Reading fiction.

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“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope

I’m here to proclaim that reading can be part of the greater good.

Seriously, Leonie, you might say.

Yes, seriously.

And wait. I’m not just proclaiming that reading is part of the greater good. I am also proclaiming that reading fiction is part of the greater good.

I knew this instinctively as a child, I knew that when I read literature, really good literature, I was beamed to another world. It was not merely an escape from an often chaotic childhood (though it could be argued that this was part of it). It, reading fiction, presented new ideas, new situations, allowed me to face good and evil, to formulate hypotheses about life, to decide on a code or rule of life, to be who it is that I am today.

My vocabulary changed after reading fiction. My style of speaking and writing changed after reading literature. I felt better, I acted better. I thought in different ways.

Then life stepped in. Suddenly, there was less time for “me” reading amongst reading for work and study.

I solved this problem , in part, by reading children’s literature. I love children’s literature, the pathos, the evocative turn of phrase, the sheer delight.

And reading aloud to my children brought extra joy, in shared delights.

But still, reading literature had become a sorry second or third or fourth or….. In my life.

And I think I paid the price , with less delights to share and ponder.

Reading a blog post, shared on Facebook, at the start of the year,has changed all that. The post reiterated eleven ways to be healthier and happier. And one was “Read fiction “. What?

Apparently , reading fiction improves connectivity and brain activity.

Yes! It hit me! This I already knew. I knew the effect of literature on me and on my life and in my family, I knew the delight.

So this is what I have been doing: reading more fiction. Without judgement. Without telling myself that I must. Without a pre-arranged booklist.

Just reading. When and where I can. What I want.

Plus, the other day, in discussing the current murder mystery novel of choice, I noticed my sons’ fiction lying around. Turns out that they, too, love fiction . And In noticing my reading of fiction, they have been reminded and encouraged to read more fiction themselves.

The power of story.

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Leaving out God?

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Listened to a few homilies recently. Really listened .

And heard a lot of good stuff about politics and Australia and economics and indigenous peoples and multiculturalism.

Good stuff. Well, maybe “okay” stuff.

But nothing about God.

Doesn’t it seem strange to you, that in exhortations to be kind and just and equitable , that God is not mentioned? In church?

Indeed, it not just strange but sad. Sad because this may be the only time in a week that the faithful hear about Christ and all of life reflected in Christ and His teaching,

And it’s not just me who thinks this is sad, sad and wrong. It’s the Church. In Redemptionis Sacramentum

“[67.] Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life’s events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source.

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Learning and teaching

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I learned lessons in my childhood, life lessons, lessons about who to be and how to be.

My sons learned these lessons, unconsciously, from me, as I lived my homeschooling life.

And they, in turn, taught me many things.

Families do that. We live together and in our everyday moments we teach and learn.

Is that magnified in a homeschooling family? I think it may be, because, you know,we spend more time together than most.

in my childhood, I learned not to be vulnerable. I learned to be resilient. I dealt with family difficulties by being perfect at school, that good girl who got good grades and never caused a fuss.

Some of these I unknowingly, I unwittingly, passed onto my sons. That resilience. That don’t make a fuss but just cope with it and move on. That strength.

Of course, the strength can mask the sorrow or pain. We are good at that in my family.

The force of strength and resilience is strong with us.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

What have my children taught me, in turn?

To be vulnerable. To have a child is to become vulnerable, because you love and are in awe of creation.

Motherhood and homeschooling made me vulnerable. Vulnerable because of love. Vulnerable to criticism. I mean, by homeschooling or, God forbid but I freely admit it, unschooling, you naturally open yourself to observation, and sometimes, to criticism. I had to face my people pleasing Hermione nature … You can’t please everyone when you are unschooling.

I learned, from my kids, that the different path can be a good path. Even if it makes me vulnerable and different and, currently, earning less than I should have done had I worked and pursued my career. Instead of pursuing unschooling.

Learning and teaching are the stuff of life. We give who we are to our families , we learn and we teach, they learn and they teach.

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Filling that page

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Sitting in Mass on a Saturday in January. Reading the reflection provided by Father.

With what shall I fill the page of my life, my year?

With whatever it is that God wants.

“I think of this new year as a white page given to me by Your Father on which He will write, day by day, whatever His Divine good pleasure has planned. I shall now write at the top of the page with complete confidence Dominie, fac de me sic it vis, Lord, do with me what you will, and at the bottom I already write my Amen to all the proposals of your Divine will.” Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit.

That is the excitement of a new year. The not-knowing.

It can be frightening, I know. Yet it can also be freeing. Being open to His will, and being open to serendipity, can mean that our lives, and the lives of our family, are strewed with possibility.

In prayer and contemplation I like to think of adding something to our lives. Many resolutions at this time of year are riddled with don’ts or I won’ts or I musts (eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol, give up carbs, not be grumpy or angry or despairing..). It is freeing, however, to give these don’ts or wants in prayer and to think of things to add to our lives.

