Friday, September 5, 2014

Beauty for Truth’s Sake, Chapter 3: The Lost Wisdom of the World

“this world of pattern and relationships”

The Quadrivium

The assumption of this system of education was that by learning to understand the harmonies of the cosmos, our minds would be raised toward God, in whom we could find the unity from which all these harmonies derive: Dante’s “love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Thus the quadrivium would prepare the ground for the study of the highest contemplative sciences: philosophy and theology.

The idea that the cosmos is built on mathematical harmonies, and that numbers themselves can be a path to God, flowed from Pythagoras and Plato down to the Middle Ages, where it influenced the cathedral builders and later the artists of the Italian Renaissance. It was also one of the essential factors in the birth of science . . . .

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Numbers are a map of the beautiful order of the universe, the plan by which the divine Architect transformed undifferentiated Chaos into orderly Cosmos. Cultures didn’t necessarily learn this from each other but only had to look at numbers and their relationships to see how they revealed harmonious models which are the same everywhere and at all times [quoting Michael S. Schneider in Constructing the Cosmological Circle].”

Yet our present education trends to eliminate the contemplative or qualitative dimension of mathematics altogether, reducing everything to sheer quantity. Mathematics is regarded as a form of logical notation, a mental tool with no relation to truth except the fact that it assists us in manipulating the world. This elimination of the symbolic dimension of mathematics is largely responsible for the divorce of science from religion, and art from science.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Rose Window, Chartres
image via Wikipedia (cropped)

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

The Pythagorean-Platonic tradition at the core of the Liberal Arts developed the following symbolic associations with the natural numbers:


The Unity of being, transcending all that exists. It is often represented by a circle, or else by a point. One is the number that when “squared,” i.e., multiplied by itself, produces itself. Symbolically, One is not the first in a series of numbers, but the number-beyond-number that includes all others, equivalent in that sense to the modern conception of infinity . . . .


If one is the source and archetype of Unity, two is the beginning of Diversity. It represents polarity and division, and also feminine receptivity and fruitfulness. In a Christian context it often signifies the separation of matter and spirit. Duality can also symbolize the beginning of the process of creation, which in the book of Genesis is described as taking place through a series of separations or polarizations (heavens and earth, light and dark, etc.). The division of Adam’s unity into duality gave us male and female . . . .

~*~*~ ~*~ ~*~

In nature there is no zero. Some writers on number symbolism therefore regard it as an interloper, whose introduction as a placeholder led to the loss of awareness of the symbolic properties of number, and especially of Unity (displacing it from its position at the beginning of the number series), creating a framework for the development of atheism . . . .

Personally, I am not so sure. Zero could also be taken as the ground of being, and a symbol for the return to one. Perhaps the mistake lay not in introducing zero, but failing to read it symbolically.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

I’m two days late, but I’m linking to Dawn’s Wednesdays with Words anyway.  Be sure to read her quotes, and check out all the links.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


[This recent post from The Imaginative Conservative, Men in Hats: An Endangered Species, reminded me of a post I wrote in the spring of 2007 about my husband's hats. He still has the tweed driving cap and wears it in cool weather, but the others have had to be replaced.]

Over at Favorite Apron talk has turned to hats for men, and it inspired me to set off again in search of information on the proper wearing of hats, no easy task.

After wearing a hat to work every day for nearly twenty-two years in the Air Force, Mike wanted me to get him something to wear to the office where he works as a civilian in his retirement (hah!) and of course he needs something on when working out in the sun around here.

This latter was easy enough to find - we bought this leather one, which is especially nice for cool damp weather, at the local feed store.

And this one that he wears in warmer weather, was practically a no-brainer:

Notice that neither of these hats is a cowboy hat, which would have been by far the easiest thing to find.  They are everywhere -  the feed store, the Tractor Supply Store, Wal-Mart, gas stations, the mall... everywhere.  But Mike doesn't own a single pair of cowboy boots, and since we own neither cows nor horses it's not likely that he'll ever own a pair.  It's my opinion that man's hat (well, probably a woman's too for that matter, but we're talking about men's hats here) ought to go with his shoes, and his shoes ought to be appropriate to the activity at hand.  Mike usually does his farm work in the rubber boots you see here, or in a pair of leather military issue boots, and the straw farm and leather outback hats seemed to be more fitting than anything else I've seen.

