Friday, July 11, 2014

Defining the Contemplative Tradition: Quotes by Richard J. Foster

Dear Friend,

I've been listening to Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard J. Foster. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, it won't surprise you that I am drawn to the "Contemplative Stream." The following quotes are Foster's descriptions of what life for the contemplative person is like:

Defining of the Contemplative Tradition
Love. Though time and experience we sense a delicate but deepening love for  God that feels more like a gift than an achievement. In the beginning this love is so quiet and unobtrusive that it is hardly perceptible. John of the Cross calls it a "secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God. This is a great encouragement to us, for early in our prayer life -- try as we might -- we are unable to truly love God. This love comes little by little, and at first we feel a great of fluctuation in its intensity. High and low, hot and cold. In time, however, our love grows deeper, stronger, more steady.
Peace. At the same time, in slips a peace that cannot be analyzed or dissected -- "a peace that passes understanding," as Paul puts it. (Phil.4:7) This quiet rest, this firmness of life orientation, is not due to the absence of conflict or worry. In fact, it is not an absence at all, but rather a Presence. This peace is interrupted often by a multitude of distractions, especially in the beginning. But no matter -- it is still there, and it is still real. And in time its quiet way wins over the chatter and clatter of our noisy hearts.
Delight. Another movement we begin to experience is delight. A very wise woman -- one who had been through great hardship in her life -- captured the essence of this quality for me when on one occasion she declared, "Fun ahead, saith the Lord!" There is pleasure, friendship, joy -- deep joy. And playfulness. God laughs into our soul and our soul laughs back into God. John of the Cross calls it "the sweet and delightful life of love with God . . . that delightful and wondrous vision." But it is not uninterrupted delight. We experience an ebb and flow, an exquisite delight mingled with a painful yearning.
Emptiness. Which brings us to an opposing, almost contradictory movement in the contemplative life: emptiness. At the very moment we are entering a loving delight, we are also pulled into intense longing, yearning, searching -- searching and not finding. Well, there is a finding of sorts, but not a complete finding. Perhaps we could call it a dissatisfied satisfaction. John of the Cross calls it "a living thirst . . . [the] urgent longing of love."

Often the emptiness is a darkness as well. We experience Deus Absonditus, the God who is hidden from us. dryness too -- a Sahara of the heart. Throughout these experiences solitude is our welcome companion, for we are learning to be alone with the Alone. Please understand this emptiness, this darkness, this dryness is itself a prayer. It is a heavenly communion of an ascetic sort. While delight is a feasting, emptiness is a fasting, and both are needed for the growth of the soul.
Fire. Still another reality we experience as we grow in the contemplative life is fire. Not literal fire, of course, but real fire nonetheless -- in some ways more real than literal fire. The initial movement of love now intensifies, becoming a steady, flaming passion. Anything that causes distance or separation from God -- disobedience or perhaps mere neglect -- is painful in the extreme. So we feel, and even welcome, the purifying fire of God's love burning out the dross: all stubbornness, all hate, all grasping need for self-promotion. And as the self-sins are burned away, the seeds of universal love blossom and flower.

Wisdom. This leads to a still deeper movement of the Spirit: Wisdom. No sterile intellectualism or impersonal awareness, this is a knowing and inflowing of God himself. We are filled with "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab 2:14). We know as we are known. We enter that eternal life which is to "know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3b). Prayer turns into the deepening self communication of the Trinity, a self-communication we are privileged to listen in on and even participate in.
Transformation. Though it all, God gradually and slowly "captures the inner faculties: first the heart and the will, then the mind, the imagination, and the passions. The result is the transformation of the entire personality into the likeness of Christ. More and more and more we take on his habits, feelings, hopes, faith, and love.

Hope you've been as blessed and challenged by these quotes as I have felt lately. I tend to experience the first three parts with some degree of regularity: love, peace, delight, emptiness. I long to move forward into the realms of fire, wisdom, and transformation. Pray for me!

Peace & Joy,


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Quest Notes: What I'm Into Link-Up

Dear Friend,

I'm late to the party! Every time I notice a blogger taking part in Leigh Kramer's "What I'm Into" link-up, I think, I should do that!

So here I am. Better late than never, right?

I've listed a bunch of random things I'm into now. ("Random" is my 10yr old daughter's new favorite word.)

1. My green picnic table
My four year old son picked out the color. I couldn't be happier with it! Our entire family has spent a good deal of time around it lately.

