Monday, December 29, 2014

Some things to consider

For a few months now I haven't been able to read as much as I normally do (early pregnancy will do that to you). But, thankfully, I've recently begun to be able to start back in again. I got my hands on a copy of Consider This by Karen Glass, and I also won a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain from Kortney's giveaway (thank you Kortney!) 

I haven't finished with them yet, but I've begun to see something with these readings that I hadn't been able to see before, so this post is an attempt to clarify and refine my thoughts. 

I think I was first attracted to classical education because of the fact that the main goal of educating in this way is to cultivate virtue in the student. What mother doesn't want virtuous kids? My thought process went something like this - if I want my children to be virtuous, and educating them classically will cultivate virtue, then classical education is what we need to be doing here. 

Classical education is great. I think it is a good thing. Virtue is a good thing. Right thinking and right action is always a good thing. 

But these good things are not the end. There is something I've been missing that all the good things in the world cannot make up for and cannot replace. And this missing something is the one "good thing" that I myself cannot give to anyone, not even to my own children. 

All the right thinking, all the right acting, all the virtue in the world becomes futile if this missing piece is not there. 

Relationship. Not with family, not with parents, not with children, not with my neighbor. No, relationship with God must be first and foremost before virtue can take its rightful place. 

Because what does virtue matter really, if I act in a virtuous manner from the wrong motivation? If I behave in a moral way because "it's the right thing to do" or because I'm trying to follow the rules or keep up appearances or, or, or... There are many many reasons to follow the correct moral code, and in so doing a person will appear to be full of virtue. But without the direct, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, none of it matters. 

Like St. Paul says, 
if I have not love, it profits me nothing. 
Relationship with Christ is the only genuine way to come to virtue. When we love Him and cultivate that relationship, we are moved to behave in a virtuous manner out of love for Him. We will desire to pray, and to fast and to give alms, because we love Him and those things will bring us ever closer to Him. We behave in such a way as to please Him to the best of our ability because we want to do everything for Him. If we have a deep and real relationship with Christ, it doesn't matter anymore what others think or whether or not they approve of our actions. Only His approval matters and we seek it diligently.

But relationship with anyone, and most especially with God, cannot be given by me to my children. It must be individual and personal. It is not up to me to save my children. Even though their salvation, of all the good things in the world, is the one thing I desire more than any other, it is also the one thing I can never give them. I thank God that He loves my children more than I can love them. He desires their salvation even more than I do.

So I can do my best to educate my children classically. I can try my hardest to help them on the path to right thinking and right action. I can model for them and behave as the kind of person I want them to become, and I should continue to do those things because they all help to shape and aim their loves. I can sow and cultivate and tend the fields, but I need to remember that the harvest depends on God. And that means that my most important resource is prayer.

Not only does prayer for my children help them by my asking God to have mercy on them, but it also changes me - my relationship with Him becomes deeper and stronger. My relationship with Christ can become an example for my children to follow and to imitate. If I choose the one thing needful first and foremost, then I can release the burden I thought I had to take on my shoulders. It was never my burden to bear but, like the problem-solver that I am, I thought it was mine. I thought it was mine, and so I took it on myself and began trying to figure out which path to take, which formula to follow, which plan to execute in order to successfully complete what I thought I was supposed to do.

But, thank God, it is not my burden. My only task, as it were, is to see to it that I am the best example I can be for my children and to leave the rest to God. His love is boundless and His power infinite. He will do what I cannot in a better way than I can even conceive of, and I can rest in Him, knowing that my job is to use wisely the tools I've been given, and He will see to the outcome.

Glory to God!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Today the Beginningless Doth Begin

Finally remembering Wednesdays with Words in time to post something! Here are two of my very favorite of our Nativity hymns. These words are what I contemplate as we prepare for this blessed feast:

Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.  
Today the Beginningless doth begin, and the Word becometh incarnate.  
The powers of heaven rejoice and earth is glad with mankind.  
The Magi do offer presents, and the shepherds with wonder declaim.  
As for us, we shout ceaselessly, crying, 
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth pace, good-will toward men.

~Second Orthros Doxasticon of the Nativity

Today is born of a virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand. 
He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling clothes as a mortal man. 
God, who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. 
He who rained manna on his people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast. 
The bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men; the Son of the virgin accepts their gifts. 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
Show us also Thy holy Theophany. 

~Eve of the Nativity, sticheron at the Ninth Royal Hour

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And one more....

This will be the last sample from the cd I've been talking about. My brother said he wanted to hear this one, so this is for him.

Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who workest wonders. 

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.) 

My Most Gracious Queen

Another song from the Songs of Comfort cd.

This one is a hymn to the Mary, the Theotokos. I am always a little hesitant to write much about her here. Not because I think she's unimportant, but rather because she is so important that I feel as though my words are totally inadequate to be able to help my non-Orthodox readers to understand.

She was not just any young girl, chosen by God to bear His Son without any input on her part. Rather, Gabriel announced God's intention and her assent forever changed the course of history. She is the great example of what it really means to be a follower of Christ and now because of her faithfulness she holds a place of great honor in the Church. She is more than just a holy woman - she was the one who bore God in her own body.

