Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Quote: The River of the Water of Life

For this Friday's quote I'm re-posting  a status update I made on the Classical Quest Facebook page on February 11, 2013.

Today I took my baby for a walk on a path beside a river. On a whim I brought along my Kindle and hooked it into the front of my sweater. Such a lovely unseasonably warm day! I touched "play" and this is exactly where the passage started:
I saw then that [Christian and Hopeful] went on their way to a pleasant River, which David the King called the 'River of God'; but John, 'The River of the Water of Life'. Now their way lay just upon the bank of the River: here therefore Christian and his Companion walked with great delight; they drank also of the water of the River, which was pleasant and enlivening to their weary spirits: besides, on the banks of this River on either side were green Trees, that bore all manner of Fruit; and the Leaves of the Trees were good for Medicine; with the Fruit of these Trees they were also much delighted; and the Leaves they ate to prevent Surfeits, and other Diseases that are incident to those that heat their blood by Travels. On either side of the River was also a Meadow, curiously beautiful with Lilies; and it was green all the year long. In this Meadow they lay down and slept, for here they might lie down safely. When they awoke they gathered again of the Fruit of the Trees, and drank again of the water of the River, and then lay down again to sleep. Thus they did several days and nights. Then they sang,
Behold ye how these Cristal streams do glide,
(To comfort Pilgrims) by the High-way side;
The Meadows green, beside their fragrant smell,
Yield dainties for them: And he that can tell
What pleasant fruit; yea Leaves, these Trees do yield,
Will soon sell all, that he may buy this field.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress 

Have a blessed Easter, friends!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Cleaning with the Classics: Pilgrim's Progress

"The contemplative in me recognizes the sacred potential in the mundane task, even as the terminally busy go-getter resents the necessity of repetition." ~ Kathleen Norris

My outlook on housework goes through peaks and valleys. For the past few months I've been plodding along through the motions, but my heart hasn't been in my daily tasks. I'm brimming with ideas after spending a year immersed in great classic literature. There are so many things I want to study, so many things I want to write about! Yet every day a thousand tedious chores weigh me down.

This week I've yielded myself completely to spring cleaning. I've plunged in deep and engaged in a rhythm of sorting, folding, tossing, and general tidying. Each year I'm surprised to find myself actually enjoying this process. Of course it's satisfying to create a bit of order out of chaos, but it's also satisfying to ponder the powerful spiritual metaphors which are wrapped up in our most essential tasks.
Then [Interpreter] took [Christian] by the hand, and led him into a very large Parlour that was full of dust, because never swept; the which, after he had received a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep: Now when he began to sweep, the dust began to so abundantly fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choaked: Then said Interpreter to a Damsel that stood by, Bring hither Water, and Sprinkle the Room; which when she had done, was swept and cleansed with pleasure . . .

This is to shew thee, that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then I say, even as thou sawest the Damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the Floor with Water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the Faith of it; and consequently fit for the King of Glory to inhabit.
 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress 

In The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Woman's Work" Kathleen Norris draws connections between life-sustaining routines and rituals of the spiritual life. She recalls the first time she attended a Catholic mass as an adult and was surprised during one point of the ceremony when the priest did the dishes!
I found it remarkable -- and still find it remarkable -- that  in that big, fancy church, after all of the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink...

...The Christian religion asks us to place our trust not in ideas, and certainly not in ideologies, but in a God who was vulnerable enough to become human and die, and who desires to be present to us in our everyday circumstances.

I wonder what would happen if started to view housework as a contemplative act with sacred potential. I wonder if dying to my daily whims might in time produce more literary fruit. Is it possible for me to find a constant source of joy in housework? 

Here are links to a couple of my favorite blogs which often attach spiritual significance to essential daily tasks:

We are mothers and daughters spread out along the East Coast, with one roaming Marine wife currently in California. After many unfulfilling phone conversations in which we attempted (with little success) to describe with any accuracy our ongoing projects and domestic triumphs, this blog was born. We found that we also have something to say about making a home.
Auntie Leila is the main writer for this blog. I love her idea of the "reasonably clean house." She has seven grown kids and they all seem to like her. She is gracious and intelligent and has hobbies other than housework. (This gives me hope.)

