, if you remember back to the piece we studied last week. And if you look carefully you can see incredibly fine brushwork as daVinci painted delicate embroidery on Mona Lisa’s gown. The fame of the Mona Lisa only grew when it was stolen by a Louvre employee in 1911. He simply tucked it into his coat! It was missing for two years, but has been happily on the wall in the Louvre again for another hundred years.

Color by number Mona Lisa
Coloring page of Mona Lisa
Video about the Mona Lisa https://youtu.be/B06PK4yZwvY
Video for little ones about Mona Lisa https://youtu.be/dCOI90wO_3o
Video for little ones about Da Vinci https://youtu.be/eEy0njL4DDI

Pursuit of Wisdom

The Value of Wisdom—Proverbs 2:1-13

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness…

Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding—Proverbs. What do these things mean, what is their progression, and where do they come from? How do we pursue them?

In the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were perfect, not yet tainted by sin, were they wise? Did they have wisdom? I can’t pretend to answer that for you, but I can tell you that they were tantalized by the idea of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even when walking in the garden with God, the font of all wisdom and the most beautiful embodied Wisdom of all, could they identify wisdom? After hearing the deceptive words from the wicked serpent, Eve saw the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not only beautiful but would make one wise. What did Eve understand of wisdom? I think it’s probably clear that she did not know enough about it.

I bet you that she understood a good deal about folly shortly thereafter though.

I think Eve shows us what Paul David Tripp writes about in New Morning Mercies when he says, “Sin reduces all of us to fools… we think we can step over God’s boundaries without consequences. We think we deserve what we do not deserve and are able to do what we cannot do. Shockingly, there are more times than most of us recognize or would be willing to admit when we think we are smarter than God.”

This brings us back to Eve. Rather than seeing the deceit of the serpent, she now wonders (in burgeoning folly) if God was deceiving her. Wisdom is not natural to sinners. The pursuit of wisdom is one of humanity’s most profoundly important quests. But it is hard for us to gain wisdom, to measure wisdom, to properly see and acknowledge wisdom because we see through eyes which filter and interpret through our own foolish hearts.

So where does wisdom come from? You can’t buy it. You can’t even get it by hard work and experience. Not actually, not officially, not true wisdom. And that is because, in order to be wise, we first need to be rescued by the Savior. In the counterintuitive, paradoxical way of the Gospel, we must become needy, humble, seeking, and acknowledge that we are completely depraved and foolish on our own… it is only through the gift of faith and the enabling work of the Holy Spirit that we even can gain true godly wisdom.

Colossians 2:3 says of Jesus, “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” All the treasures! It is the free grace of God that bridges us with wisdom and causes wisdom to live in us. Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Psalm 111 says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.

Eve disobeyed His commandments. And ever since she and her husband, our first parents, grasped for knowledge and wisdom outside of the boundaries and commands of God, humanity has been brought forth in sin and folly. It is by the grace of God alone that He gives us directions in Scripture on how to once again pursue Him, pursue wisdom, pursue understanding.

He tells us that fearing Him is where we begin. And understanding the fear of Him is the end game. THAT is where we find the knowledge of God.

All the Greek Words

You know the old saying, “it’s all Greek to me”? I feel like as I have waded slowly into the Classical education model in our Christian homeschooling, I have to say that much more tongue in cheek. Honestly, I could say, “it’s all Latin to me” quite often, as my three oldest children love their Latin studies… but they do it without me, because I can only grasp so much of it (I love the vocabulary! but please let me hide in a hole when it’s time for grammar and conjugations!) and they honestly take great delight in learning something Mama doesn’t know. They also have extremely high hopes of having a secret language for communicating right over their parents’ heads. This is a challenge I encourage them to pursue. I wish I could take them gallivanting around the Mediterranean sea to explore the remaining vestiges of the Roman Empire as their reward should they succeed.

At any rate. I had long thought that, were we to pursue an officially Classical educational model in our homeschool, we would choose to study Greek over Latin. In fact, when my oldest son was our only genuinely school-aged child, we purchased Songschool Greek in the hopes of doing just that. My husband knew Greek, after all! But I was too tired to figure out how to use the simple textbook properly, and my husband was too busy to consistently help Gabriel with anything more involved than the Greek alphabet. So it went by the wayside.

