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

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.

Trinitarian Blessing

We can not escape the grace of God. Father, Son, and Spirit—this God we serve is with us as our foundation, our protection, our all. Do not fear.

Weekly Verse: 2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Weekly Catechism:
Q:How many persons are there in God?
A: There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Our memory verse this week is a benediction—in fact, a specifically Trinitarian blessing—that emphasizes God’s love, the grace we enjoy because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship or communion we experience because of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. (And our catechism focus is also on the Trinity.) There is unity here, yet diversity. Paul’s blessing ascribes specific blessings to the operation of each person in the Trinitarian Godhead. The finite human mind can wrestle with the doctrine of the Trinity for more than a lifetime: it is a mind-blowing truth, which remains a mathematical mystery for us. Jonathan Edwards noted, “I think [the doctrine of the Trinity] to be the highest and deepest of all Divine mysteries.” But it is comforting and practical to the core. We can basically sum up Christianity this way: we come to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. And in this verse we remember the fullness of God in how He redeems and blesses His people with grace, love, and fellowship.

There are many ways to apply this, but one way that I find comforting is the reminder that we can not escape the grace of our God. Perhaps this is a terrifying reality for some—but for those of us who find our safety, security, comfort, and refuge in the Trinitarian God, it gives us every reason not to fear. His grace reaches us no matter where we run! The grace of God is before us, behind us, above us, beneath us, with us, and for us. It is this gracious God who is our foundation, our refuge, our protection. We His children do not need to fear. We have His grace, His love, and His fellowship. He gives us Himself in grace and love while enfolding us into communion with His family.

If anyone has experience with this inescapable grace of God, it was Paul. 1 Timothy 1:12-17 is Paul’s testimony of this:
“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

You remember Paul, right? Paul was a blasphemer. A persecutor. An insolent opponent. He was ignorant and unbelieving. He proclaims his dire sinfulness! But here’s the thing. Even Paul—who was Saul at that time—could not escape the love, grace, and communion of our Triune God. And Paul invites us to give honor and glory to the only God, the King of the ages, because of His mercy and patience and faithfulness.

Why did the chief of sinners receive love, grace, and communion from God? Because the grace of our Lord overflowed for Paul with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. And this ought likewise to be our comfort and our hope, it ought to drive away fear and doubt. Our Lord Jesus Christ has grace for you and for me. Our God loves you and me. And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit reaches and embraces you and me. This is indeed a blessing. This is our firm foundation. This is encouraging. And it ought to give us hope to face trials and strength to climb mountains.

Sweet Paideia

One week ago, my sweet little girl decided to make a surprise for her new friends at ballet. She has been trying to find ways to connect with the girls in her new class this year, which is difficult when they are not allowed to talk or giggle during class (they are very focused on their poise and form and classroom respect), and with all the weird restrictions our state has over gatherings… honestly, it’s almost surprising that we are allowed to have classes at all. Praise the Lord, we can! But how to overcome the obstacles of our current culture’s mania when my little girl just wants to hug and talk and smile and be close and interact and pursue fellowship… let’s just say, it has been a bit of a fickle pickle to iron out.

She started with writing letters to a couple of her fellow ballerinas, and then at the next class after that, one of the moms pursued a conversation with me to tell me how incredibly timely and kind the letter-writing gesture had been. Our daughters came out of class then, and spent the next fifteen minutes giggling and talking and dancing on the studio patio.

So her next creative idea was to bake cookies for her classmates as a special surprise. She had all the ingredients set out, found a recipe she wanted to use, and waited all day for me to have the time to help her. It went beautifully until she was adding eggs… and unfortunately dropped an entire egg — including the shell — into the mixer — while it was beating. Immediately, I turned off the preheating oven and broke the news that that was my last pound of butter and cup of brown sugar, so we would have to wait a week to make cookies for her class. Cue the tears! I may have briefly considered the possibility of using tweezers to scrutinize the bowl of dough and try to pull out three hundred shards of eggshell like so many splinters…

She sadly got into jammies and brushed her teeth, all the while blinking back tears that desperately wanted to wash her freckled cheeks. I climbed into bed with her to scratch her back and have a conversation. What makes this the hardest tonight? She replied, my friends won’t get to have cookies tomorrow! I smiled at her and said, but maybe there is a reason why God wants you to bring cookies NEXT week. Maybe one of your classmates is really going to need the encouragement of a kind gesture and friendly gift at that point. God knows all the details of the things we can’t even imagine.