I keep writing it out here everyday, the words I am seeking to live — about this wondrously messy, everyday-holy life….about finding the beauty and quiet, about slowing to see the sacred in the chaos, the Cross in the clothespin, the flame in the bush. Just listening – laundry, liturgy, life, — all of life, holy ground. A holy experience — because God has flaming bushes everywhere.
Ann Voskamp is the author of the best selling book, A Thousand Splendid Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Her posts are contemplative and poetic.

I recently found this one:

What does the gospel of Jesus Christ have to do with our everyday, mundane lives in the home? Domestic Kingdom is a blog dedicated to discussing this question. 
This blog author, Gloria Furman, has written a book on this subject entitled Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home

I'd love to know your thoughts about the mundane tasks you are faced with each day. Do you drag your feet and dread them like I often do? 

Blessings to all as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Cleaning With The Classics: Uncle Tom's Cabin

As head cook for the St. Clare family,  Dinah had her own system for cleaning up. Perhaps some of you super-organized people out there won't be able to relate to Dinah's system, but I can -- all too well:
[Dinah] had, at irregular intervals, periods, paroxysms of reformation and arrangement, which she called "clarin' up times," when she would begin with great zeal, and turn every drawer and closet wrong side outward on to the floor or tables, and make the ordinary confusion seven-fold more confounded. Then she would light her pipe, and leisurely go over her arrangements, looking things over, and discoursing upon them; making all the young fry scour most vigorously on the tin things, and keeping up for several hours a most energetic state of  confusion, which she would explain to the satisfaction of all inquirers, by the remark that she was a "clarin' up."
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (ch.18)
I don't smoke a pipe, but the point where Dinah lights her pipe is where I would make a pot of tea . . .

Have you started your spring cleaning clarin' up?

Here's some helpful links:

Living Well Spending Less has a "Spring Cleaning Checklist" free printable. I will be spending the rest of this week on step one. Right now it's still a bit cold in my neck of the woods. When it warms up, I'll be glad to have the organizing behind me so I can focus on dusting and scrubbing with the windows open!

Fly Lady is a free personal online housekeeping coach. I've been following Fly Lady off and on for a few years. She encourages you to start where you are and just take baby steps. Fly Lady was really helpful for me when I was emerging from postpartum depression and my entire house was a disaster. 

I Heart Organizing is for when you have things pretty much under control and you are ready to take order to a whole new level. Sometimes visiting this site is inspiring and sometimes it's depressing; it depends on were I am with things. I don't recommend I Heart Organizing for when you are feeling overwhelmed with chaos. For CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) go to FlyLady.

Have fun! :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Quote: My Favorite Scene from Pride & Prejudice

"I am not to be intimidated . . ."

I finished Pride & Prejudice! Today I'm sharing a portion of my favorite scene.

The illustrious Lady Catherine De Bourgh has made a special trip to Longbourn to confront Elizabeth. A rumor has reached Lady Catherine that her nephew, Darcy, and Elizabeth are engaged. She is furious! She asserts that Darcy was intended from birth to marry her daughter, Anne. 

This scene comes as a surprise. Lady Catherine is the last visitor anyone would expect at Longbourn. She is out of her element and quite sour about it. What proceeds is an epic battle between two women. It's loaded with contrast, it's amusing, and, as we later discover, it propels the plot to a happy conclusion!

The following is just a slice -- I resisted the urge to post the whole chapter:
"You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your aunts and uncles? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."
"Tell me once and for all, are you engaged to him?"
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment's deliberation, "I am not."
Lady Catherine seemed pleased.
"And will you promise me never to enter into such an engagement?"
"I will make no promise of the kind."
"Miss Bennet, I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceived yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I will not go away until you give me the assurance I require."
"And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable."
 Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (ch. 56)

What is your favorite scene from Pride & Prejudice?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Beautiful Vulnerability

When I write I hope to make a connection with you. I want you to feel as though you can hear my voice. I want to leave you with information that is helpful -- real, honest stuff that will build you up! But here's the truth: writing that way takes more courage than I have sometimes. To do that I have to allow myself to be vulnerable. 