2. Fabric mosaics
I've long been into colorful mosaics, quilts, and decoupage -- so when I discovered a way to pull all three crafts together, I was very pleased. I found inspiration for this project here and from my great-grandmother's quilts which I wrote about here.

my latest project: fabric on canvas

a quilt my great-grandmother made in the early 1950s

3. Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms by Meredith and Sophie Jacobs.

My daughter wrote an entry for me before she left for a week long camping adventure with friends in the Adirondacks. She left it on my bed. I read it several times while she was away. I made an entry for her to read when she got home. This journal is a perfect tool for strengthening the bond between moms and their tween daughters.

4. I found Salad Days: Salads for Dinner at the grocery store and bought it on a whim. Lot's of brilliant images. All the salads in this look scrumptious. The first recipe is for a "Classic Melon Salad." I've made a large batch of it twice in the last few weeks. Addictive!

5. Classic Melon Salad
(Adapted from Salad Days) --

Slice watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew into thin pieces. (You could make it without the cantaloupe or honeydew, but you must have the watermelon.)

Toss together with fresh basil.

Combine 1 part light olive oil, 1 part red wine vinegar in a small jar with a lid. Shake well and drizzle over salad. 

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Eat right away or chill and serve the next day. 

Optional Ingredients: shaved pecorino, sliced prosciutto 

6. Protecting my skin from too much sun exposure.
I bought this inexpensive hat at my local supermarket. Most days, I also wear 30 SPF on my arms.

7. Red Curry Lentils. They're tasty, nutritious, and cooking them fills my kitchen with the scent of savory spices. Nice over rice.

8. Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster

"In this book I have tried to name these great Traditions -- streams of spiritual life if you will -- and to note significant figures in each . . . The Contemplative Tradition, or the prayer-filled life; the Holiness Tradition, or the virtuous life; The Charismatic Tradition, or the Spirit-empowered life; The Social Justice Tradition, or the compassionate life; The Evangelical Tradition, or the Word-centered life; The Incarnational Tradition, or the sacramental life."

(Related Post: "Sacred Pathways and Celebrity Diets")

9. What Makes Olga Run?The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives  by Bruce Grierson

"They say she is like Grandma Moses in the sense that she found her calling very late in life. But while Grandma Moses took up painting out of desperation, to make ends meet, Olga took up track, at age 77, for fun. A dozen years retired from her career as an elementary school teacher, she still had lightning in her that needed grounding."

10. The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton & Leila Marie Lawler (LML's blog, Like Mother Like Daughter, is a favorite -- "Because it's important to maintain the collective memory.") Written with a Catholic readership in mind, but could be adapted to suit most faith traditions. Lots of emphasis on the home as a school of beauty. Makes me want to tidy up and spend some time in deep prayer!
"This book is about making a little oratory -- a little sacred space -- in your home and praying there . . . Really, it is just an outward manifestation of the simple truth that God wants to be with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us."

11. Emma by Jane Austen  (audio version) The more I read Austen, the more I'm hooked. I was not familiar with the plot for this one, so it was very amusing, indeed!

12. Our new German Shorthaired puppy, Heidi.

If you're visiting Classical Quest for the first time, I'd be delighted if you would introduce yourself in the comment box. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Bloglovin, and Pinterest. 

Peace & Joy!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Depression: One Year Later

Dear Friend,

It's been one year since I had a breakdown and slid into a near infantile state for a month. Friends and family brought meals and took turns caring for our children while I slept for 15 hours at a time. My face and hands felt numb. At first I needed help to walk to the bathroom. On a good day, I would sit in my rocking chair on the front porch and stare at my flowers. I couldn't read more than a line or two at a time. New information made me feel very tired. I found it difficult to make simple decisions.

Healing from depression doesn't happen overnight. It's been a long, tough climb out of a dark hole these last several months. I feel wiser and stronger now, but I'm aware that I'm still vulnerable in some respects. At the beginning of this summer I struggled a bit. My husband and I were concerned that I was headed back down into the darkness. I felt as though I was standing close to the edge of a crumbling embankment.

We had to regroup and take a close look at what things were stressing me too much. I made some hard choices for the sake of my health, but I can say with confidence: I'm getting better about saying no when I need to say no and I'm caring less about how things appear to bystanders.

I'm living life differently now -- imperfectly -- but differently. I'm more careful with my heart, my time, my friendships, and my health. I'm deliberately making space for a slower, more peaceful lifestyle.

