Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To communicate with...words (Hidden Art, The Writing Chapter)

If one of Edith Schaeffer's main messages in The Hidden Art of Homemaking is that art communicates...

and that the forms of homemaking art she has already discussed (such as music, graphic art, decorating, flowers, food) communicate, non-verbally, something about the Creator, something of the beauty of His creation, something generally of beauty and put it another way, they are a sort of mostly-unspoken message that communicates what we believe (that there is a Creator God, that he has created us as individuals, that we are created in His image, meaning we share some of his attributes including something of His creativity)...

then is it paradoxical that the writing chapter seems the most difficult so far to place into that framework?

Maybe it's because when we think of a home, homemaking, we think visually, not verbally.  Other than maybe a quotation on the fridge, or an embroidered or stencilled motto, or something we've stuck up for education or inspiration in the homeschooling space, words themselves don't tend to be part of the homemaking scenery, or at least the permanent decoration of a room.  Books, magazines, newspapers, yes; but words as words, no, at least in Western culture; maybe verbally, through people conversing or singing, or heard on the radio, and of course all over the peanut butter jars and cereal boxes;  but not (usually) on the wall, not on the plate, not arranged artistically and then painted or photographed as a still life.  A quilt, a tree, a vase of flowers, a bowl of apples, a piano concerto all seem to have a more fluid way of coming into our field of vision (or hearing), speaking more strongly to anyone who comes within range than, say, a sermon, a paragraph, or even a poem, that has to be read from beginning to end, top to bottom. 

And, in fact, that's a big part of what Edith is trying to get us to do with all these hidden arts of homemaking: use visual (or musical, or culinary) language to communicate that God exists, that He created the world, that individuals matter because God created them in His image, that God loves us, and that Christians care for each other. The whole point is to be able to say those things in a kind of visual and active shorthand, rather than offending or boring people with streams of God-talk. Charlotte Mason said much the same thing: that parents should reserve direct talk about God for particularly meaningful moments; not that Deuteronomy is wrong where it says that we should speak of God when we rise up, walk on the way etc., but just that it's easy to weary children (or grownups) with endless religious verbiage.

So where does that leave our poor little unpretty words?
"To try to teach literature by starting with the applied use of words, or 'effective communication', as it's often called, then gradually work into literature through the more documentary forms of prose fiction and finally into poetry, seems to me a futile procedure. If literature is to be properly taught, we have to start at its centre, which is poetry, then work outwards to literary prose, then outwards from there to the applied languages of business and professions and ordinary life."--Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination
The words may not be decorative, but they're still important. What did people do at L'Abri besides hike in the mountains, eat orange rolls, and play guitars (and, according to Edith, do an awful lot of laundry and dishes?)  Talked.  Talked and talked and talked.  Sometimes they listened to tapes of talking.  Sometimes they read and then talked. 

Maybe, to try to combine Northrop Frye and Edith, the poetry they began with was a tea table, or the healing effects of working in the garden.  In one of the L'Abri-related books...I think maybe it was For the Children's Sake...a guest is mentioned as being struck by the children playing outside; just playing, being children.  He said that he didn't know that children still played like that.  The simple and meaningful times of life together can be seen as poetry.

But without the more prosy and ordinary words to surround those images, the poetry loses context.  According to Edith, that's where the value of brief "lunchbox" notes and longer letters to the children (and, in the next chapter, bedtime rituals and prayers)  comes in.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but eventually you're going to need at least a few of them to say, out loud or in writing, "I love you," "I'm sorry," or "Here's why we do what we do."   This doesn't negate what I was trying to say in a previous post about the importance of writers, or about trying to turn art (including written art) into something that's just religiously useful or a tool for evangelism...although written art can be "useful" in what Northrop Frye calls a reality-is-irrelevant sense, not in a didactic or isn't-that-nice way, but in the same way as a great painting is "useful": that it speaks to us of truth, of beauty, of God, through what it is.  In the next chapter, Edith talks more about one way we use words to communicate in our homes: through reading aloud to each other, and not just "religious" books and the Bible, but all kinds of fiction, poetry and more.

But for now, in this chapter, we need to allow the words-in-the-home, the words we speak or write to each other, to have their chance to do their own work.  Life, as Marilla said, is uncertain.  If we haven't been making the time to talk to those who are close by, or write or email those who are away, then we need to find the words to do that.
"Education is a matter of developing the intellect and the imagination, which deal with reality, and reality is always irrelevant."  ~~ Northrop Frye
Linked from the Hidden Art of Homemaking linky at Ordo Amoris.


hsmominmo said...

All this talk of words and communication has me doing some deeper thinking.
Processing your words - thank you!

Cindy Rollins said...

I like these quotes and Charlotte has taught me so much about the speaking overly much to my children about spiritual things.