Some examples of thoughts I've had:

I've been through some difficult life struggles, but you've been through worse. You think I'm shallow.

I have no degree whatsoever; you have a PhD. You're smirking at my little book reports.

I have five kids; you have ten. (Or two, and you're wondering if I've figured out yet how to prevent pregnancy.)

I'm SO excited because I just ran a mile! You run ten miles every morning.

I just got caught up on laundry for the first time in ten years; you never go to sleep at night until every scrap is folded and put away.

It's endless. Roaming through the blogosphere should help, but sometimes it just makes me feel more unworthy.

Our hearts are fragile things. It takes courage to open them up.

I would much rather write about what Tolstoy thinks or what Augustine thinks than write about what I think. After spending a considerable amount of time inside the heads of these writers, I consider them to be my friends. (Don't laugh.) Sometimes I hunker behind them. (You might not think highly of me, but everyone thinks highly of my friends!)

But I've noticed when I do scrape together the courage to tell my own stories, the response is usually uplifting. The sting of negative criticism is soothed by the balm of understanding. One of the main reasons I read great classic literature is to become more empathetic. Putting myself out there though -- yikes! --that's a whole different thing!

When you find out about my imperfections, you might not like me anymore. But I can't make a connection with others without taking that risk.

What keeps us out of connection is the fear that we are not worthy of connection. Brené Brown

My stats rise, then decline, then rise again. Why? I scratch the back of my head. On the downer days I sometimes feel a little blue. I'm not worthy. I must have used a comma when I should have used a semicolon! I must have used a word that is now politically incorrect! Then someone will leave a comment that is so encouraging, it brings tears to my eyes. In those moments I know I must keep trying. I must strive to open up the heavy door to my heart. I must take risks while exploring my thoughts about the classics and life.

One thing is certain: when you show courage by making yourself vulnerable, I think it's beautiful.

I want to be beautiful too.

Last week, I stumbled upon a video of a talk by Brené Brown. If this post spoke to you and you feel that you struggle with feelings of unworthiness like me, take 20 minutes to watch this. If you don't have time right now, book mark the page and come back to it when you do. This is one of the best talks I've ever heard. 

Note: Since I wrote this post, I've started reading Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection. So far it's been really helpful. I look forward to sharing more thoughts about it in the future.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Crossing Off P&P and Why I'm Reading Gulliver's Travels

Yesterday at 2:55PM -- just before tea -- I completed Jane Austen's exceedingly fine novel -- Pride & Prejudice! (I daresay -- Miss Austen was rather fond of dashes -- do you not agree?)

Next up is Gulliver's Travels.  I saw a movie version a few years ago that I didn't like. I was going to skip it until I read Chapter 7 of Karen Swallow Prior's Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, which in entitled, "Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Gulliver's Travels." As Prior says:

 . . . everything I needed to know about sex I could have learned from a celibate, eighteenth-century, Anglican priest named Jonathan Swift.

So, see? How could I skip GT after reading that?

She goes on to say:

Swift understood, too, the power of symbols and the importance of community, and how both of these are as much a part of what it means to be fully human as sex is.

I own a Dover Thrift Edition, but I've decided to use an annotated version instead. I just ordered it, so it looks like I'm going to have a few days "off" to work on spring cleaning and read The Gifts of Imperfection.

Trying to decide if I should syncro-read Gulliver's Travels. Anyone up for it? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hear the Voice of Love : A Review of LISTEN

I've recently managed to squeeze in a bit of modern side reading in addition to my classics regimen. Today I'm reviewing Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life by Keri Wyatt Kent. I admit, I don't often take time to read Christian self-help books -- though I probably should! I decided to read this book on a whim. I was drawn to the title when it occurred to me that my listening skills needed some improvement. LISTEN helped me turn down the volume of my own voice and hone in on what God and others have to say to me.