Currently that means that while much of my family is out having exciting adventures in the wide world this summer, I'll be staying close to home.

I'm heeding my doctor's advice.

"What weighs on you most?" she asked. 
"I can't keep up with our lifestyle and I don't want to disappoint my kids."
"Your kids don't need you to do everything with them. They just need you to be there for them. That's all you have to do. Of course you care for their basic needs -- beyond that just be available to listen and encourage them. That is what they need most from you. The rest -- all the extra stuff that people run all over the place for -- isn't necessary. If it stresses you, don't do it. Just be there."

So when I start to feel frustrated with myself for being a tortoise in a world of hares, I try to recall my doctor's words. I'm learning to accept help when it is offered. I'm grateful for the village of support that has been there for my whole family. Our community has blessed all our lives. We've made some wonderful bonds through this!

I had been considering writing about this topic when I came upon this post by Elizabeth Mallory. You can follow the hashtag she created on Twitter: #yesIstruggle

Have you ever struggled with depression? How are you now? Feel free to tell me as much as you feel comfortable sharing in the comments below.

Love & Prayers,


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photo Journal: Spring Silent Retreat

Dear Friend,

My kids are home for the summer and our days are currently full of summerish delights. I nearly forgot that I promised you some pictures of the silent retreat I took at a local Jesuit center last month. Such a peaceful, refreshing experience for my spirit! On the day of the retreat I was recovering from a minor foot injury; I wasn't able to hike down to the river like I did in the autumn. I did make an attempt, but nearly wiped out on the narrow stone path downhill.  So instead, I propped my feet on my folding chair and cuddled under my blanket with a good book. After a couple hours I hobbled back to the pavilion and ate some homemade peanut butter cookies -- the first since my son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy over two years ago! It was hard to eat those cookies silently without groaning with pleasure. I spent the second half of the event in a swing with my journal. The spring blossoms were lovely. I felt grateful for the allergy pill that made the whole event possible. 

Baby food jar candle holder -- a gift from my daughter. Perfectly portable.

Hope you can find some silent moments of refreshment today!
Peace & Joy,

P.S. Here are the links to my "Silent Retreat Series" from last October:

Part One: Learning the Ropes and Getting Settled

Part Two: How to Use a Labyrinth as a Prayer Tool

Part Three: Pictures for You

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much -- Book Review and Unit Study Guide

Dear Friend,

It's been a while since I've put up a post; you're due for a special treat! I've got some goodies here today: my first children's book review, instructions on how to make a faux pietre dure box with decoupage, three patterns you may copy and print for your personal use, and a unit study guide. I've really enjoyed piecing all this together. Hope you enjoy!

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My oldest daughter is ten. She's pretty independent about selecting books for herself, but occasionally I give her a recommendation based on her interests. 

My daughter loves art. She has sketched nearly every day since I first gave her a blank journal when she turned four. Her school friends often beg her for drawing lessons; she sometimes spends a good bit of her recess time patiently instructing them. At home, I refer to her as our "artist in residence." I haven't needed to buy a greeting card in six years! Many of our friends and family members have been blessed by her handmade gifts.

I was certain my daughter would appreciate Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much by Anita Mathias. I read it aloud to her, pausing occasionally to answer some of her questions and take careful note her responses to the images and text. It turned out to be quite a pleasurable and enriching experience for us.

Francesco is a skilled artist living in 16th century Florence. He is a compassionate man who is burdened with an ongoing internal struggle over how to price his work. Too often he sells his pieces for much less than they are worth. He cannot bear the thought that "anyone should yearn for beauty . . . and be unable to have it."

Francesco creates "paintings for eternity" in pietre dure, an elaborate technique in which polished colored stones are cut and fitted together to form images. These decorative pieces adorn objects such as chests, vases, fountains, bowls, tables, and panels.

My daughter asked me if I was pronouncing pietre dure correctly, so I checked. (I wasn't!) We listened to the correct pronunciation several times, repeating it with our best Italian accents -- and some giggles.

We were amazed by the lush, colorful images of pietre dure in the book. We agreed that we'd like to run our hands over the smooth, cool surface of Francesco's treasures.

The little girl stares at it in silence, and glows. She is captivated.
"It's twenty florins," I say. It took me three hours to carve it, but the hours were joy.

When engaged in his craft, Francesco "forgets everything and time is no more." Though he desires to provide for his family, he also wants to make his work affordable for the average citizen of Florence. He can't bear to turn away a customer whose eyes reveal desire for his treasures.