And so her prayers are powerful. She is the Queen of Heaven, and the greatest intercessor on behalf of all Christians. We look to her to pray for us, knowing that her prayers are truly heard because she is the very Mother of God.

Here are the words of the hymn:

My Most Gracious Queen, my hope, O Theotokos;
Who receivest the orphaned and art the intercessor for the stranger;
The joy of those in sorrow, Protectress of the wronged.
See my distress, see my affliction.
Help me for I am helpless, feed me for I am a stranger and pilgrim.
You know my offense; forgive and resolve it as you will,
For I know no other help but you; no other intercessor,
No gracious comforter, only you O Theotokos,
To guard and protect me, for ages of ages. Amen. 

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Songs of Comfort

For those of my readers who do not know, I have always been very involved with the music in my church. Singing brings me great joy and I have been blessed to have the even greater joy of being able to use my voice for the glory of God by singing in my own parish.

With a friend of mine I recently recorded an album of some of our favorite hymns. We chose the theme of songs of comfort, but that theme didn't really narrow the choices down because it seems that all our hymns are comforting! However, we did our best to choose some well known favorites as well as some that perhaps have not been recorded before.

I am sharing a sample from the album here, and I may possibly post one or two more in the near future. This one is taken from Saturday night Vespers and is comprised of the verses of several psalms, but it begins with Psalm 140 (141). It ends with a hymn to the Theotokos, which I've included below since the words might not be familiar:

Glory to Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us praise Mary the Virgin, glory of all the world and doorway to heaven, who, begotten of man, gave birth to the Lord, and who, adornment of the faithful, is hymned by the angelic hosts. For she has been shown to be heaven and the temple of the Godhead. She is the one who, breaking down the wall of enmity, ushered in peace and threw open the Kingdom. With her as the anchor of our faith, we have a defender in the Lord to whom she gave birth. Take courage, therefore, people of God, take courage, for he, the Almighty, will defeat your enemies.

I hope you enjoy it!

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Homeschooling :: Finding Beauty in Math

When I first began this journey called homeschooling, I didn't really give much thought to specific subjects. I figured that early grades would be easy and that I had enough of a grasp of basic facts to be getting on with in the beginning. Anyway, by the time I reached more difficult subjects I was sure that I would be able to find resources that could help me along and fill any gaps in my knowledge.

What I did not realize though, was that by researching the myriad of available curriculum I would come to understand not only how very limited my own knowledge was, but also that I would want to learn all the things that I had missed.

I had always known that there were gaps in my own education. I used to read about all the things that Laura knew how to do when she took her exams in Little Town on the Prairie, and I wondered why no one had ever taught me any of those things. In the course of changing schools a couple times when my family moved I knew that my fellow students had covered topics that I had not and I always hoped that no one would find out that there were so many things I didn't know.

I especially hoped that these gaps would go unnoticed in math. I was able, by some miracle, to progress all the way to calculus in high school, but by the time I got there I was utterly and completely lost. I "passed" the class only because I was exempted from the final exam since I'd opted to take the AP Calculus test. I decided that I hated math and that I would do everything in my power to never have to think about it again.

Then I had children and decided that I wanted to teach them.

And then I learned something amazing:

Math is a beautiful thing. 

In fact it is breathtaking.

Whenever I find myself being asked questions about homeschooling by people who are genuinely interested, I always find myself most excited to share all the wonderful resources I have found to help teach math.

I pull out my cuisenaire rods and show them how we play with them and what they can do. I tell them about how we play games and have fun with numbers and mathematical concepts, not because we have to, but because we enjoy it.

I share my excitement over the fact that when a number is squared, it makes.... a square! You may laugh at me, but I cannot even begin to tell you what a big smile that knowledge puts on my face.

Did you know that multiplication and division are just faster ways to add and subtract?

Did you know that 5+2 can never equal anything but 7? (Really, take a minute to think about that. 5+2 can NEVER be anything other than 7)

Did you know that you can make a curve using only straight lines?

Did you know that numbers can have theological meaning?

Did you know that music is the incarnation of MATH???? Just think of Bach. I am rendered speechless.

And don't even get me started on Euclid. The exercise my brain has received from his Elements has stretched and strengthened my mind by leaps and bounds.

All I ever had was a vague and abstract understanding of algorithms and formulas. I had no concrete basis to build on and that is why I felt like I was in the middle of a fog that just kept getting thicker with no way out.

All these things may be obvious to the rest of you. And if they are, I think that's wonderful. I wish they had always been obvious to me. Then again, maybe I don't wish that. Because if I had always known, perhaps the wonder of all this would have been lost on me and I would not now be able to communicate these things so enthusiastically to my children.


The resources I'm listing below are really only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much available, this is just a sample of what I've found and loved and have been able to use thus far (keep in mind that my children are still young and we have not reached advanced math topics yet):

cuisenaire rods
Education Unboxed (a fantastic site that shows how versatile cuisenaire rods really are)
Let's Play Math  (a great little book that highlights so many possibilities of how to have fun with math and is also full of ideas for games, books and other resources)
Beauty for Truth's Sake (a thought-provoking book that discusses the deep significance of mathematics)

And here are some curriculum resources that I've tried and loved:

Ray's Arithmetic (this is also available for free online)
The Verbal Math Lesson
Primary Challenge Math