Flowchart Friday: Which Dickens novel you should read this summer

Welcome to my first flowchart Friday post! I’m putting aside my usual “What I’m Reading” series for the summer for something a bit more interesting.

My first flowchart is about Dickens. If you talked to me last semester, or kept up with this blog, you know that I took an incredible Dickens graduate seminar this spring and fell in love with everything Dickens. Sure, his books are long, and he does spend a lot of time bashing the English legal system, but his fame is not without reason! Some compare his popularity and impact on the English culture with Shakespeare’s.

So with no further ado, here are suggested Dickens readings based on some random assessments. Click here for a closer look. Dickens

 

Dickens

Sabbath Tuesday: Summer Days

fullsizeoutput_75dSummer always seems glorious to me at the outset. When I was teaching full time, it meant days when I could read what I wanted, days without grading papers, days of sleeping past 5:45 a.m. Now that I’m a student, it means days of reading what I need to read for my own studies instead of classes, days not spent on campus, days free from responsibilities of essays and deadlines. And for most everyone else, even if they are not on an academic schedule, summer often means time off, traveling, a change in workload.

But summer comes with its own troubles. As carefree as it may appear, the absence of routine and work can take its toll. In past Sabbath Tuesday posts, I’ve written about the beauty of work paired with rest—something Wendell Berry often explores in his poetry: “When we work well, A Sabbath mood/ Rests on our day, and finds it good.” So what happens to us, those whose lives are dictated by the academic calendar, whose work suddenly subsides for a few months?

At the beginning of the summer, it is easy to think that the time off will be one long Sabbath after the difficult academic year. But there is a difference between a break and an intentional rest. Sabbath moments during the school year were a breath of fresh air in the midst of the heavy workload, but now, summer is just one long break. How I choose to spend my time can determine how much rest actually happens during these three months.

The difference between a break and a rest reminds me of the difference between fast food and a well-prepared feast. Fast food (for those of us who like deep-fried things) is something we look forward to, something we crave. If you’re a Texan like me, you probably agree that summertime and Whataburger go hand-in-hand—it works for late nights, post-river trips, and after you’ve climbed up Enchanted Rock. And it tastes good. But we are aware that it is a quick fix that doesn’t contribute to our long term health or nourishment.

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At a cabin in North Carolina with good friends, feasting and resting.

On the other hand, summer is also a time when hospitality blossoms. Cook outs and barbecues abound, extended families reunite, friendships deepen. The slowing down of work welcomes the thoughtfulness of day-long meal preparations before friends arrive. These kinds of meals—I mean the slow-cooked brisket, side of beans, watermelon salad, coleslaw, peach pie—have a different impact on both our bodies and souls than those quick Whataburger stops. They are deeply nourishing to both our relationships and our bodies.

So far this summer, I’ve struggled with the idea of Sabbath, and I assume that some other academics have too. It is difficult to crave nourishment when you’re already in the midst of a break. Sabbath looses its attraction when work subsides, and the importance of rest and renewal and remembrance fades. This morning I was reading in Jeremiah about the house of Jacob that turned their back on the Lord. They were said to “go after worthlessness, and become worthless.” This is my greatest fear for the summer: that I’ll only eat Whataburger, go after worthlessness, merely “take a break,” and not be renewed when the school year starts again.

May we pursue Sabbath and the nourishment it brings even in times of less work.

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Tubing on Lake Travis in Austin, TX with my little brother Austin. 

Hospitality in the Classroom: On Xenia, Open House, and Parents as Guests

I am thrilled to welcome the first guest post on Dappled Studies. Margaret is a fellow student with me in the Houston Baptist University MLA program, and we’ve shared countless discussions about Arthurian legend, poetry, and teaching. I am grateful that she has chosen to write about on oft-overlooked group when it comes to hospitality in the classroom: parents! 

How fitting that Allison should invite me to write a guest post as she features “Hospitality in the Classroom” on her beautiful blog. She has graciously welcomed me in to her space to share some thoughts, and in doing so has allowed me to ponder and pull together a few truths that have helped shaped my approach to providing a classroom that seeks to be a source of light to students and parents alike.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher from as early as fifth grade when much to the chagrin of my four siblings, I created my own schoolroom in the basement of our home. As soon as summer vacation began, I wanted to “play school” and set up my mini blackboard with stacks of colored chalk ready for clean strokes of cursive. I loved writing on the blackboard! My siblings thought I was out of my mind: “Who does school in summer?” they proclaimed, as they ran for their lives before I could assign them a seat in my classroom.