A harder task was finding something for him to wear to the office, and this is where I first started trying to find out what the etiquette is for what kind of hat to wear where.  There's some information on proper behavior when wearing a hat - taking it off in church, for instance - but precious little about different kinds of hats and when and where it's appropriate to wear them.

My 1950s copy of Emily Post's Blue Book of Social Usage is not very helpful since not only is our lifestyle not formal, but we don't even live in a formal era.  I'm not opposed to moving slightly in the direction of more formality, hoisting the culture up so to speak, but I certainly don't want my husband to look ridiculous - like he's in a costume or something.  He doesn't even own a suit, so whatever hat I chose for him needed to be dressier than his farm hat, but still informal.

I don't have a photo of the first "office" hat I bought for him, but it was a straw hat along the lines of the one above, but smaller in scale - a narrower brim and such.  For the fall, I finally hit upon this wool tweed driving cap:

Nice, isn't it?

His office "suit" is usually an oxford-cloth shirt (sometimes flannel as you see above), trousers, and burgundy oxfords or brown loafers, with a sweater (pullover or cardigan) in cool weather.  Casualish, but nice.

But now it's spring again and I was still dissatisfied with his old warm-weather office hat, not to mention the fact that it was falling apart, being a pretty cheap thing, so I've been looking around again, asking the questions, What is the right style?  and What is the right material?

My daddy never wore hats, but I remembered something he told me about my grandfather.  Granddaddy was an engineer (that is, he drove a train) and a farmer, so he usually wore his pinstriped overalls and engineers cap, and boots, but he was also the mayor his small town for many years, and of course, the men of that generation always wore a suit to church.  Daddy told me that Granddaddy had four dress hats:  two felt ones (a black and a grey) for winter, and two straw ones (a black and an ivory) for summer.

So, armed with this information, I set off hunting for some kind of dress hat in straw.  My mental image was of Bogart - a fedora of some sort.  It took a lot of googling around, but I finally found something I really like - a Panama.

I chose this putty color over either black or ivory, thinking that those colors would be too formal.

Well.  Another time, maybe I'll discuss actual hat etiquette - from an historical perspective, at least.  There seem to be only about three rules for wearing hats nowadays, but I'm in favor of moving in a slightly more formal direction, and there's no reason to reinvent the wheel, now is there?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The communion of the saints

[First posted on this date in 2003.  We're still friends with all these dear people.]

It is such a blessing to meet people for the first time and to feel so close to them right away, like they are close friends or family members you haven't seen in a long time.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a young woman in Oklahoma, who happened across my blog and noticed that we live in the same town where her father lives. Since he does not go to church, she asked me if she could come with us the next time she visited her dad, so of course I said, "Yes."

This Sunday morning, Kelly and three of her friends (Kelly M, Lisa, and Robert, brother of Kelly M) came to the base chapel with us. We all ate lunch at the fellowship hall after the service, then they came home with us and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking and getting to know each other, and what a delight it was!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fresh paint

This is the color we're using for our new laundry room. It's kind of a robin's egg blue, and you can see how it changes color a bit depending on the light.  I love colors that do that -- more blue in some lights, more green in others.

When you read advice on choosing paint, you're usually told that the color will be much more intense on the wall than it is on the little paint card, so you should decide on which shade you like, then use the one that's one step lighter than that.

It doesn't work that way for me. I guess I'm afraid of getting too intense a color, so I naturally pick something that's lighter than what I'd really want. And then I put it on and I'm always disappointed with it.

But this time I ignored the advice and bought the color I liked best.

And this time the color is perfect.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What I've been doing instead of reading math

* Going to the Y and hurting myself on the treadmill.

* Going to the Y and hurting myself in the pool.

* Lying around regretting my life choices.

* Reading light, fluffy fiction -- Dandelion Cottage, free for Kindle, recommended by the Deputy Headmistress.

* Reading light, not-so-fluffy fiction -- The 101 Dalmatians, which was my favorite book in the 5th grade.  Bill Peet did a wonderful job translating the book to screen for Disney, but if you've only seen the movie you've got to read the book, too.  It's delightful and poignant.