She looked at me, fairly satisfied. And so for the last few days, she had mentioned now and then how she wonders what her new friends are doing, going through, enjoying, struggling with — and she is hoping that bringing cookies to them will be a timely blessing.

We bought more butter. And brown sugar. And this time, we will crack the eggs into a cup before pouring them carefully into the mixer set in its off position.

~~~

When we were discussing the idea of making cookies as a gesture of kindness and friendship, Evangeline said that it seemed like a Christian thing to do: to make something lovely or delicious without someone expecting anything, and to just bless them out of nowhere. And I think she’s exactly right. This is the kind of gesture a godly paideia longs to produce. An 8 year old little girl who can articulate on her own that making cookies for her ballet classmates can be an embodiment of “virtues like the fruits of the Spirit.” When I asked her which fruits she thought cookie-baking and cookie-gifting might embody, she smiled and said, “love and joy definitely; peace like fellowship between new friends; I had to have patience because of the whole eggshell problem last week; kindness and goodness are like giving a special surprise to someone; but I’m not sure I can find faithfulness and self control…” I reminded her at that point that she has a very faithful pursuit of trying to be friendly and to generate actual friendship with these girls. And while we laughed at self control because we can’t mention that virtue relating to cookies without Frog and Toad immediately coming to mind… (tell me you know that kid lit reference!), it is also true that Evangeline has had to pursue self control in class not to giggle and chitchat with these new friends, which honestly is what urged her to try finding more creative, out of the box ways to connect with classmates.

I think this is the kind of moment where I really want to be purposed in pointing out that glimpse of paideia. Recognizing that something as simple as homemade cookies… and as complicated as ruining the first batch of dough, thus needing to wait an entire week before trying again… can bring about a sweet conversation about philosophical paideia intersecting with practical paideia… that is a beautiful step for me. It’s my friends at PaideiaSoutheast.com that help urge me onward and upward in this continued conversation. And I am finding that the more I open my eyes, asking myself how can I glimpse paideia here?, the more easily I see it. Godly paideia fleshed out and lived to the fullest.

So this is the sweetness of a little Christian girl, giving of herself for the enjoyment of others. And I praise His holy name.

Glimpsing Paideia

I have always loved the word paideia. It’s a word I kind of grew up on. Having been raised in the Reformed Christian tradition, Greek and Hebrew and Latin words are not unfamiliar to me, although I have never even considered the option of studying one of those languages to the point where I were fluent or able to translate anything. But when it comes to original languages, especially used in Scripture, I have a longing to know the translation and the etymology and the various definitions and applications of a word. Paideia was one of those words introduced to me from childhood, thanks to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I think it is fairly safe to say that all children raised in a Christian household have been taught Ephesians 6:1 from a very early age: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and many of us probably even went so far as to have memorized verses 2 & 3 on its heels: “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” But I think it is less commonplace for verse 4 to be memorized and catechized in our families: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

As a parent, it can be tempting to bark Ephesians 6:1 without first washing ourselves in the gentle command here to parents (fathers specifically). DO NOT provoke your children to anger. Rather, DO bring them up in the paideia of the Lord.

That’s where we see the Greek work paideia.
Biblical translators have a variety of different English words they use in our English Bibles, but they are just insufficient for the height and breadth and depth of what the Greek word would encompass.

Britannica says:
Paideia, (Greek: “education,” or “learning”), system of education and training in classical Greek and Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) cultures that included such subjects as gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, and philosophy.

Merriam-Webster shares this definition:
1: training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development
2: the ideal development envisioned or attained by paideia

And John Piper shares the Greek here:
Fathers . . .
bring them up (ektrephete auta)
in the discipline (paideia)
and instruction (nouthesia)
of the Lord (kuriou).

John Piper continues by saying, “This word [paideia] signifies the actions a father takes to give his children the abilities and skills and character to live life to the glory of God. It is not synonymous with teaching. It is more full and more active.” (emphasis mine)

I have previously written here about paideia as well: how it is the complete enculturation of a person (or society), which is not limited to religion or education, but includes all aspects of training, education, nourishment, nurture, instruction, discipline, and enculturation! The Greeks were endeavoring to raise fantastic little Greek citizens, for which they used the term paideia: but our endeavor as Christian parents is of raising faithful Christian citizens of heaven, using that same all-encompassing term paideia.

But talking about the philosophy surrounding and supporting godly paideia isn’t the whole story. It needs fleshed out! It isn’t enough to simply say, “raise your kids in a decidedly Christian way, and voila, there you have it!” A friend of mine from Paideia Southeast was telling me recently how it feels like raising her kids in the paideia of the Lord is like driving a train down the track… but she is currently laying the track upon which they are driving! And it is exhausting to lay the track while driving the train. And sometimes we don’t even know what other well-used train tracks look like, so we are planning the path of the track while laying it while driving down it. Whew! How much more of a blessing it is to be driving down an already-laid track, or at least to have another track nearby for reference and recommendations.