Eventually, when I did indeed become a teacher, it was very important to me to create a classroom environment that was both welcoming and safe, much like the one my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Schick created. Everyone was loved in her room, even Kevin W. who to no avail she patiently trained all year to organize his messy desk. My desire as a teacher was to also extend hospitality to parents. Early on in the school year, I would get the opportunity to meet them in an evening we all know well, called Open House. Don’t you just love that name?

Open House is often a time of first impressions, and I wanted the parents to know that I would always be open and available for questions or concerns about their child’s time in my class. What I’d like to share are some thoughts about hospitality and in particular about parents as guests in the classroom.

When thinking about hospitality, my mind travels to ancient Greek mythology and the practice of xenia. It can be traced to the god Zeus who was called Zeus Xenios when he assumed the role of protecting travelers. Knowing that Zeus was acting as guardian induced the Greeks to show hospitality to strangers. It was also wise to honor a stranger in the event he was a god in disguise, for great reward might be gifted if he or she were treated properly.

The practice of the guest-host relationship became a ritual for the Greeks and required the host to offer something to eat or drink, and perhaps a bath if needed. The host would make the guest as comfortable as possible and not ask any questions until these needs were met. A departing gift by the host was also in order as a sign that the visit was successful and that the guest was honored. The guest was required to be grateful and respectful and not be a burden to the host.

 

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The Phaeacians welcome Odysseus 

The Odyssey is full of examples of xenia. The extraordinary patience of Telemachus as he serves the suitors who are seeking Penelope’s hand in marriage is proof that he did not wish to displease Zeus and suffer the consequences. The suitors, on the other hand were ungracious guests, eating and drinking in excess and threatening to kill Telemachus. Their irreverent behavior would eventually lead to their demise. My favorite example of xenia in the Odyssey is the kindness of the swineherd, Eumaeus towards Odysseus whom he doesn’t recognize as his former master, but as a travel worn stranger. In a touching display of hospitality, Eumaeus offers his own cloak to keep Odysseus warm at night. The shared courtesy required of xenia speaks to me in regards to how I treat parents as guests in and beyond the classroom.

Firstly, I see the relationship of guest and host as a type of partnership. I am partnering with parents to cultivate virtue and engage the minds of their children. This requires me to have the right perspective in regards to my role. I should not elevate myself above the level of a servant, for in serving properly I am able to provide a gift to the parents: at the end of the year, their child should show signs of growth and maturity

Secondly, the relationship of guest and host requires sacrifice on the part of the host. As a

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Eumaeus and Odysseus

teacher, I need to be willing to anticipate the needs of parents in regards to their child. Some parents need more reassurance about their child’s performance than others. I need to not see their frequent emails or phone calls as an imposition, but as an opportunity to build trust and even instill peace. Eumaeus gave Odysseus his own bed and cloak to ensure a restful sleep.

 

 

Finally, like Telemachus and Penelope sometimes you get some not so thoughtful guests. While in my experience this is rare, there are those times when as a teacher you may experience a disgruntled parent. Oftentimes these people like to invite folks to their misery party, and eventually other parents in the classroom get an invitation. As a host, I realize that I may not always please everyone all of the time, and in these cases I will need to exercise extreme patience and also let those in authority in on the situation. While the analogy gets a bit precarious here–eventually Odysseus took care of the suitors!

 

Margaret White currently mentors in the fullsizeoutput_744rhetoric class at The Covenant Preparatory School in Kingwood, Texas. She is a few short weeks away from completing her Master of Liberal Arts at Houston Baptist University, and looks forward to teaching full time again in the fall. She lives in Houston with her husband Robert, and they have four adult children, including a lovely daughter-in-law. 

Hospitality in the Classroom: Student as Guest

Tucked away in a short chapter of a very small book are a few wise words on receiving guests. Perhaps the author was unaware that his small book would shape centuries of Christian living, but his unflinching and pastoral look at the Christian life has captivated disciples of all ages. The author is St. Benedict of Nursia, and the book is his rule for a small monastery in the Italian Alps.

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If you have read the Rule of St. Benedict before, you are familiar with its themes and the gentle admonishings offered by the author. Those who aren’t actively following his rule in monasteries glean patterns of life from his schedules of prayer and service. But there is one small chapter—not often mentioned—that catches my attention during every reading. And, surprisingly, it charmed my students as well.