* Playing an insane number of rounds of Net Game -- I can't tell you how soothing it is to line up all those pieces properly and see the whole thing light up with power.  It's like a drug.

My high score just before leaving town in July, which I have not been able to top since. 
This is driving me crazy.

* Also Mahjong, but it's not nearly as satisfying as Net.  Too much chance involved.

* Eating avocados, my number one comfort food.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ Interruption ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

A moment of silence for this poor dead hummingbird my son just brought me.

So tiny and beautiful

The real thing is much smaller than this picture.  It's not even three inches long from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail and its wings are only a little larger than a dragonfly's.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Now, where was I?  Oh, yes. What I've been doing instead of reading math.

* Blogging stuff like this.

* Overseeing the final stages of our long-anticipated new laundry room.  I think we started this project four years ago now.

* Reading about right brain / left brain differences.

* Trying to read the backlog of Peter Leithart articles in my feed.  He must be an angelic being -- it seems that he has no need for sleep or food.  Just reading and comprehending what he writes about would be a full-time job for me.

* Instigating a heated discussion on Facebook, which didn't do anyone any good.

* Lying around regretting my life choices.

Wait.  Did I say that one already?

* More Net game.

* Coffee.  Lots of coffee.

* And chocolate.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesdays with Words: Beauty for Truth's Sake 2

From Chapter 2: Educating the Poetic Imagination

For the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition, music was not just one of the subjects to be studied for a master’s degree. In a certain broader sense the choral art was the foundation of the educational process. As we read in Plato’s Laws, “the whole choral art is also in our view the whole of education; and of this art, rhythms and harmonies form the part which has to do with the voice.” Music in this wider sense included song, poetry, story, and dance (“gymnastic”).

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

[T]he greatest scientists have never ceased to be motivated by the desire to find beauty in their equations, and their breakthroughs are often the result of an intuition, or an imaginative leap.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Poetry and the poetic imagination depend very largely on the interplay of likeness and difference. Simile, metaphor, contrast, analogy, are all used to connect one experience with another.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

A “symbol” is something that, by virtue of its analogous properties, or some other reason, represents something else. It is not just a “sign,” which is made to correspond to something by an arbitrary convention (like a road sign), but has some natural resemblance to what it represents. Traditional cosmologies were ways of reading the cosmos itself as a fabric woven of natural symbols.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Eventually, every created thing can be seen as a manifestation of its own interior essence, and the world is transformed into a radiant book to be read with eyes sensitive to spiritual light.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

To take the examples motioned earlier, a tree is a natural symbol of the way the visible (trunk and branches) comes from the invisible (roots and seed), linking higher and lower realities into one living pattern. As such, it can function either as a symbol of the world as a whole (Yggdrasil, in the Norse myths), or of tradition, or of the Church, or of Man. A star by its piercing and remote beauty represents the “light” of higher realities, or the angels, or the thoughts of God, and so on. In each case, these associations are not arbitrary but precise and natural, even to a large extent predictable and consistent from one culture to another (though capable of many applications and variations). The symbol and the archetype to which it refers are not separate things, for the symbol is simply the manifestation of the archetype in a particular milieu or place of existence. It is “meaning made tangible.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~


I’m still slowly working my way through my math books and I’m working on the next post in my “Squaring the Circle” series, but it’s super-slow, now that we’ve gone back to having regular Morning Times. In the meantime, here’s a picture of some of the math books I’ve been gathering.

I don’t know why that Atlas of Military History is there – it’s my youngest son’s book.  The coin is a German schilling #1Son found when he was in Guatemala this summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesdays with Words: The Rector of Justin, by Louis Auchincloss

"There is no real distinction between the pulpit and the classroom. I tried to put God into every book and sport in Justin. That was my ideal, to spread a sense of his presence so that it would not be confined to prayers and sacred studies and to spread it in such a way as to make the school joyful." He shook his head ruefully. "Oh, if I could have done that, Brian, Justin would have been the model for all preparatory schools!"

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

His principle reason, however, for giving so much care and devotion to the chapel service was that he regarded it as the keystone of his educational plan. God might indeed be everywhere, but he was particularly in chapel when masters and boys worshiped together.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

"And none of us is a Christian until he has accepted the parable of the laborer in the vineyard. Until he is willing to share the kingdom of God equally with those who have toiled but a fraction of his working day. Until he has recognized that it would not be the kingdom of God if there were any differences in it."