Francesco's first person narrative helps us envision the unique struggles and quandaries an artist might have faced during the European Renaissance.

Francesco is weak at the skill of bartering and his customers know this. Many of them take blatant advantage of his generous nature. His wife is not pleased with his lack of business sense. She is concerned with the realities of life. They must have income!

In the most tender portion of the book, Francesco turns to God in prayer and forgives those who have taken advantage of him. He then forgives himself for being weak. He resolves to henceforth approach his profession with greater wisdom and discernment. He envisions the "latter day of eternal flowers, and the everlasting banquet when the hard-nosed shall sit with the soft-hearted."

My daughter and I were able to discuss ways she uses her skill to bless others. And we also talked about how it's okay for her to tell her friends when she doesn't want to spend her recess hour giving drawing lessons. I think she was relieved to hear a story about an artist who gave too much. Like Francesco, she has a very generous heart. She is learning that she doesn't have to say yes to every request. This book helped validate her need to set boundaries for herself.

Lord, I am you lily, even as those I carve. As the birds of the air are yours, even so am I. Will you not protect me?  . . . Let me come to you as you let the children.
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Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much by Anita Mathias is available for purchase through Amazon. Go HERE to order from or HERE to order from

Also by Anita Mathias -- Wandering Between Two Worlds: Essays on Faith and Art. Go HERE to purchase at or HERE to purchase from

Visit the author's blog: Dreaming Beneath the Spires.
Follow her on Twitter:
Follow her on Facebook:

Suggestions for Further Study

Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much is an excellent starting point for a unit study, perhaps as a summer project.

Watch this short silent video:  "The Making of a Pietre Dure Panel." My entire family was impressed by this! I even played it for my dad when he came to visit.

Become familiar with the historical figures mentioned in the text -- artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Michelozzo. Also mentioned are members of the powerful Medici family of Florence. I've just started watching the four part series from PBS: "The Medici Godfathers of the Renaissance." Available to view on Youtube. (Not appropriate for young children.)

Make a reproduction of pietre dure out of polymer.

Study gemstones by reading Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann. Younger children will enjoy Let's Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans.

Observe various rocks and minerals in their natural state. We still have a kit from when we homeschooled. My daughter and I enjoyed observing uncut semiprecious stones after studying about pietre dure.

For some of the best examples of pietre dure on the web, scroll through this a preview of The Art of Semiprecious Stonework by Annamaria Giusti.

Discuss ways to show value for your own skill and time.

Talk to your child about sound business/financial practices. If he or she shows interest in entrepreneurship, read a book about business for kids. 

Discuss ways to show respect for the time and skills of others.

Is it easier to forgive yourself or to forgive others? Consider these two courses of forgiveness.

Memorize the Lord's Prayer. 

Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio described pietre dure as "pittura per l'eternità" — painting for eternity. Why do you think he called it that?

In the US you can view pietre dure at LACMA.

And of course, you could view it in Florence, Italy!

For the pictures in this post, I made a faux pietre dure box using decoupage --

I used free marble scrapbook printables for the cut outs on the side panels.
The image of the bird on the top was printed to scale for my box.

To create the cutouts, I took a picture of the drapes in my dining room. I thought the flowers and leaves would make a nice decoupage motif.

Feel free to copy and print the three images below for your personal use:

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

A paper cutter and large scissors are helpful for fitting the larger black pieces to the top and sides. My mother donated a card board Sephora makeup box for my project. It worked beautifully! It even has a magnetic clasp for closure.

Using small embroidery scissors, carefully cut out the patterns. Trace them onto the back of the colored marble scrapbook paper of your choice. Cut out the marbled piece. I used a small hole punch for the center of this flower. Glue your design to your black paper panels using Mod Podge and a paint brush.

To create wrinkle free decoupage you must apply a thin, even coat of Mod Podge. Allow to dry just a bit before applying paper. Smooth out all wrinkles. Be patient! Allow to dry completely between steps. Cut thin black strips to neatly cover the edges. Add cutouts and stone colored stickers to your side panels. (Or to the top, if you chose.) When all is dry, apply a top coat of Mod Podge High Luster as a varnish. I covered my box with three coats. 

Have fun learning about pietre dure!
Peace & Joy,


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I'd be delighted if you'd "like" Classical Quest on Facebook or follow me on Bloglovin, Twitter, or Pinterest!

Disclaimer: Anita Mathias gave me a free copy of her book in exchange for my honest review, which I gave joyfully without any any pressure whatsoever!