Two years ago, I taught a small class entitled Ecclesiastical Literature. Simply put, we learned the history of the church through its greatest works. We began our journey with Paul in the New Testament, then explored the Early Church Fathers; we argued with Justin Martyr, we confessed with Augustine,  and, of course, we discovered monasticism through St. Benedict. The rule was a much-welcomed relief for my students—especially after laboring through excerpts of City of God. But all of us soon realized that, though small, Benedict’s Rule pushed the boundaries of everything we assumed “living for Christ” meant.

Chapter 53, “The Reception of Guests,” is no exception. Benedict begins simply: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” Simple enough. Just think of everyone as Christ. Everyone?

He continues. In order to treat everyone like Christ, welcome these interruptions from strangers. Stop what you are doing and “meet him with all the courtesy of love.” Welcome interruptions?

Then, with no other background information on this said guest, address him or her with humility. Humility?

Of course, hospitality to Benedict is not a simple exchange of kind words at the door. Guests are to be taken in, prayed for, fed, and cared for. And not just anyone is suitable for this task: “The house of God should be in the care of wise men who will manage it wisely.” Wisdom?

Benedict describes hospitality in a way that goes a bit against my Southern roots. Hospitality in the south is sometimes considered a status symbol—are you the best host? Do you have sweet tea readily available for anyone who waltzes in? How is your dessert game? Did you think to buy some fresh flowers? Do your guests always feel oh-so-comfortable in your perfectly arranged living room?

And just like that, hospitality becomes connected with pride. There is nothing wrong with developing the skills of a good host, but the Southern host is often merely an entertainer. Benedict’s idea of a good host is encompassed in the virtue of humility. In fact, the abbot is commanded to wash the feet and hands of the guests, echoing that definitive act of Christ before the Last Supper.

But Monday morning rolls around, and teenagers stumble into our classrooms with excuses for late assignments and complaints about tomorrow’s project and gossip of today’s drama. Welcoming our students as if we were receiving Christ seems like a distant dream in moments such as these, and I no longer wonder about the vow of silence that monasteries often prescribe. But Lewis’s words come back to mind—and I remember that I am teaching no ordinary people, but immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

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Assuming that St. Benedict’s words are edifying for teachers also assumes that students are, to a certain extent, pilgrims and strangers. And though teachers do spend large amounts of time with students, remembering that they are pilgrims is helpful. Students come into our lives for a short time, like pilgrims stopping at a monastery during a journey. And like travelers, they are seeking care and wisdom.

A similar scene is described in Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is finally free after nineteen years in prison, but he is rejected repeatedly because of his past crime. When he stumbles upon a bishop’s house, he is welcomed without question, fed, and clothed. What seems to affect him most is the lack of suspicion that the bishop has of him; instead, the bishop respects him and treats him as any other guest. The bishop’s attitude of humility, rather than suspicion, disrupts Jean Valjean’s assumptions and becomes a catalyst for change.

However, Jean Valjean ends up stealing silverware and leaving in the middle of the
night, desperate to provide for his future needs. When caught valjean-with-candlesticks.jpegby police and taken back to the bishop’s house, the bishop claims he has given Jean Valjean the silverware, and tells him that he has forgotten the candlesticks as well. Valjean is amazed and confused at the bishop’s mercy, and vows to use this new wealth to live an honest life.

What is most pressing about this scene is not Valjean’s spiritual awakening or commitment to a new life—it is the fact that the bishop has something to offer Valjean that will benefit him for years to come. The bishop’s mercy cannot guarantee change in Valjean, but he offers what he has anyway. I think about this often in terms of the classroom; if our students are not remaining in the house of academia, do our lessons benefit them for life outside of collegiate endeavors? Are we modeling joy and confession and repentance? Do they see themselves in the texts we are reading? Do they see each other as made in God’s image? Are there things of worth in our classrooms that go beyond grades and transcripts?

The feast offered to my guests matters. I think through every possibility when hosting in my own home—why should it be any different in my classroom? If I can contemplate the pros and cons of tortilla soup or enchiladas with tomatillo sauce for an hour (you can tell I’m from San Antonio), considering what nutrition will be served in my classroom is well worth the effort. Am I providing something that nourishes my guests deeply for years to come, and not just for a number at the end of the semester? Do I have a vision that extends beyond the last day of school?