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

When I left, I asked him if I could make a habit of driving down to see him every Saturday afternoon, and he consented . . . . And then in a burst of gratitude and because I had been overwrought by his news [of his impending death], I subjected him to one of my silly fits of conscience. Oh, the egotism of the neurotic!

"Unless you think I'm only coming to collect your last words!" I exclaimed. "Perhaps I am. Perhaps, God help me, I am!"

"Coming to see me is a good deed, Brian," Dr. Prescott replied gently. "It gives me great pleasure, therefore it is good. You worry too much about motives. Suppose your motive is selfish. Very well. But now suppose yourself an inquisitor of the Middle Ages who would burn my living body to save my soul. The motive might be good. But what about poor me at the stake! Do you imagine the good Lord will reward the inquisitor more than you? Of course not. Some of the intrinsic goodness of a good deed must seep into the motive, and some of the bad of a bad deed. Keep doing good deeds long enough, and you'll probably turn out a good man. In spite of yourself!"

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

We like heroes in shirtsleeves, or, in other words, we don't like heroes. But things were not always that way, and today is not forever.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

But I must stop rambling. I must cease my everlasting speculations. If I am ever to write anything, even if I give it my whole lifetime, I must still make a beginning. I must still make a mark on the acres of white paper that seem to unroll before me like arctic snows.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Firm a Foundation

Sunday in church we sang one of my all-time favorite hymns. It's a lot of fun to sing it this time of year when I'm optimistic, but I'm posting it here as a reminder for later on, when life is dreary and I wish I could quit -- and for y'all, in care you're in that place now and need the encouragement.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?

"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

"The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake."

~ K. in John Rippon's Selection of Hymns, 1787, alt.
1940 Episcopal Hymnal version

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tip: For a laughter-filled home, raise one of your children to be a comic artist

Things like this will happen:

Recently we’ve had a handyman about the house and I keep on stumbling across him in various states of un(der)dress, or in my work-at-home-clothes (today’s theme was hobo/cat lady)

or while making strange faces and/or noises

and it’s just a little hard to keep my cool and act natural when suddenly confronted with a strange man in a space where I did not expect to find one. But I do my best!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Easing back into school -- the rest of the week, or "Not Nearly as Pretty as Day One"

Things went so well on Monday that I overdid it and went to bed too exhausted to sleep well and didn't wake up Tuesday morning until almost 9:30, so I spent the morning grouchy and annoyed, and by the time I'd eaten and gotten some work done and had time to call everyone to Morning Time I had to go into my room for an attitude adjustment first.

We start the school day off with prayers, so, well . . . .  The good news for my kids is that we don't start the school day when Mama is feeling grumpy.

So then it was time for lunch.

Finally around one o'clock I rang the bell for Morning Time, and since it wasn't morning any more we turned to the page for noontime prayers in our prayer book (I know I've mentioned before how much I love using the Book of Common Prayer; let me just say it again -- I love the prayer book!).  The verses were especially meaningful to me after my cranky morning.

At Noon

From Psalm 113
Give praise, you servants of the LORD; *
   praise the Name of the LORD.
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, *
   from this time forth for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down *
   let the Name of the LORD be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, *
   and his glory above the heavens.

A Reading
O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.
Isaiah 26:3; 30:15

Prayers may be offered for ourselves and others.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Collect

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I give to you; my own peace I leave with you:” Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever. Amen.

After that was Poetry (I've decided to read through Ambleside Online's list of poems for Year 6).  I read Sir Philip Sidney's "His Lady's Cruelty," which is the one that starts, "With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb'st the skies," and that sparked a lot of discussion on whether the poet was justified in ascribing his own feelings to an inanimate object.  For the record, my position is that it's correct, when done properly.  If the poet had been saying, "With how sad steps, O lightening bugs, thou light'st the night," or some such, then either he's trying to be funny, or it's just bad poetry, and I'm not talking about botching the sonnet's meter.