Fast forward a few years, and I throw around just a couple Greek words very regularly though. I also do still love the occasional rabbit trail of word study when studying Scripture. But I do not have any endeavor too come fluent in any language at this point outside of English. Keeping up with the ebbs and flows of the ever-iterating English language is enough of a task for me.

But if you have been around here with me for more than a hot second, you have surely seen me throw around words like scholé and paideia. Very clearly, I am pulling out some grand misspells or dipping into a separate language. I know I have explained paideia recently in more than one post, but it has been a little while since I have mentioned scholé. My friend Mystie Winckler explains this fairly succinctly here. She says, “Scholé means seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty first and foremost, laying aside personal agendas, prideful goals, and desires to control so that we can be open and able to embrace Truth, Goodness, and Beauty when we see it. And we should be seeing it all over the place. God is True, Good, and Beautiful, and we are reflections of Him, called to increase our reflection of Him more and more as we mature and grow all our lives.”

There are many times when I just get so excited about the ways my very favorite Greek words (not including tzatziki or dolma or baklava…) overlap and intersect. My friends at Scholé Sisters have this phrase “scholé every day” as a reminder that this is a daily, continual pursuit. Not one and done. But a habit was continue to cultivate throughout life. Just like pursuing a godly paideia! One of the ways I pursue paideia is through scholé!

A habit I began when I was just a teen was that of playing through hymnals on the piano. Beginning to end. And while I do not always have this practice on repeat, it is nonetheless something that I have repeated often in the last 25 years! It began as a challenge to myself when I was trying to learn the skills of an accompanist. I wanted to be able to serve in churches and other sacred settings, but did not want piano performance to be a stumbling block. So I set out to work my through hymns and psalms in such a way that I would eventually be able to play anything on any page in any hymnal. And even as a 12 or 14 year old, I wanted to do that not to attain a specific self-promoting skill, but to equip myself for sacrificial service. God gave the desire, the will, the stamina, the joy, and the fruit.

I have served as accompanist at every church my family has attended ever since, at least in some capacity (full time, part time, or substitute). I have accompanied at countless hymn sings and psalm sings and family worship opportunities in multiple homes. Eventually, I even learned to accompany more modern settings which required different skills… chord charts and lead sheets are still not something I love, but I can work with them cheerfully when I am serving the body of Christ.

I love to play through hymnals and psalters. Often singing along, but not always. Sometimes focusing on just the music beneath my fingertips. Sometimes quietly meditating on the words my eyes see while my hands are on autopilot. Interestingly, I do not know how many hymnals/psalters I have played straight through in the last couple decades, but I know it has been at least six – plus other compilations of worship music like the Cantica Sanctorum and the RUF songbook. Last night I reached the end of yet another.

Often, after tucking my children into their beds at night, I will be asked to go play the piano. The baby grand in the large family room with the wood floor and high peaked ceiling projects valiantly and echoes throughout the entire house. The children genuinely love hearing their mama play even the most simple of things… and there have been countless times where I will suddenly hear little voices wafting down the stairwell as they join me in some of their favorite psalms or hymns. I fully expect this to be one of the things they remember about their childhood, just as I fondly remember the bedtime routine of my father singing to me while he played guitar and my mother stroking my hair while she quietly sang me a personalized lullaby.

My practice of musicianship for the glory of God and the serving of His people, as well the simple blessing of beauty & rest that it serves to my own soul, is one example of my own #scholeeveryday pursuit of godly scholé. But in the practice of it, I am simultaneously cultivating a godly paideia to nurture the souls of my family.

So perhaps the next obvious question is this: which hymnal or psalter is next on the docket?? It just so happens that I have a short one already queued up.

Or maybe the next question ought to be, what other Greek words should be in my daily arsenal for living in a Christ-focused home, taking my children with me to the feet of the Savior??