It seems that when we begin to view our students as guests, when we remember that they are on their own pilgrimages, when we let them join in the feast without suspicion, they return the favor. Just as a good guest returns the dinner invitation, some students begin adding to the hospitable classroom of their own accord: they serve the others, welcome others, are less suspicious of others.

May we humbly welcome pilgrims into our classrooms without suspicion, and may their interruptions give opportunity to provide feasts that nourish their souls.

Part 1- Hospitality in the Classroom: Teacher as Host 

Part 2- Hospitality in the Classroom: The Importance of Place 

 

Sabbath Tuesday: Our Unruly Affections

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly
wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to
love what you command and desire what you promise; that,
among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts
may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From the Book of Common Prayer 

This prayer was part of Sunday’s service, and it won’t leave my memory. If you skipped over it to read my words, go back and read it closely.

The liturgical calendar, like nature, works in cycles: Advent comes in winter, Lent coincides with the approach of Spring, and ordinary time sets in each summer. And our weekly practices work this way, too, as we labor for six days then worship and rest on the seventh. Part of the idea behind Sabbath Tuesdays is to make these cycles of life even smaller. Just as we get in the habit each year of looking forward to Easter, and the weekly rhythm of celebrating the resurrection each Sunday, these reminders should come also in our daily pauses and practices.

The prayer above, meant for the fifth Sunday of Lent, reminds me what Lent and Sundays and daily disciplines are for—re-ordering our hearts away from the “unruly wills and affections of sinners” and towards “where true joys are to be found.” Perhaps the season of Lent focuses on this re-ordering more than other seasons; it is, in fact, one of the main reasons to fast. But Lent is not the only place that God brings into order our unruly hearts. This yearly practice becomes one echoed each Sunday as we again confess and break bread together; this weekly practice becomes daily as we turn to God in prayer, asking Him to continue the re-ordering process. Even in the midst of the “swift and varied changes of the world,” this new order becomes a refuge of cyclical constancy, forever reminding us of what should be.

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Blogs I Follow 3.31.17

What I’m reading this week isn’t that interesting or different from what I posted last time…so I thought, instead, I’ll give you some recommendations of things worth reading on the internet.

  1. G.C. Jeffers. Greg is a middle school teacher at a classical school, a friend of mine from ACU, and an excellent writer. He has been blogging about his faith for several years now, and his thoughtful responses to political and cultural movements are timely. Here are a couple of my favorite: 

    How Rote Worship and Ritualistic Prayer Saved my Faith

    Election 2016 Thoughts

  2. First Things. This isn’t really a blog, but a journal that also publishes articles online. If you want to keep up with the conversation surrounding Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, this is a good site to keep up with. Peter Leithart, who writes often about faith and literature, also has his own blog attached to First Things. Here are two of the posts worth a read:

 Against Great Books 

Architectural Justice

 

3. Experimental Theology. Dr. Beck from ACU writes, well… a lot. And a lot of interesting    stuff, from theology to psychology to literature to pop culture to race. You’ll never get bored on this blog!

Summer and Winter Christians 

Series on Theology and Monsters 

 

4. Comment Magazine. Again, not quite a blog, but a magazine that also publishes online. James K.A. Smith, who wrote the popular Desiring the Kingdom, is the editor, and Comment’s goal is “renewing the North American social architecture.” Here are a couple posts (that I’ve probably shared before!):

By the Book

Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction

 

5. Circe Institute. This is a great resource for educators, and book lovers, and humans. Their podcasts are also well worth a listen! Here are two posts I recommend:

What to Say When Your Students Hate a Classic Book 

Why Tolstoy and Dostoevsky Matter Now More Than Ever 

 

 

Sabbath Tuesday: A Hymn

Stuck in my head from this Sunday. I had to include the notes–it is one of the most beautiful hymns I’ve ever heard.

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Refrain:

Seek the Lord whose willing presence

moves your heart to make appeal.

Turn from wickedness and evil;

God will pardon, cleanse, and heal. 

Hospitality in the Classroom: The Importance of Place

 

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Students seemed mezmerized by one small change I had made to the classroom: a black cotton sheet that stretched over the waist-high bookshelf at the back of the room. It was the first week of class, and I was a second-year teacher who had just moved to Cincinnati and spent two weeks cleaning out and setting up my classroom. I had made other changes, too—my antique books were arranged on another bookshelf, book cover posters were displayed on the wall, and the brightly-colored posters with trite sayings about completing homework on time were thrown away. But what captivated students most was the idea of the black curtain, and a few days into that first week, they asked to look inside.