What would happen to you if you learned how to really listen -- how to listen to God through your life, through other people, and through spiritual practices?
What if I could listen, not just to get good at a skill, but for the purpose of transforming my life and relationships? 
What would happen to you as a person if you knew that you were heard, and loved, and that you had the ability to love and listen to others? 
These are some questions Keri Wyatt Kent explores in her book Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life. 

Listening to the voice of Love.
I must give up trying to hear all voices and tune in to just One.
Last week I felt like I was three steps behind in every area of my life. I was weary and discouraged. Then one afternoon -- quite out of the blue -- my 64 year old neighbor, Mr. G, called to say "You've got the night off, Adriana, I'm bringing over homemade chicken noodle soup!"

Mr. G showed up at my back door with a large pot of fragrant soup full of homemade noodles. He smiled at the bubbly chatter of my children. They showed Mr. G their special treasures: basketball medals, a new Hex bug, art work. My three year old smiled shyly and peered at Mr. G from behind me. During dinner we all laughed as the baby slurped up noodles. After dinner Mr. G played relaxing jazz piano while my husband accompanied him on guitar. Some of my children danced; some cuddled on my lap. I felt satiated. It was really wonderful.

The next day I talked to Mr. G over the phone. I told him that his gifts of soup and kindness had come at just the right time. His visit had boosted my spirit.

"I was just listening to the voice of the Father," he said. "When He tells me to make soup for my neighbors, I make soup."

Not only was I blessed, I was challenged. I want to be that person who listens to the voice of the Father too.
 .  .  . the whole point of listening, of finding God in your story [is] to know Him better. Sure you need to know yourself, but not just so you can be more self- aware. It's so that you can be more God-aware.

But sometimes it is hard to decipher when the voice is God and when it's just me. As Kent says in Listen:
God always speaks with the voice of love. That doesn't mean that He always tells you what you want to  hear. The voice that says, "Do the right thing," or, "Its going to be all right" -- that's God. The voice that says, " You have screwed up again, so bad that you're unlovable" -- that's not God's voice. He calls forth the best in us but not by condemning or shaming us. He does indeed call us beloved.
"I ask myself who I am and what I love so that I can take it into the world and share something only I can give."

Listening to God's voice in my life.

I used to grapple with this question: How do I know what the will of God is for my life?
Looking at what brings you joy is a good first step toward listening in your life. By noticing what brings you joy, you get a picture of the unique way that God created you. 
Kent gives some good suggestions for ways to hone in on the things that give us real joy. She shares what gives her joy and exhorts her readers to pay attention to what they love.
Jesus said that He came that our joy would be full. Knowing what you love, noticing the blessings of God -- that is the beginning of listening to Him.

Listening to God in others.
Most of us just want to be heard, to be understood. When we listen, we offer that gift of understanding to others. When we listen we communicate love.

As a wife and mother of five children, I am a sounding board. There is a lot of chatter in my home! My children are constantly exploring new ideas. A ceaseless stream of details that might seem tedious are  important for them to relay. It's validating to feel heard. When I listen, I'm giving each member of my family a valuable gift. One of the most important lessons I brought away from Listen was that listening has the power to transform relationships. Kent quotes authors Dave Ping and Anne Clippard:
Real listening requires a level of sacrifice. It means dying to ourselves and our agendas.
Listening to God through pain.

Looking back over the course of my life up to now, I can see that my greatest struggles have helped me grow. As Kent says,
Listen to your struggles, but then listen to the voice of love that speaks through those struggles . . . Your struggles are unique, but they also connect you to other people and give you a platform from which to shout out the voice of love to others.

Listening as a Spiritual Discipline.

Through listening our spiritual practices will be transformed.
Find a quiet place where you can listen, where you can perhaps read a bit of scripture or just pour out your heart to God . . . offer the Spirit a landing strip in the uneven ground of your life. See what happens. God's is the only voice that will ultimately assure you of your own significance.
To listen to Scripture we have to read and ponder the truth slowly. Allowing the Word renew your mind takes time. We must resist the urge to be in a hurry. The Word of God is a love letter to us. As God's Beloved, we linger over it.