Turn on music. Hire some DVDs. Go to the library for new books. Declutter and see what amazing new-to-you, once forgotten, discoveries you make.

Dance. Sing. Cook. Enjoy a home-cooked meal or salad, eaten slowly, with family or with friends or even on your own with a good book.

Find movements that make you smile, that make you feel like a child. That makes you feel tough and cool and oh so athletic.

Start a family journal or scrapbook or blog or animoto or iMovie.

This is not the year for shoulds and musts and don’ts. This is the year of being with Him and of where that takes you and of, in the meantime, strewing your life and the life of your family with interesting things.

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So it’s not a perfect Christmas?

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So it’s not a perfect Christmas? You didn’t get the presents all wrapped or bought or you didn’t have money to buy presents at all. People forgot you. Or you forgot someone.

You’re tired or someone else is tired or grumpy .

You didn’t get to all those little traditions, the candles, the crafts. Or you did and they, those kids, that family, just didn’t want to cooperate or join in,

The car breaks down.

The dishwasher breaks.

You burn the turkey (God forbid!).

You are away from the ones you love. You feel unloved.

You feel alone or you wish you could be alone. Memories abound, happy and unhappy.

You know what?

It doesn’t matter. It plain and simple, doesn’t matter.

It’s Christmas for God’s sake. A time for prayer and reflection. For praying at the crèche of the Child Jesus. It’s time for little things and big things: smiles, saying hello, watching a movie, listening to music. Reading a book. Having a glass of wine. Or two. Or a cup of hot tea in a festive mug.

A perfect Christmas doesn’t exist. For Christmas, like life, is full of the spectrum of humanness and of the Divine. We humans bring our grief, our sorrows, our grumpiness, our dark sides, our joy, our laughter, our love, our light sides to Christmas. And The Christ Child meets us there, in all of our Christmases and in our life. In the entire spectrum of life and emotions. With Love.

This is it. This is Christmas. With the nativity of Our Lord and with an attitude of embracing it all, the good and the bad. Love it all. It’s life. Even at Christmas.

December

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It’s December, it’s Advent, it’s nearly Christmas. It’s time to take stock of the year. It’s time to think about the new year, that word for the year.

It’s a bit like starting a new school year. I loved that as a child. This was going to be the year that I would always be neat in my book, always be perfect. I loved opening a brand new, pristine, as yet untouched exercise (school) book. It felt like a new slate.

It’s also a bit like having a new baby. Ah, this time I will get it right, I’d think. This time I would be that perfect mother, do everything well, feed my baby and myself only natural foods.

That’s how I feel about a new year. A chance to do it right.

And even though I know there is no right, even though I know I will mess up and be me and that is okay, even then I still feel a small thrill. And a small sense of dread.

In taking stock of a year, we can grieve. We can smile.We can remember hurts and sorrows, we can remember the joy and smiles.

If something is not working, we can change it. Often times, it is a change that helps. Doing something replaces the inertia. “If it can be done now, do it now.” (Ruth Fields, in the book GYST).

If things are flowing, go with the flow. “A good life, a really productive life, exists because of all the action taken daily to sustain it.” Ruth Fields, GYST again.

For me, that means the little things that sustain. Little things like prayer. Reconciliation. Mass. Exercise. Smiling as a conscious act. Saying hi to a son and texting a friend. Lighting the Advent candle. Having dinner with whomever is home. Decorating or cooking for the liturgical year.

For while waiting for big things to change, or waiting to instigate change, or even when big things can’t change, the little things can sustain us. In taking stock of the year that was we can remember the little things. In planning for the new year, we can remember the little things.

They count, they count towards the year that was. They count towards the new, even if slightly smudged, slate.

They count. They count.

The darker side

We always post the bright side of our lives, don’t we?

Bright, happy homeschooling families.

And rightly so. Because memories are made of this.Because there can be so much sadness in the world, so much negativity, that we want to show the positives of our families, our homeschooling, our lives.

But I wonder sometimes if we do ourselves a disservice.

Maybe sometimes we should post a little about the darker side. The days, months, years even, that things don’t go the way we want. The way they should.

When we are in this dark side, it seems as though nothing can help. Not bright words, not prayer offered as a simple panacea, not cheery positive thoughts, not gratitude lists, not self-help books, not inspirational stories, not sympathy, not people ignoring your plight.

What does help, then?

Time and inner, deep prayer. A cry out. A cry. Tears. Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine. Psalm 130.

Yes, even Christian homeschooling families, suffer upsets, dysfunction, worries, depression.

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A bright day

But you know what? There is a brighter side to the darkness. One day, the cloud doesn’t seem so dark. The burden seems lighter. You reach for that prayer book on your bedside table.

That self-help book you disdainfully tossed aside just a short while ago now seems to offer hope. Your perception changes. You heal. You tell yourself you can do this.

In the end, by telling about the dark side, by sharing the way through, we model for our children, and for others, the true strength of Christ and the value of homeschool, through thick and thin.

Preparation for life? Heck, no, it is life.