Of course, the only thing they found underneath it, as I warned them, were piles and piles of textbooks that we weren’t using that year, and a few empty shelves for the books I had already handed out. But they still seemed puzzled, so one student ventured out, “But why? What’s the black curtain for?”

“Because stacks of textbooks are ugly,” I said, “and I figured none of us would want to look at that all day.”

Some of them stared at me as if I wasn’t speaking English, and one student simply said, “Thank you.”

It struck me that day that students, and possibly many of their teachers, hadn’t considered the aesthetics of the classroom as one would consider carefully the aesthetics of the home. But once I began thinking of my students as guests, I had no choice but to consider the setting in which our learning took place.

A frequent comparison with the modern school is the jail. As a teacher, I’ve always been offended by this, but the more I know about and visit schools, the more I have to concede this diagnosis. This, of course, is excluding schools that are attempting to do something different, like many of the classical schools and charter schools that are taking a distinct approach to the school day. However, students in more traditional school settings often feel imprisoned in their white-washed classrooms, with few breaks, being forced to sit in uncomfortable chairs, having to ask if they can stand or go to the restroom, and reduced to cattle being herded—or minds simply needing to be filled. And even if this isn’t true of your particular school, this is the common conception that students have in mind when they think of school, as it is the overarching cultural metaphor.

To defeat such an image, there is work to be done. My students would complain of this captured feeling, as if they were being tortured and held for ransom, and graduation was the opening of the gates of freedom when “real life” would finally begin. And no matter how many times I tried to tell them that it wasn’t true, I came to discover that the best way to demolish their imagined walls was to convince them that their humanity was valued in the classroom. This happened slowly and painstakingly, but that black curtain was the beginning. A large part of this process was the time I took on the classroom itself, creating glimpses of beauty that would refresh my students’ spirits when they walked in.

In my last post, I considered responsibilities of a host towards a guest. But before a guest ever enters your house, there are ways that you prepare the space for their arrival. It might be adding some chairs to your table, returning the clutter to its given place, vacuuming up yesterday’s crumbs, or arranging fresh flowers. And though a classroom has its limitations, it is possible to make the space more conducive to the sort of class culture that humanizes students, encouraging them to participate in their studies as guests participate in a meal.

Of course, not all classrooms will or should look the same. A teacher of literature must consider different aesthetics than a teacher of science. But the underlying idea is the same: in what way can my space welcome my guests?

Since I’m a literature teacher, I wanted my classroom to feel as though we were sitting in a library or living room for discussion, and I let that guide my classroom planning. I still had the normal classroom cinderblock walls, a whiteboard, and storage, but there were some things that I could control: eliminating clutter, dimming the bright white lights,  adding beautiful fabric to bulletin boards, and choosing works of art instead of popular posters to decorate with.
Another opportunity I had to IMG_3203welcome my students in my classroom was a tea table, complete with an electric kettle, sugar cubes, a tea box, and white ceramic mugs. The students were welcome to have tea during book discussions, and it even became a way for students to show a sense of ownership in the classroom as they often contributed boxes of tea or sugar to the collection. This is only one example, and one that won’t work in every classroom.

Hopefully, an outcome of fostering a hospitable environment for students is that they begin contributing to it. The most beautiful item in my classroom during my year of teaching was a piece of art painted by one of my students. I had told her that my favorite Lewis work is his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” so she crafted some of his best words onto a canvas: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit, immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Not only did these words remind me who I was teaching each day, but they welcomed my students as well. And not only were they words that reminded each of us that we’re human, but they were words encapsulated in a beautiful form, recognizing our human need for beauty and order.fullsizeoutput_739

The most basic question to ask of any classroom, like you would of your own home, is does this room feel stressful to me? Cluttered? Uncomfortable? If you feel that way in your own classroom, your students probably do, too. It could be as simple as covering the ugly textbooks with black cloth, changing the lighting, or providing Kleenex during allergy season. It could be creating a beautiful space that encourages lingering in long conversations about age-old stories.