Kent describes an ancient practice of Lectio Divina which increased her ability to listen to the Word:

The Latin words Lectio Divina mean "Divine Word." There are various forms of  this method, but the common ground the share is  this: read a short passage slowly, several times, and listen for God to speak to you personally through it. You spend lots of time just being silent, waiting for God to speak through the text, to your heart. It's a simple method that will allow you to try "formational reading" or "spiritual reading" that lets you listen to the text, lets it speak to you.

Kent gives an example of when she practiced this and the words "don't be afraid" stood out to her:
Now, there are still times I get scared. But rather than just look at the Bible and say, "It says we shouldn't be afraid," I can look at that passage and say, "Here's where God said, Keri, don't be afraid." . . . It was His word to me, His interaction with me, something I needed to not only know but also to act on.

Listening in Prayer.

Prayer is not just about what I have to say; it is a conversation. By listening with a trusting, discerning spirit I can respond to God's voice of love.
God cares enough about me to initiate conversation and relationship. I am the beloved. I am not just the seeker, I am the sought. I am the object of God's affection. It's a truth that demands a response.

Ulimately, Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life is a book which helps you find love in the story of your life. Isn't what we all long for?
As God's Beloved, I am not just someone who has mastered some good listening techniques. I am the Beloved. I have received love, heard God's voice calling me Beloved and made that part of my identity. I am a listener. Because of God's love for me, I want to hear His loving words. God . . . has put a desire in my soul, and I long to listen. 

Permission is granted to pin this image to Pinterest.

To purchase Listen for your Kindle go HERE.

To visit Keri Wyatt Kent's blog go HERE.

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Cyber Samplers

I made these samplers over the weekend. I pinned them to Pinterest, but I just realized that they are not linked correctly since I pinned them from my private blog! The quote is from Emma by Jane Austen.

Permission is granted to pin this image to Pinterest.

I made the one above first. It is a picture I took last fall while on my way to take my kids to the dentist. I pulled the car to the side of the road and jumped out to snap a shot. When I read this quote on Sunday morning, I knew I had a match. I have over 11,000 pictures on file; many of them are waiting to be coupled with the right quote.

Permission is granted to pin this image to Pinterest.

My kids preferred this periwinkle pencil sketch version. I suppose you can never go wrong with periwinkle! 

There. Now I'll just click publish and I can pin these quotes correctly. Hope everyone is having a great day!

To see more of my cyber-sampler creations on Pinterest click HERE.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Quote: Pride & Prejudice

"Her teeth are tolerable but not out of the common way . . . "
Caroline Bingley has a crush on Mr. Darcy. The problem is Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy has already admitted he thinks Elizabeth has fine eyes. Now that Caroline has had a chance to observe Darcy's admiration of Elizabeth while in her company she has resorted to hurling low-down dirty insults. As Jane Austen points out: " . . . this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise."

"How very ill [Elizabeth] Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," [Caroline Bingley] cried; " I never in my life saw any one so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again . . . For my own part, I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy  and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character -- there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which has sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."
Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (ch. 45)

For a great post on the subject of jealousy visit Tim Fall's recent post at Just One Train Wreck After Another.

Hope you have a marvelous weekend! See you Sunday for "Classics and the Bible Sundays."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beholding is Becoming: Guest Post by Karen Swallow Prior

I'm thrilled to welcome Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, to the blog today. She has generously provided an excerpt from Chapter 5, "Beholding is Becoming: Jane Eyre," with a few slight adaptations. I feel a strong connection with this chapter since it articulates the reason I am blogging through the classics and life.

Eighth is the cruelest grade. Cruel in so many ways, but nearly all ways boiling down to the fact that this is the age of the halfling. The age of becoming, with little notion of what it is one is supposed to become. Over the course of the first part of this, my eighth grade year, it had become clear—slowly, painfully, awkwardly—that I no longer fit in with the popular girls I’d been hanging around with since sixth grade when all of the girls in my class had formed cliques. Our school was so small that there were only two classes for each grade. The girls in my grade divided into three groups: the cool girls, the smart girls, and the nobodies who were everybody else. 

