the summertime is coming

Posted by on April 13, 2011


Blooming Heather

Oh, the summertime is coming
and the trees are sweetly blooming
and the wild mountain thyme
grows around the blooming heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

And we’ll all go together
To pick wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

I will build my love a bower
Near yon pure crystal fountain
And on it I will pile
All the flowers of the mountain
Will ye go, lassie, go?

And we’ll all go together
To pick wild mountain thyme
All around the bloomin’ heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

If my true love she won’t come
I would surely find another
Where the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Will ye go, lassie, go?

* * *

I am growing vegetables from seeds inside our apartment this spring. It took some time, but all my seeds eventually germinated. According to the “gardening by the moon” section of the Farmer’s Almanac online, I planted them on a “dead day,” a day best for burning or knocking down fences, or something or other–not a good day for planting one bit, apparently. “Seeds tend to rot in the ground,” it said. I have no idea what it means to garden according to the moon, or whether there is the tiniest bit of validity to that idea, or if it’s along the same lines as the daily horoscope, but I suppose my imagination finds it compelling, and so, try as I might to blow off this silly superstition, I was concerned for my tiny seeds. The week in which I poked them in the soil did seem unseasonably chilly, overcast, and bleak.

I planted broccoli, tomato, and eggplant for my first round of seedlings, per the advice of an Indiana based seed company. Germination took longer than what my gardening book said it should, but at long last, all the seeds sprouted. What I found interesting was that the broccoli seeds all germinated together, very promptly, within the same two-day period, and likewise the tomato a little later, all together, after I had given way to discouragement. Then after many more days, when I thought for sure they had “rotted in the ground,” the eggplant seeds all poked through, each with two leaves that folded out from each other like a heart.

Lent is nearing the final stretch. Next week will be Holy Week. Holy Monday is Elsa’s second birthday. I am unsure about how to celebrate on such a day. Any other time in Lent I’d happily break the fast for a child’s birthday party, but Holy Monday feels like a different case. I think we are going to have some sort of special breakfast in the morning as a family, and let her open a few presents. It may be just the boost we need to begin a notoriously challenging week. Even if I don’t make it to church with the girls at all, Jeff, a deacon, after all, will be in church most every evening, so it is going to be interesting. I don’t know how wives of priests manage this or any other time of year, honestly. But on Bright Monday, we will have arrived, so to speak, and can think about the fact that Elsa is really two. We’ll have a real butter and egg cake with candles, balloons, wine, and friends outside, where, hopefully, it will be literally bright and I can just pass out in the grass if I feel like it.

I am reading a book called The Education of the Child, by Rudolph Steiner. His philosophy inspired the Waldorf method of education. It’s a collection of lectures he gave from the years 1906-1911. It is full of ideas and terms that, while not familiar to me, I can only categorize as metaphysical or New Age, like astral body, sentient body, and etheric body to describe the non-physical make-up of a human being. I am reading it with a sense of detachment, yes sir. Yet I am reading it eagerly and learning so much. Here’s an example of one beautiful passage:

“At this time [ages 7-14] in childhood all perception must be spiritual. We should not be satisfied, for example, with presenting a plant, a seed, a flower to children, only as it is perceived with the senses. Everything should become a parable of the spiritual. In a grain of corn there is far more than meets the eye. There is a whole new plant invisible within it. Children must comprehend in a living way with their feeling and imagination that something like a seed has more within it than is sense-perceptible. They must divine through feeling the secrets of existence.”

Again and again he points to the fact that there are hidden realities in the world, and that the job of the educator is to awaken a sense of this in children, in direct contrast to the very materialistic approach that is normal in mainstream education, which completely denies the hidden realities of life. I like and agree with so much of this.

The only thing about the book that causes me distress is, oddly, not the talk of a second and third spiritual birth, and so forth. That I can receive as merely a helpful analogy for child development, if I choose. What disturbs me is that he repeatedly warns that if children do not receive certain things during these critical time periods which he delineates, such children will never be able to make up for it in adulthood. He says this more than once, in more than one way, driving it home firmly. This is where I lose my supposed composure as a detached reader and start asking: In what ways am I permanently damaging my own children, even now, irreparably, by failing to give them this or that? And then: In what ways am I myself a permanently damaged adult?

I can experience these questions as horrifying. And I know from experience that fear is simply no good for me as a parent, or as a human being, for that matter. Someone just forwarded methis wonderful quote from Thomas Merton’s, Seasons of Celebration: “One of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves.”

What quiets my fear in this case is to look at my icon corner and remember that–whatever Rudolf Steiner says or fails to say–as adults, we can nurture ourselves and be nurtured by others. Any given day we bring ourselves out of isolation and find something that we need. I am not saying that we will be what we might have been had we received something different at age ten. That is a precise story that will never be told. But we have the raw materials available to us in the present to become who we are, from this time forth, meant to become.