How do we actively pursue the paideia of the Lord as we raise our children? What are some simple ways for starting out on laying that track? Where are visuals to remind me that it looks different in different families? I am looking now for glimpses of paideia around me. Specific instances where I see godly culture being cultivated both in my home and in the homes of others around us. In pictures, in books, in conversations, in posts online. I want to recognize it myself, point it out to my children, and share it with my friends. The paideia of the Lord.

Oh, may the Lord give me eyes to glimpse His paideia in palpable, practical application so that I can walk in faithfulness for the furthering of His kingdom. Amen.

King of Kings

Who is the King? How do we know? We have talked about the lordship of Christ over all things, and how pursuing His paideia proclaims the dominion of the Lord over all aspects of life and education and worship. Words like lordship and dominion are related to this idea of kingship and kingdom. So who is the King? Jesus Christ is King! And even before Scripture uses the name of Jesus, in the Old Testament we see God as the King of all gods, the King above all gods, the King of all the earth. It seems to me, and from a Bible search I did in my Olive Tree app, that it is in the Psalms of the Old Testament where we really see God described as King. So on the heels of all the histories in all the books before this section of wisdom literature, where earthly kings come and go, where allegiances are won and lost, where God’s own people ask Him for a human king rather than following Him alone—it is here in the Psalms, which were largely written by King David, where we see the language changing to that of God as King. Is it David’s humility and understanding of his own imperfections & inadequacies that lead him to recognize and articulate the need for seeing and believing and embracing God’s Kingship?

Throughout the book of Psalms, the Creator God is proclaimed as King of all the earth and a refuge to all who trust in Him; there is a lot of kingly description and kingdom depiction through the songs and poems of this book. Let me just read off a bunch of these for you:

Psalm 5:2 “Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to You do I pray.”
Psalm 9:4 & 7 “You have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment… the Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for justice.”
Psalm 10:16 “The Lord is King forever and ever; the nations perish from His land.”
Psalm 11:4 “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven.”
Psalm 44:4 “You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob!”
Psalm 45:6 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness.”
Psalm 47:6-8 “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.”
Psalm 68:24 “Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King.”
Psalm 74:12 “Yet my God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.”
Psalm 84 – “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord… even the sparrow finds a home at Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God… For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
Psalm 93:1-2 “The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.”
Psalm 95:3 “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
Psalm 103:19 “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.”
Psalm 145:1 “I will extol You, my God and King, and bless Your name forever and ever.”
Psalm 145:10-13 “All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and all Your saints shall bless You! They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.”

And that is just a brief overview of one book in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets all prophesied the coming King. I love all the kingly passages in Isaiah specifically: chapters 9, 43, 44, 52… and if you listen to the music of Handel’s Messiah, you can find some of that culminating in a beautiful way. Zechariah 14:9 says that “the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Of course it all culminates in Revelation, where we read in chapter 19 that Jesus, the Word of God, is clothed in a robe and crowned with many diadems, and he ruling the nations – “and on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

So what’s the point? Why did I just list off a whole slew of Scriptures without much commentary? Because the Word of God is living and potent and true. This is where we find faithful description and depiction of the God we serve! The King who reigns. The King of Kings is in charge of all other authorities – all leaders, including earthly kings and emperors and presidents – they are all under His dominion. Even their wicked ways will serve the Lord (Proverbs 16:4). Our God, the great King over all the earth, is the one who both raises up and removes human kings and leaders (Daniel 2:21 and Psalm 75:6-8).

So as we study history in the Bible and throughout the ages—this year, in particular, the Middle Ages—may we recognize the Kingship of the true and living God over all other dominions and authorities. May we trust Him and glorify Him for His ways which are past our understanding. May we walk with circumspection, understanding that He is our King, we are His people, and the faithful work He has given us to do here and now is to proclaim His reign and expand His kingdom. May His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. This is how we honor Him and acknowledge His Kingship: recognizing who He is, and where He reigns, and living as those who respect His authority and dominion while promoting the peace and stability of His reign.

1 Timothy 1:17 “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Timothy 6:15-16 “He who alone is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”