Somehow, somewhere, someone had made a mistake, and I had ended up with the cool girls.

We cool girls called ourselves, simply, The Group, not realizing how much this made us sound like something from a segment of an After School Special that got left on the cutting room floor. In The Group, you were either in or you were out. Period. Sometimes people who were in got kicked out through a culling process that made cockfights look civilized. At any rate, I was in but had yet to learn that group membership and true friendship are not the same thing.

This was a lesson Jane Eyre, the title character of Charlotte Brontë’s nineteenth century novel, didn’t have to learn. Surrounded in early life by people she’d never mistake for friends, it was a long time before Jane had anyone she could even consider a friend. 

By the time I met Jane for the first time in my sophomore English class, I had learned a bit more about friendship. And because of Jane, I was going to learn a lot more about myself. If there is just one novel that seems closest to the soul of who I am, that novel is Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre seemed in so many ways to be someone like me. In reading and studying the book many more times later in life, I came to realize that this was because she really was. And, truth be told, a lot like other girls, too, because Jane Eyre is really about every adolescent. For adolescence, more than any other age, is a time of becoming, when we all must navigate through endless possibilities of being and overcome countless temptations to become any person but one that reflects both the givenness of our being and the possibilities of our becoming.

This search for the self is characteristic of the modern condition, and it is no coincidence that one of the first modern individuals in literature was a woman. Throughout history women have embodied, more dramatically and sooner than men, changing cultural ideas and conditions. There was no more dramatic cultural change during the time in which Jane Eyre was written than that which brought about the rise of the individual. Precisely because of an inferior place in society throughout all of human history to this point, no figure better depicted the rise of the modern individual than the woman. So while in the traditional Romances such as those of the Arthurian legends it is the noblemen, the knights in shining armor, who embark on a quest, in Jane Eyre it is a poor friendless woman who is on the greatest quest of all: the quest for the self.

This is what makes Jane Eyre a bildungsroman, a story of education, struggle, loss, and of finding one’s place in the world. Jane’s journey is a journey to authentic selfhood. It is the same journey that every modern young person must undergo. It is the journey I describe in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me through the lens of the books that shaped my life and, ultimately, my faith. For a long time, I did not know that the truest sense of belonging comes from feeling like you belong to yourself because of who you were created to be. I was what one Old Testament passage says of the wandering Israelites: an alien and a pilgrim.

In the ancient and medieval worlds, people gained their identities not from their individuality but from their communities: the families they were born into, the traditions they were raised in, the social class they were part of, the bonds of religious belief they shared with others. Before the rise of the modern self, people simply inherited their identities, their “selves” directly from their families. The boy born to a shoemaker was destined to be a shoemaker. The girl born to an aristocrat would be a lady. But with the modern age came a new social mobility and with it the idea of the individual.

As a literary genre, the novel is, in fact, more than anything else about the rise of the modern individual, the creation of the self. As such, Jane Eyre is the quintessential story of the rise of the individual, the journey to create the self. The quest for self usually begins with the separation—first emotional, then physical—from one’s parents. It is this long and arduous process of emotional separation, in fact, that we call adolescence. This psychological feature of modern life explains why so many novels, from the form’s very beginnings in the eighteenth century, have main characters who are orphans or foundlings.

Orphans are literally what all of us are metaphorically as we begin to try to define ourselves as individuals apart from our parents. Once we’ve done so, we spend the rest of our adolescence and young adulthood, hopefully, individuating ourselves from our friends and the rest of society. (In fact, it takes some people so long to do this that the process continues on into mid-life, which then manifests itself in the ubiquitous and notorious mid-life crisis.)

No longer gaining identity from the community, the modern individual stands not merely apart but in isolation. The modern individual is orphaned from the community of old; isolation— alienation—is in fact the modern condition.

Modernity is eighth grade stuck on “repeat.”

A pastor once said that even Christ’s temptations—those he faced from Satan in the wilderness as well as those in the Garden of Gethsemane when he beseeched God for some other way than his impending crucifixion—were really temptations to not be true to his self, to betray his genuine nature and thus fail to fulfill the calling on his life. Even the greatest teacher who ever lived had to undertake the same journey for the self that we all do.