Podcast Conversations

Back in April, I had the pleasure of sitting in my family room to chat over Zoom with a long-distance friend across the country. Amy, who writes at Humility and Doxology, had asked if she could interview me for her Homeschool Conversations podcast. I remember feeling a bit stumped about what in the world I could have to offer to anyone, and why would somebody want my voice speaking into their earbuds… but I jumped at the opportunity to visit with Amy anyway because I knew she was sweet and friendly… and we happened to have a lot in common. Fast forward six months, the interview was published on the Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology podcast, and you can find the transcript on her blog as well.

During the interim months, however, I have continued to enjoy chatting with Amy in little snippets thanks to modern technology: we chat on the Voxer voicemail app and share things on Instagram. She also had me participate in her Homeschool Generations blog series over at The Curriculum Choice, and guest post on her blog regarding Singing Psalms with Little Saints. It has been a delight to connect with Amy on things that are near and dear to both our hearts.

Another way that Amy has blessed me recently is in a bit of tip-giving in almost a mentorship type way. While I have been coming alongside my friend Heather Tully for nearly a year now, to be a sounding board as well as act as a bit of a mentor, regarding the beginning of a sister community for my Paideia Northwest, we have come up with some ways to pursue community together between our Paideia Communities even across the distance. Pursuing a small, casual podcast is one of those ways. But I had no idea where to begin! Just like Heather said to me all those months ago, having a vision and a desire and excitement is a great place to start… but sometimes we really need someone to take us under their wing and show us how they have gone about things. Not because there is only one right way to accomplish a particular undertaking, but because it is such a blessing not to recreate the wheel every time you want to try out a new project! I am happy to iterate multiple times, but even to simply have a foundational starting stone is such a gift. It is like being a given a seed that was harvested from a friend’s garden, and now I have something to start with as I begin to build my garden. (It feels like a very pioneer thing to do, in fact.)

So thanks to Amy at Homeschool Conversations, I have been able to start dabbling with Paideia Conversations. While it is not officially launched in any sort of grand way, this is sort of a “soft opening,” so to speak.

Although I have been largely doing the first few podcast episodes on my own to learn the ropes (and thankfully my teenage son is tech savvy and computer literate, so he can run the ropes that are beyond my non-Millennial brain), the Paideia Southeast team will be participating and creating content right along with me before long. This podcast is simply intended to continue the conversation about raising kids for Christ and cultivating homes that center their atmosphere around Him. The recording of these “paideia conversations” in a casual podcast is a natural extension of what we have spent recent months discussing on Voxer together.

So here we go: one more new endeavor to tip toes and fingertips into. Another way to be sharpened and encouraged and challenged and fortified on this journey of raising little saints for the Kingdom of God.

Meditation on Imago Dei

: Imago Dei. Image of God. Man was created in God’s image—male and female.

If God is King and Creator, covering us in inescapable grace, and in our quest for truth we know that we are to deepen roots and produce fruit, how should we then live? We ought to live as He created us: as His image-bearers. So what does it mean to be a creature, a created-one? What is it to be a bearer of His image?

Well, what does the Bible say about this?
Genesis 1:26 & 27 “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Genesis 5:1 “When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.”
Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.”
James 3:9 “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

The Bible very clearly says that we, as mankind, are created in the image and likeness of God. But do we have any real idea of what this means? To be an image means that you are not the actual thing, but an image of a thing. You show its likeness like a replication, a duplicate, even a mirror. But you are not the thing itself. Pastor and writer John Piper says, “If you create an image, if you make a sculpture of someone, you do it to display something about that someone. You put it in the square in the middle of town, and you want people to look at it, notice it, think about that person, think something about them — that they were noble or strong or wise or courageous or something… God created us in His image so that we would display or reflect or communicate who He is, how great He is, and what He is like.”