I have to believe that if I cannot find and replace every little tile that went missing or got busted out of the mosaic picture of my childhood, or that even if the mosaic never really came together according to a lovely vision, or worse, is the product of a botched vision, there is still abundant mercy available to me. And I can take the tiles I have, add to them, and rearrange them into another beautiful–if altogether different–kind of picture.

I have been listening to this old Scottish folk song above (but a really beautiful, recent version by Kate Rusby) over and over again recently, and singing it to my children before bed. This song can take on eschatological proportions for me and it occurred to me to connect it to the Bridegroom Services of Holy Week, in which we are being invited to attend a wedding feast for which we are unprepared and, for shame, cannot even imagine attending because we have no wedding garment. But in the end, the wedding garment is provided.

Poetry Wednesday

  1. Beth
    April 17, 2011

    Your thoughts are always compelling. Thank you for taking the time to write them down and share them with us. Ah yes Steiner. Though I espouse, more or less, a Waldorf approach to education and to much of life because it just really makes the most sense to me, there are always the things that can germinate fear in the heart. I appreciated this paragraph so much:

    What quiets my fear in this case is to look at my icon corner and remember that–whatever Rudolf Steiner says or fails to say–as adults, we can nurture ourselves and be nurtured by others. Any given day we bring ourselves out of isolation and find something that we need. I am not saying that we will be what we might have been had we received something different at age ten. That is a precise story that will never be told. But we have the raw materials available to us in the present to become who we are, from this time forth, meant to become.

    The raw material can always be transformed, made whole, that is the beauty of the gospel. It is what I cling to with every breath,t the "Lord have mercy," and the dragging in of both my soul and body to embrace the life giving sacraments of the Church. "There is so much yuck in my heart," I told our priest. "But you are here" (at confession), he responded.

    A blessed Holy Week to you and your family. Hang in there and eat lots of cake and drink lots of wine in a week for your daughter's birthday.

  2. annajouj
    April 17, 2011

    Beautiful, Julia–
    I know what you mean about that fear with children. Though I've never read Steiner [have thought about it, though!], I am often aware of the power of child-rearing when living with the boarding children. I find myself worrying that the broken parts of myself should make me stay away from impressionable little ones. But then I remind myself that this is silly. The greater truth of course is that our brokenness as grown-ups is just a part of the God-ordained cycle of life. We are all broken in our various ways and all we can do is be willing, and present, with other broken ones . . .

  3. Nostalgia
    April 17, 2011

    Julia, I haven't even finished your post – I burst in tears after "pass out in the grass". With baby in my lap and another one napping lightly, at 8 in the morning, trying to decide how I'm going to make it to Church and in Church today – or any day – and this week. Also, just reading your post and feeling how much I miss you! How much I miss my friendships from the seminary time – when life was difficult and confusing, but when I met people I became friends like no one else after. Blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week to you, Jeff and your girls!

  4. Julia
    April 17, 2011

    Thank you so much for all of these encouraging and thoughtful comments. I struggle with the question: Am I somehow more broken than other people, or just more aware? I keep coming to the conclusion that all of us are broken and our task in life is to constantly recover the image of God in ourselves, in connection to other people. And being broken is not prohibitive to being of significant service to other people.

    Veronika- Oh, oh, oh. I miss you too and imagining you taking care of twin babies right now makes *me* want to burst into tears. As I look back and think of some of the times I pushed myself to make it to church with small children or during pregnancy when I was exhausted and/or my girl(s) were squirrely and wearing me out, I ask myself: why? I am now of the opinion that it is often better to stay at home and rest and maintain my girls' daily rhythm and my own serenity and let the able-bodied Jeff go. Other times I just go and engage in the struggle, but I give myself freedom to decide as I go now. Or, I make a point to ask Jeff to stay home with the girls so that I can go to a service once in a while by myself, which is sooooo peaceful and luxurious. If I don't make it to a service during Holy Week this year, I know I will still be working my butt off at home and will still be entitled to some Paschal joy and feasting. I spent Pascha two years ago in the hospital, with a one-day old baby, and I am so glad to be beyond that now, but it was what it was. Friends came and sang The Angel Cried with me in the hospital room and brought me a basket of rich food. Be gentle with yourself and remember that the time for going to church will come again, with your little girls running around in the grass on their own two legs in spring dresses.

  5. Julia
    April 18, 2011

    I should make an addendum to my comment and say that, obviously, no one is "entitled" to Paschal anything. I was just being rhetorical. The last thing I want is to get in trouble with St. John Chrysostom.