Then we reviewed the grammar terms we'd covered earlier in the spring.  I'm using an ancient copy of Kittredge and Arnold's The Mother Tongue, Book II, recommended by Cindy, and it's perfect for my needs, but some clever ladies have published an adaptation for modern students, which is also recommended by Cindy, so you might want to check that out.

Next we read our chapter of The Wanderings of Odysseus, listened to narrations, discussed stuff, and sent everyone outside to play.  End of Day 2.

I think that took two hours.  Because we talk too much.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Wednesday we had an unexpected scheduling conflict that meant we couldn't do lessons in the morning, and in the afternoon the three oldest girls had an engagement and the two younger boys had outside work, so we couldn't do school then.  That left me and my youngest alone in the house for most of the afternoon so we played card games together.  In between rounds we quizzed each other on tricks for counting the score rapidly in our heads.

In the card game we were playing, 2s are wild and are worth 20 points each. Face cards are 10 each and the rest are their face value.  I asked her, "If you have three cards that total ten points and one is a four, what are the other two?" At first she said she couldn't do that (this one is shy about answering new problems aloud), but when I asked her to take four away from ten, then figure out how to make the leftover number out of two cards [remember, since 2s are 20 each, there was only one way to do it -- two 3s], she answered correctly.  Then she made up a question for me.  The questions got more complicated as we went on.

I'm learning how to do this kind of thing by reading the Let's Play Math and Talking Math with Your Kids blogs.  You should check them out if this something you need help with too.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Thursday was prettier.  We started roughly on time -- generally I shoot for ringing the prayer bell at 9:00, and I think we were within half an hour of that.

First we did a spot of pseudo-Swedish Drill because after seeing the video that Brandy linked to a few days ago I'm thinking about including it, or some variation thereof.  I have serious issues with some of the postures in the only handbook I've spent much time looking at, but I think a few minutes of the kind of mindful movement talked about in the video would be good for all of us.

Next we sang a hymn.  Normally we would have had prayers before anything, but one of the children was cranky and I wanted to give the child some space to cheer up a bit before we started.  Now that I write this out it makes me wonder if that's really the right way of going about it -- am I inadvertently teaching my children some sort of works-righteousness?  Hm.

Our Scripture reading for the day was from Luke 23 about the veil in the Temple tearing when Jesus was crucified.  I don't usually have a sermonette during Prayers, but this time I decided to ask them what they knew about the arrangement of the Temple and the role of the veil.  One of my children was really excited when she figured out the significance of the veil's being torn -- that now all of God's people can come into his presence, not just the high priest, and not just on one day of the year.  So that two minute digression was well worth breaking my usual habit.

Another poem, another interesting discussion.

A brief section from The Mother Tongue, which sparked yet another discussion that ranged from nouns to languages to Charlemagne and I don't remember what all.

The next chapter of Odysseus, narration, and more discussion.

New memory verse begun -- Psalm 103.  I started by having everyone read the first five verses aloud with me, then they closed their Bibles and I read the first verse, phrase by phrase, with them repeating after me.  Then I read the whole verse, all but the very last word, which they supplied. Then I read it again, leaving off the last two words, then the last three, and so on.  After about five words were done this way, I asked them whether they could say the whole verse from memory yet, and most of them could.

Outside time.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Today, Friday, the boys had a lot of outside work to take care of in the morning so we didn't start till eleven.

Rex, gnawing on Sunchokes during our morning walk

Gratuitous Cute Kid and Animal shot,
also taken during our morning walk

Did a bit of pseudo-Swedish drill while waiting for everyone to assemble.

Said Morning Prayers, including reading the rest of Luke 23, and Psalm 106 (Psalms are read responsively by the half-verse).

Sang hymn.

Read poem for the day, Donne's "Death be not proud."  Lovely discussion.

Grammar lesson with lots of input from the children, including my special needs one, which is encouraging.

Another chapter of Odysseus -- The Archery Contest -- with interesting discussion from my 15 year old, who took Angelina's excellent Great Books I class last year.  Chapter concluded to a loud chorus of, "NOOOOO!" from the children, because I wouldn't read the next chapter.

It was noon and I was hungry, so we finished.

Rats.  Just realized we forgot to do memory work.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Overall, I'm satisfied with the week and looking forward to several weeks in a row of uninterrupted studies.

How are things going for you?  Have you started back to school yet?