When I arrived in Ukraine five summers ago with only four fellow travelers, we had been flying and in airports for thirty-six hours, and we entered Kiev disoriented and exhausted. Yet we still had to spend a night in Kiev with a Ukrainian family before heading out to the small village where we’d be spending the summer. But I’ll never forget arriving at the house in Kiev. The family had adopted several children, and lived in a fairly small house. But they had beds ready for us, towels folded for us, and breakfast set out. They took time to pick us up, and greet us, and make us feel at home. Even in those humble surroundings, the care that they took in preparing for our arrival was noticeable and appreciated—I slept better that night than I would the rest of the summer.

And though each classroom comes with its own limitations, may we strive to prepare for and welcome each guest that walks into our classroom, for none of them are ordinary people.

Reading for Rainy Spring Days

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It seems that some books are seasonal. It doesn’t feel right to pick up Macbeth in March, or A Christmas Carol in the summer, or Right Ho, Jeeves during finals week. So here are some suggestions for those rainy spring days (for us Houstonites, those days come pretty often).

A Novel

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. There’s something refreshing about Austen’s writing—maybe it’s her snarky social satire, her playful characters, or the fact that she writes comedies that end in a marriage. Her writing, in short, sounds like spring. I chose Mansfield Park because it’s a lesser-read but more mature novel of Austen’s. The 1999 film is also a classic!

Short Stories

Any Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be read on sunny days, so a rainy day is perfect to pick up these classic mystery stories. You may say that mysteries are best read in the fall, but spring is often reminiscent, and I remember reading Sherlock Holmes stories with my twin brother on lazy spring afternoons, when playing outside meant getting covered in pollen, so we picked the indoors instead.

Non-Fiction

Confessions by Augustine. If you haven’t read this yet, run to the bookstore. Confessions is the amazing story of Augustine’s spiritual journey. It is full of repentance and renewal—two spring themes, as spring corresponds with both the confession season of Lent and the renewal and re-birth at Easter. Reading Augustine’s story will give you insight, too, to your own spiritual health. Don’t ask me how it works—but Augustine’s straightforwardness is revitalizing.

Poetry

Wendell Berry. If you know me well, you probably knew this was coming. Berry’s This Day collection is grouped by year and then organized by date written within that year. So each year progresses from an early Sunday in the year, when spring is just emerging, to a late Sunday, when autumn comes in full force. His ability to describe nature is remarkable, and he still lives on his farm in Kentucky. I’ll leave you with a short excerpt:

At the woods’ edge, suddenly

the air around him was perfumed

with the scent of wild plum flowers.

The whitened trees were accompanied

by several redbuds also in bloom,

equally beautiful, and both

together more beautiful than either

alone. Nothing in the long winter

prepared him to imagine this, a moment

in a thousand years never old.

Wendell Berry, 2011

Sabbath Tuesday: Hunger

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Last week, Will and I started watching a new Netflix series called Chef’s Table. After the first episode about a famous Italian who created modern Italian cuisine, we were hooked. The second episode started out with the same promise of celebrity—the chef featured is a leader in the farm-to-table and sustainable food movements. But the close of his story ended on a dissonant note. Instead of seeing him in celebration with his family because of his success, he reflected on a feeling of emptiness that he has experienced his entire life, and explained that his workaholism is a way to fill the void. He connected this void to the death of his mother, but then added that he thought he could never rid himself of it.

As I’m thinking about and participating in Lent, I’m beginning to realize that much of Lent is about recognizing our voids and how we fill them. The most basic way is fasting from food—an experience that everyone can participate in. It reminds us of our frailty as humans. Another way people often observe Lent is partaking in times of silence that they would otherwise fill with noise, whether that be music or television or talking. This silence becomes a sort of void, and we easily recognize the habitual ways that we provide noise.

Lenten observances not only point out our voids, but magnify them. The ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us of death and our fear of it, the practice of fasting reminds us of our weakness, and the act of repentance reminds us of our moral culpability. One of the messages of the season is “You are not whole, you are not well.” And hopefully, this both convicts us that our current ways of dealing with emptiness may not be healthy, and that Christ provides grace enough.

The farm-to-table chef that is aching with a void spends his life considering what should be consumed by his guests in a way that will benefit not only them but the world around them. He looks for the healthiest and most sustainable crops to feed his customers. But his soul will never be satisfied by the workaholism that defines his career; he is constantly seeking for something that will satisfy like the wholesome plates of food he offers. I hope to develop his perspective on food, but even more than that, I hope to consume wholesome offerings that actually answer the ache of emptiness, to feast in Zion, to drink of the wine and eat of the bread, to taste the living water.

May we recognize our voids, and may we consume that which is life-giving.