As the example of Christ shows, much of our becoming comes not from within but from without, from the revelations others give us about ourselves, from beholding ourselves in the mirror held up in the world around us. “Beholding is becoming,” as the philosopher Marshall McLuhan was known for saying.

Ultimately, Jane Eyre succeeds, despite many strong temptations that would lead her astray, in her quest to be the self—the person—truest to her nature. This is what makes her one of the first modern individuals in the history of English letters.

No wonder one critic remarked in 1855, eight years after its publication, that “the most alarming revolution of modern times has followed the invasion of Jane Eyre.” Jane Eyre is a revolutionary character because she chooses the integrity of her nature and self over social convention, material comfort, and even passionate love. She found true freedom.

By the end of the novel, Jane—like me, an alien and pilgrim—demonstrates her possession of true freedom: the freedom to be true to the self she knows she has been created to be. In Jane I found a worthy role model on my journey to the freedom of becoming, fully and contentedly, myself.

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live on a 100-year old homestead in central Virginia with horses, dogs, and chickens. And lots of books. Her most recent book is Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. Follow her on Twitter @ LoveLifeLitGod.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Opening Up

Last night I received a called from my friend Christine, whom I've known for over a decade. We first got to know each other in the church nursery where we spent many hours talking about life while looking after little ones. She has encouraged me through years of highs and lows. She was my first follower on Classical Quest. I'm pretty sure she's read nearly every post.

Half the stuff on the following list are things about me Christine did not know:


Adriana of Classical Quest.

In 2nd grade I was reprimanded for reading Charlotte's Web during Math class.

In 3rd grade I was screamed at during gym class for daydreaming when I was supposed to be guarding the soccer goal.

In 5th grade a teacher found one of my poems on the floor. She sent me straight to the principal's office. I thought I was in trouble! But instead I got to read my poem to the whole school. 

In 6th grade I was bullied in the school bathroom. Three girls banged my head into a porcelain sink while my closest childhood friend watched.

At age twelve I made a list of goals. Most of the things on that list have now come true.

At fourteen I started working at an Italian food commissary where I was trained to mix spices for secret recipes.

At fifteen I learned to water ski on the third most beautiful lake in the world.

I turned seventeen on a ship on the Moskva River in Russia.

Inside the Kremlin, I was sternly scolded for leaning on a czar's coffin.

I subscribed to Martha Stewart Living before "Martha Stewart" was a household name.

At nineteen I spent a summer with my best friend in Hungary. We got lost in Budapest for an entire day -- on foot with no cell phones. The moment we found the American Embassy was one of the greatest moments of my life.

While in Hungary, I came upon the ruins of a small synagogue which had been abandoned during World War II. It was hard to get to because of weeds and brambles. 

I've been to the top of a Turkish minaret where I aided a German man who was paralyzed with acrophobia.

I've never had a graduation ceremony. 

Throughout my teens I lived in a old farmhouse fixer-upper. One morning during our first winter there, I woke up with snow on my chest. I had a bucket on my floor to catch leaks in Spring. I have hauled water. I'm pretty good at building a fire. I can patch dry-wall.

My crumpled high school diploma came in the mail. 

I was a traveling piano teacher for a few years. 

I took lessons on a Steinway grand from a nun who was a student of Madame Conness, close friend of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

My lessons cost $5.00 an hour.

Whenever I attempt to play the piano in public, I feel much like that German man who had acrophobia. I struggle with guilt over this.

I married an ex-rodeo cowboy who could build a log cabin the wilderness with his bare hands. He is the embodiment of the most noble characters I read about: honest, brave, loyal, diligent. He never reads or discusses classic literature, but he is very wise and he makes a mean batch of sausage gravy every Sunday morning.

I've helped process a deer on my dining room table.

I have five kids: boy, girl, boy, boy, girl. 

I'm so scatterbrained that I've learned to depend on my kids for important information like what day it is.

