My daughters and I are all mourning the loss of Donald Sobol, creator of the Encyclopedia Brown series of books. I voraciously read and enjoyed the entire series when I was a boy, and one of my great joys has been to pass them on to my girls, both of whom have read them with the same enthusiasm. We’ve taken turns reading each other mysteries from volume after volume, as Encyclopedia and his friend Sally matched wits with the likes of Bugs Meany and Wilford Wiggins. All for 25 cents per day, plus expenses. RIP Mr. Sobol, and thanks for all the fun.
Looking ahead at the calendar for the coming year, the dates for the Ember Days are as follows:
- Winter – December 19, 21, & 22 (coinciding with the Feast of St. Thomas)
- Spring – February 20, 22 & 23
- Summer – May 22, 24 & 25 (interestingly enough, the last overlaps with International Towel Day, held annually in honor of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
- Autumn – September 18, 20 & 21 (beginning on Wednesday alongside the Feast of Holy Wisdom)
Of course, we’re still winding up this year’s Ember Days with the Autumn Embers on September 19, 21 & 22. The last day coincides with my stepfather’s birthday. He has been terminally ill with cancer for some time now, though so far he has been in relatively good health (minus a week or two in the hospital for various things). However, as he has just decided to forego any further treatment we are unsure how much longer he has. My hope is that he will at least make it to September so that we may celebrate this birthday with him. That it should fall on the Ember Days seems somehow very appropriate.
It’s been timely for me to begin this blog just days away from today’s Feast of St. Benedict. While he wasn’t the first monk, the Rule that he created for the monastery he founded at Monte Cassino has framed the expression of monastic life and spirituality in the West in a way that few other things have.
One of the great experiments in our life right now is exploring and adapting Benedict’s wisdom to our own life as a family. I’ll be writing more about this as time goes on.
As I’ve been backing into a new blog as a discipline for writing and thinking, it’s helpful to stop and consider what topics or themes I want to explore. While I’m unlikely to let it corral me too much, having some specific direction can be a necessary prompt. Even Columbus had a destination in mind, his actual discovery being pure serendipity. Let’s start with the former and, God willing, the latter will find us. Thus begins The Grand List of Endless Pursuits Which Will Continue to Develop Over Time:
- A running commentary on learning to live in a Midwestern small town.
- Reflections on homeschooling children
- Adapting monastic wisdom to family life.
- Seeking to clarify my own vocation and occupation.
As far as deeper study is concerned, there are a number of topics that I am eager to explore further through this blog:
- A greater understanding of what the desert saints called acedia. The older I get the more I become aware that maintaining affinity for anything is difficult. Follow thru is the watchword for me in this season, and acedia is the deadly enemy of completion. The better I know this foe, the better I can see its handiwork in my life, the better armed I am against it.
- A retrospective of the work of Margaret R. Miles – I’ve wanted an excuse to do this for years, and now that the esteemed lady is retiring, it seems like the perfect time to reread classics like Image as Insight and Fullness of Life, while exploring her more recent reflections and assess her impact on both the scholarly field as well as the larger conversation within the Church.
- This coming year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Lambaréné Hospital by Albert Schweitzer. It is a good moment for reflecting on the challenging life of this saintly man and his unwillingness to make excuses for a life lived at ease amidst the world’s suffering.
I’m certain there will be more added to the list as I remember, but for now let’s get it posted.
- Can’t forget my continued reading of one of my heroes, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Together with Thomas Aquinas, GKC forms my unofficial Over 300 Club, a group of Christian thinkers who were weighty in body as well as in mind.
Among the host of Christmas cartoon specials that graced the television every year when I was a child, one of my favorites was Frosty the Snowman. Born from magic, Frosty was still vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather (or the machinations of Prof. Finkle) and would melt at the drop of a magic hat. Yet each time he did, because he was made from Christmas snow (or so Santa Claus reassured young Karen), he would be revived again. Each time he was born anew Frosty would exclaim with gusto, “Happy Birthday!”
I’ve gone through a bit of a meltdown myself in the past couple of years. Trading a life in the Pacific Northwest and a future in academia for the narrower world of small town life in the American heartland left me floundering, searching for a new identity. Finally forty years old with two energetic children and a couple of nagging health issues, and I was ripe for the collapse that came.
I sank into myself, gave up not just on finding answers but the even more important task of asking questions. For two years I wallowed in a kind of despair, a darkness of heart only made more difficult by its utter banality. I couldn’t even take solace in melodrama! Monastic wisdom labels this dreaded place acedia, the noonday demon, where you cease to care even about the fact that you have ceased to care. It’s death by paralysis, suicide in slow motion, and it had me by the throat.
So, to cut to the chase, I am writing again, reflecting and wrestling again. It’s part of my coming awake and part of my protest against the situation that has blunted my soul. It’s my beginning again. “Happy Birthday!”