So every time we see another human, we are seeing another image of our great God and eternal King. Think about that! Billions and billions of images—every one of us imperfectly imaging Him—but each one reflecting something of our Creator. Looking at another human ought to cause us to wonder, for it is seeing a reflected glimpse of God. John Piper said, “being created in the image of God means that we image God. We reflect God. We live in a way, we think in a way, we feel in a way, we speak in a way that calls attention to the brightness of the glory of God.” As parents, the way kids are reflects something about their parents. I think you know what I’m talking about: haven’t you ever heard a parent laughingly say, “oh I hope they don’t make me look bad” when they’ve dropped a kid off somewhere? What they are saying is an acknowledgement that their children reflect them. For good or for ill, we reflect our parents—our children reflect us. In this same way, we reflect our heavenly Father in whose image we were created. And we do make Him look bad! What I mean by that is that we are marred, imperfect images of Him. We only reflect a small part of His glory and majesty. Our hope and prayer is that as we continue down our life of sanctification, that we continue to be honed and sharpened and polished so that we are ever more accurately reflecting our Father, our Creator, our King.

As we bear the image of God, we are all made to glorify and magnify the Lord—and this is for all His image-bearers, all of mankind. Our Creator gave His image to all humans: He created Adam and Eve in His image before sin entered the story, but then all of humanity after our first parents have likewise borne His likeness. Regardless of salvation. Even those who live and die in unbelief bear His image. We can not escape His glory. To one extent or another, we all bear His image and reflect His glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. Ever since the fall of man, we have rejected the glory of God—His glory has been replaced with idol after idol, false image after false image, and they lack the glory of God. But the fall of man and our sinful nature did not change the fact that we bear God’s image: but Romans 8:29 tells us that His chosen people are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. This is part of our sanctification, ever onward toward glorification and eternal praise of our Father in heaven.

C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote in The Weight of Glory: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

But then let’s go one step further and see that not only did God make humans in His image, but He made them male and female. This is a countercultural way to talk in our current social climate. But it is extremely biblical. It is straight out of Genesis 1. This establishes the pinnacle of a Christian worldview. Kevin DeYoung writes that what is at stake here by God creating His image male and female is “nothing less than the gospel. That’s all.” Because without it, we would not have marriage, we would not have procreation, we would not have the continuance of His image. And Paul tells us that it is a profound mystery, that marriage refers to Christ and the church. This is not by accident. God did not have to make humanity this way. But it reflects Him most, and it glorifies Him best—this was God’s very own, very good idea. In His infinite wisdom, when He put Adam to sleep, He formed a woman for Adam’s companion. And the two together were the image of God. In some mysterious way.

So as you look at one another, I challenge you to see the glory of God reflected in each other’s faces. As you play together, I encourage you to find the glory of God reflected in the bodies around you. God has fearfully and wonderfully knit one of you—for His glory and in His image. Let us prayerfully seek to grow in our reflecting of Him, in our bearing of His glory, and to embrace the gift of being male or female specifically created for His praise.

Verse: Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Catechism Q: How and why did God create us?
A: God created us male and female in His own image to know Him, love Him, live with Him, and glorify Him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to His glory.

Blessedness vs. Wickedness

Trees have roots and fruits, and we see this in Psalm 1 applied to a godly man. How do we apply this to our walk with the Lord? What can we learn about blessing, delighting, meditating, prosperity, and fruitfulness? Where do we go for nourishment?

Verse: Psalm 1
“Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.”

The book of Psalms opens with two psalms which really end up setting the stage for the entire rest of the book to come. It generally makes sense to begin in the beginning of a book before reading on through it, but not everyone has had that experience with Psalms. A lot of people are introduced to Psalms through super common ones like Psalm 23 – the Lord is my Shepherd – or Psalm 100 – about entering His courts thanksgiving and His gates with praise. But one of my absolute favorite ways to read wisdom literature in Scripture is from beginning to end. My kids and I read both Psalms and Proverbs this way: straight through, on repeat, all the time. I can not count how many times we have read those two books together already, and can’t imagine how many times we will have done it throughout our lifetimes. This is a good heritage to pass on, and a worthy foundation to set.