I lived in a basement for four years with a lot of morning sickness and very little sunshine. 

Ina Garten taught me how to cook. (Not in person -- I collect her cookbooks!) I've prepared over 50 of her recipes.

When I feel blue, I make soup.

I dread doing housework every single day.

I used to make cross-stitch samplers for friends; Now I make cyber-samplers for friends.

I wasn't allowed to watch television or listen to popular music for most of my childhood; Most of the 1980s went right over my head.

I always wear waterproof mascara because I cry easily, both happy tears and sad.

The librarian from my local public library once called to tell me that since the card-catalog was computerized 17 years previously, I had checked out more books than any other person in my county.

I've learned more useful insights from mothering than from all the books I've ever read.

I experienced postpartum depression for the first time, after my fifth baby.

My pastor once described me as a "vision caster." That is a description I treasure! I love to visualize achievement in others. Since I started blogging, I've found I have an uncanny knack for following bloggers long before they reach rock-star-blogger status. I really enjoy commenting on growing blogs and helping build communities.

Once you become a rock-star, you probably won't hear from me as much. But I'm still here, and you're always welcome to come over to Classical Quest for a quiet chat and a cup of cyber tea!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Special Announcement! And an Update

On Thursday March 14, Classical Quest is hosting a guest post by author Karen Swallow Prior!

I know, I know -- It is hard to believe. But I'm not kidding! I keep pinching myself!

Recently, I wrote a review of  Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. If you missed my review, you can read it HERE

In the mean time -- Oh my goodness! -- I've got to tidy things up before my guest arrives!

I took a stroll around my blog today and I realized that my "About" page was over a year old and kind of dry. I've written a short introduction for new readers and a longer page with a little more about me for readers who have been following Classical Quest for a long time, yet still don't feel as though they know me very well!

I've always felt that having over company is a good motivator to get a few extra thing done!

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Little Ember (Friday Quote)

This week, for my "Friday Quote," I've create a new cyber-sampler. This quote is from Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life by Keri Wyatt Kent. 

Permission is granted to pin this image to Pinterest.
Tolstoy pointed out that goodness -- true goodness -- is a miracle because it is outside the chain of cause and effect. An act is not good if there is a motive behind it or an expectation that a reward will come as a result of it.

When I cannot feel love -- when I cannot be good -- all I have to do is give God a tiny thing in faith: an ember of patience and grace. God takes my little ember and performs His miracle.

Have a blessed weekend, friends! See you Sunday for "Classics and the Bible Sundays."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Overcome a Social Stigma Like Hester Prynne

Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity. 

~ Erving Goffmansociologist

I first published this post last March after I finished reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Since then it has been picked up by searches more times than any other post on this blog. Originally it included the words, "shame punishment." Those two words have received the most hits. Other searches have contained the words, "social stigma overcome" and "deal with social stigma how to."
Condemned adulteress forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" as a badge  of shame., with this unattended walk from her prison door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. ~Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter

What does the character of Hester Prynne have to show us about overcoming a social stigma? 

1.Walk tall.
Never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like...than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.
2. Take the heat.

Hester stood on her pedestal,
...with the hot, mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival, staring at [her] features...
3. Let unkind words roll off. 

The elder clergyman gave a long discourse on sin, pointing directly at Hester as the object of his lesson:
Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure... the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears.
And though often verbally assaulted,
she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided into the depths of her bosom. She was patient...
4. Keep a low profile.

She established herself with her infant child on the outskirts of town in a cottage,

  . . . not in close vicinity to any other habitation.

5. Stay busy. 

Skilled in needlework, Hester worked diligently to provide for her infant and for herself:

...she had ready and fairly requited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy with her needle.

6. Help others.
Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them.
7. Be patient.
Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne, there was neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage...
Such helpfulness was found in her,-- so much power to do and power to sympathize,-- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.

What became of Hester Prynne in the end?

Individuals ... had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. 'Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?' they would say to strangers. 'It is our Hester,-- the town's own Hester, who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!'

What about you? Have you ever felt stigmatized?

What words of encouragement do you have for a person who is living under the burden of a social stigma?