A Sweet Gift from Heaven

Honey Harvest

“The heavenly gift of honey…” Virgil, The Georgics

Thus Virgil opens his final book of The Georgics. Perhaps these words rolled of his pen with hardly a thought; or maybe they were very deliberate. Either way they express a sentiment, an insight that can hardly be missed by an earnest observer of what nature offers… especially this time of year, via the bees.

Honey is a gift; and it is from heaven.

How can we not stop and smile? The beneficent order of the natural world is already so manifest in the diligence and efficacy with which this complex society brings about the pollination and thus the fruition and reproduction of countless plants and trees.

But then there is more. The bees’ work –which still today defies human comprehension—also yields the most regal of foods. Honey!

It comes in a panoply of colors and flavors, by which an experienced honey-taster might distinguish—like a wine-taster—the plants of origin. Spread thinly on a breakfast biscuit, muffin or toast, it starts our day with the sweet savor of honest work crowned by a gratuitous completion.

While the bees themselves likely think on nary more than their own work, we are left to ponder the gift itself, and its origin. And all that it implies.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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One Good Household Rowing Together

Lifeboat1

“All it takes is one good person to restore hope.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si

When a classroom discussion is not going well, just one student stepping-up can make the margin of difference. Sometimes a student comes through, sometimes not.

We don’t always think of ourselves as responsible for how things go in the broader community.

This is somewhat understandable. An individual is not responsible for the weaknesses and failures of the whole community. We are only directly responsible for doing our part.

Yet often we forget how important our part is.

These words of Francis struck me. One good person doing his part is not enough to restore the whole to good order. But it is enough to restore hope.

When one oarsman rows well, it stands as a witness to how to row, and that rowing is worthwhile. Even if others are using their oars to play games, or to hit each other.

If one good person can restore hope, consider the power of one good household. Rowing together.

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My Article: A Father’s Presence in the Home

villageblacksmith1Much has been written about mothers leaving home to enter the workforce. Little attention is given to the prior exodus of fathers from the home: a situation that long ago came to be considered standard, even in traditional households. I have written an article here  in which I explore the challenges of a working father’s daily absence, and how he can seek to be more present in his home.
A Father’s Presence in the Home

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Working, For a Living

AnOldFarmer

“The gods keep livelihood hidden from men. Otherwise a day’s labor could bring man enough to last a whole year with no more work.” Hesiod, Works and Days

In both biblical and ancient Greek accounts, work is something of an enigma. Having an aspect of punishment, it is nevertheless a blessing and a gift. For Hesiod the very means of living have been hidden in the soil of the dark earth, only to be retrieved by relentless toil. It is somehow part of a heavenly plan that our livelihood requires much work, ongoing and toilsome.

Work can wear you down; it can even break you. Of necessity it requires an expenditure of energy, energy that in some sense goes forth not to return. Perhaps a sure sign of the passing of youth is when you start to realize: I simply can’t do this forever; there is only so much work in me. It is not a pleasant realization, especially when accompanied by the realization that one’s dependence on work will not cease. Not in this life. But then again, all that I have, even my own ability to work, has been given to me by the work of others. I can be grateful that for some length of time I have the privilege of giving to others through my work. That will come to an end, all in due time.

There is perhaps no more telling sign of a person’s character than his willingness to work: silently, relentlessly, contentedly. In some important sense work makes a man. But then again, it is the man that makes the work, and he shows who he is by his work. To our work we should bring our deepest convictions. In the country song “Walkin’ in High Cotton,” a man looks back on growing up during hard times: “When Sunday mornings rolled around, we dressed up in hand-me-downs, just in time to gather with the church. Sometimes I think how long it’s been, and how it impressed me then, it was the only day my Daddy wouldn’t work.”

A family’s shared work—relentless and toilsome—can be an expression of and imbued with their love for one another, and their confidence in the meaning of life. Such a family is indeed walking in high cotton, making a living together. They are not broken, even in very hard times.

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Summer Reading is for Everyone

AliceinWonderland

“Then shall we carelessly allow the children to hear any old stories…?”
Plato, Republic

Summer is a time for stories. There is a great tradition of taking stories seriously, even, and sometimes especially, ‘non-serious’ or leisure reading. Stories are food for the soul, for young and old alike. They should nourish.

Age-appropriate reading can be part of the summer plan for every member of the family. Yet there is something magical and irreplaceable about reading together as a whole family. How many of us have indelible memories of stories read-aloud as a family? It can, however, be challenging to find a story that will hold everyone’s attention. A piece published yesterday by my friend William Fahey reminds us of one such classic for the whole family, as well as a couple of good reads for mature readers.

As we, and especially our children, can find ourselves drawn in by the ease and glitz of video entertainment, we will need to exercise discipline and make an intentional effort here. I hereby resolve to read-aloud (again) this summer the book Fahey recommends, to anyone in the house who will listen.

Treasure Island

Images: George Dunlop Leslie’s Alice in Wonderland; and N.C. Wyeth’s illustration of Treasure Island.

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Fields Bereft of Tillers

Field with Oilwell

“For right and wrong change places; everywhere
So many wars, so many shapes of crime
Confront us; no honor attends the plow,
The fields, bereft of tillers, are all unkempt…” Virgil, The Georgics

So many wars; so many different shapes of evil. Right and wrong themselves have changed places. What was once seen as unacceptable, even perverse, has become acceptable, even praised, while what was sacred has been trampled, and what should be most protected has been defiled.

Virgil yokes great social and moral evils with how we care for the land. Fields that are empty—or in any case empty of ’tillers’—are a sign of devastation. The honor we give the plow—the noble even if sometimes misused instrument of one who cares for and cultivates the earth—is taken as a gauge of our moral compass.

These are challenging, even confusing, connections. We are not used to thinking in these terms. Yet last week a letter from a religious leader in Rome made connections notably akin to Virgil’s. Are we able, are we willing to consider anew a line of thinking that is as ancient as it is urgent?

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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Knowing the Place We Call Home

LarrsonCottage

“He who intends to practice economy aright ought to be fully acquainted with the places in which his labor lies…” Aristotle, Economics

Aristotle often provides us with simple, practical insights. In words redolent of the works of Wendell Berry he directs our attention to place. Place matters. Too often we try to live our life in abstraction from the places—the homes, the neighborhoods, the fields, the bodies of water, the woods, the mountains—in which and from which we live.

Human life is always in some place. It takes its character and sustenance from that place, and leaves its mark, for better or for worse, on that place. Aristotle directs those who practice ‘economy,’ or household management, to be especially cognizant of the places in which they labor, in which they make a home and make a living.

Wherever we live and work is our place, our home. We belong to it, and it belongs to us. A fitting summer resolution, in the spirit of Aristotle, is to invest ourselves in the place we call home, beginning by getting to know it better: its plants, animals, history, topography, soil types…

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The work cited, ‘Economics,’ is attributed to him, but might have been authored by his students.

Image: Carl Larsson

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