In a recent newsletter, Comment magazine senior editor Brian Dijkema shared the following rules of parenting, and I heartily approve:
- Always be reading.
- Let your children know that you will ignore them by ignoring them in favour of what you are reading. Why? See 1. For exceptions, see 3 below.
- Unless they want to read with you. Then always read with them. Why? See 1. But also, allows you to exhibit the infinite nature of love. Yes, you love reading. Yes you love your children. Don’t choose. Read to your children because you love them as persons, but also because you love books. (Infinite love of children) (infinite love of reading) = more love. Does this make any sense? See 4 below. Any special instructions? See 5 below.
- Maybe not, but who cares? I’m still reading.
- No need for instruction (with one caveat, see 6 below): children are by nature drawn to a reading adult like a moth to a flame. At some point they will lean against you to the degree that you will tip over. Embrace this.
- Read good books, and be absolutely ruthless in not reading bad books. Isn’t this elitist? See 7 below. Also: read with some modicum of expression, please. Does this mean you need to do voices? See 9 below.
- No. The world wants you to attend to slop. Find the pearls. How will you find them? See 8 below.
- Start with Glady Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart. She’ll train your eyes and ears. Sarah Mackenzie’s The Read-Aloud Family isn’t bad either.
- Of course, poppets! When else will you get to mimic a totally unreliable and catastrophic Toad without being taken in for questioning?
- Don’t let the age of your children force you to stop reading aloud. Apply rule 1 to rule 3.
- All of the above applies to you if you’re single or without kids. Find someone to read aloud to. They will love you for it. See rule 1.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
There is magic here when you first come to the desert on a silent night. In the beginning life feels as limitless as the sky. I laid back and looked up at these stars and Orion danced across the sky until the bear came bounding along to chase him across the midnight canvas. I had hope then and nothing seemed impossible. Those long night hours flew away in fantasies of heroism, certain riches, and a woman to make it all worth-while. Glory, gold, and a girl. Night watches fly when you’ve got dreams to ride.
These sheep under my eyes should multiply by the hundreds. I could lead a revolt and throw off our oppressors, become a leader of men. Or I might save the sheep from disaster and catch the eye of my master and through him the hand of his daughter. Out here in my head my biceps were bigger, my courage stronger, and my intelligence a little greater than everyone else. One day I would catch my break and be a King. I hung onto those dreams for years.
Turns out it isn’t the shifting shadows, the weight of deep black, or the bumps in the night that terrorize the experienced. After a while you aren’t scared of anything anymore that might be there just out of sight. A grown man’s terror is that after a couple decades Orion stops dancing when you look up there. Big bear sits still in his place, no longer willing to move at the whim of your imagination. You realize that glory isn’t given to those who keep a couple dozen animals, that you aren’t big enough or tough enough to conquer an empire, and chicks don’t dig guys who stink like sheep.
Worse than hopelessness is the knowledge that life used to be so hopeful. The certainty of my teenaged promise doubles the pain of this middle-aged defeat. I could have been a hero. I might have made it big in the shepherd business. I should have been a good husband and a great dad, with a big house and horses to run. If only I had become that legend who had kept me company all those gloomy nights.
Instead I’m out here at dusk, too tired to make Orion dance, with twenty-three sheep and zero dreams. Would the world change for me if I looked up in time to glimpse Orion leap, or the bear’s nose lift to sniff in his direction? What good would it do if some tiny spark of future hope flickered over those far hills? Has hope ever held value year over year? And what could happen out here in this silence that made life matter at all?
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
C.S. Lewis answering the question- which of the world’s religions is most likely to give it’s followers the greatest happiness:
Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.
I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it. (God in the Dock p.58)
Perhaps our problem is that we often consider happiness and comfort to be synonymous. On this way of thinking, my pursuit of happiness boils down to something like, ‘do what feels good.’ This is how you trip over your own happiness and stumble into an existential hangover.
What if, as Lewis recommended elsewhere, we look beyond what lies ‘under the sun’?
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (Weight of Glory)
The first quotation shows that our view of what constitutes happiness can be shallow and banal. The second reminds us that our pleasures are echoes of a greater reality spoken of by the Apostle:
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV)
Far too easily pleased indeed.
I need fiction. I’m an addict. This is not a figure of speech. I don’t quite read a novel a day, but I certainly read some of a novel every day, and usually some of several. There is always a heap of opened paperbacks face down near the bed, always something current on the kitchen table to reach for over coffee when I wake up. Colonies of prose have formed in the bathroom and in the dimness of the upstairs landing, so that I don’t go without text even in the leftover spaces of the house where I spend least time. When I’m tired and therefore indecisive, last thing at night, it can take half an hour to choose the book I am going to have with me while I brush my teeth. It always matters which book I pick up. I can be happy with an essay or a history if it interlaces like a narrative, if its author uses fact or impression to make a story-like sense, but fiction is king, fiction is the true stuff, compared to which non-fiction is a shadow, sometimes appealing for its shadiness and halfway status; only the endless multiplicity of fiction is a problem, in a life where reading time is still limited no matter how many commitments of work or friendship I am willing to ditch in favour of the pages.”
—Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built, HT Alan Jacobs