So if we were to approach the book of Psalms by starting at the beginning, we would see that Psalm 1 presents two ways of living—actually, very similarly to what Proverbs does with the way of wisdom and the way of folly—but here in Psalm 1, it is the way of the blessed man and the way of the wicked man. Some theologians actually say that Psalm 2 is not a separate song but a continuation of the first—the King mentioned there is not David, but a foreshadowing of Christ, the Son of David that God’s people were anticipating. Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm. But back to Psalm 1!

This is a wisdom psalm (again—that connection to Proverbs), it is intended for the training and instruction of God’s people. The book of psalms was the hymnal of the Hebrews, the Jews, God’s people. And right here in the beginning of that book is a teaching method commonly found throughout the Bible: two ways in contrast; a positive example beside a negative example; one meant for imitation and the other for warning. We’ve already established that the two options in Psalm 1 are that of blessedness and that of wickedness. What does blessed mean? This is actually the Hebrew word that my son Asher’s name comes from: asherey, ashrei, esher (it’s phonetic so you can find it transliterated different ways). It is a word that means happy, blessed, fulfilled. It is a contented state of joy that is an internal happiness which brings blessing from the inside out—not the outside in. It is not a happiness based on situation or blessedness based on materialism. This kind of true blessing, true happiness, comes from walking with the Lord.

The first half of this psalm gives beautifully poetic description about what the blessed man is like. We see the blessed man described as a tree planted by rivers of water, yielding good fruit, not withering but prospering! And from where did this tree stem? Where are its roots? Delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on the law of God day and night—that is where these tree roots are nurtured and nourished. And then back to the beginning, we see that this man steers well away from sinners and scoffers and wickedness.

We must see that the very first thing mentioned is the distinction between godly and ungodly influences. We must resist the influence of the ungodly, carefully protecting ourselves from ungodly influences. Therefore, we must rather put ourselves in the way of godliness, righteousness, and meditation on God’s holiness. This is where blessedness and happiness lie. This is the path of good fruit and prosperity. Psalm 119 is a long treatise on exactly this! Here is a brief example:

Psalm 119:97-106

Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
    for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
    in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
    for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to keep your righteous rules.

Throughout the psalter, but notably right here in the very first chapter, we see that devotion to God and His Word is not a slavish duty nor hedge against superstition. Rather than a burden, it is a delight and pleasure and joy. He meditates on it! This meditation is considering, pondering, wrestling with, and being occupied with—meditating on God’s Word means focusing on it and seeking to understand it, memorize it, and—dare I suggest—even sing it.

But how does the psalmist go on to describe the wicked? In an abrupt shift, he declares simply: “the wicked are not so.” He describes them as chaff that has been shaken off the grain. Therefore, because of their very nature as inconsequential and useless, they will not stand in judgment but will blow away like the dry hulls of chaff when a farmer winnows wheat. Chaff is worthless, meaningless. Ultimately, we are told that the end of the wicked is far from prosperity: the wicked will simply perish.

So we see that there are two ways we can live—the Lord presents us here with the two paths: that of wickedness and that of blessedness. This is the ultimate distinction in life. And here is one simple yet profound note: although we would all like to think of ourselves as the blessed one, the tree planted by rivers of water… we are only that one thanks to the irresistible grace of God. But for that undeserved mercy, we would lie squarely in the path of the wicked one. Praise the Lord for His sovereign plan and gift of Jesus Christ! Because of Him, we can be blessed. We can be happy. We can be fruitful and prosperous. Like that tree representing the happy and blessed man, we do not have to fear dry seasons because of the constant water supply nourishing our roots. Because of the Living Water of Jesus Christ our Savior, we can endure adversity, persecution, drought, affliction. It is the law of God, His very Word—which we have the modern gift of carrying around in our very pockets, not to mention in a dozen different copies on our shelves at home—which is our sustenance. May we thus brim over with love for God’s Word. May we raise children whose roots are planted by the riverside. May our homes be orchards with fruit ripe for plucking and harvesting and sharing. This is how we can share in the prosperity and blessing of the man in Psalm 1. Rely on Jesus and trust in Him, letting Him be your righteousness and hope, your joy and delight. Do not walk in the ways of the wicked—but rather, choose to delight in the law of God and meditate on His living Word.