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The Beautiful Work of Keeping

This will be the first of many posts on the how and why of Scholé. In today’s post I will discuss some of the ideas we came up with at our first meeting of Scholé Sisters of New Mexico, and a few that have been rattling around inside my brain since then. For those of you who missed the meeting, we spent a bit of time talking over the idea of Scholé, which we are all learning, and then went over some ideas from chapter 1 of “The Living Page,” by: Laurie Bestvater. Though I discussed some of the ideas on why we are often drawn to keeping, or notebooking in my last post, here I will begin to flesh out some of the reasons why you should incorporate the practice into your life. These are the ways that keeping will help you to Scholé.

Let’s start with a quote from Laurie Bestvater on the impact a simple notebook, kept together with a favorite aunt during a visit, had on her, “I trundled my treasure home. I kept it for years. It was a simple, mostly graphic memory, but though it had only a few pictures and even fewer words, through it I could recall all the feelings, sights, and smells of those ten days. But mostly what I carried away was the sense that I was important. I had been taken seriously. In giving me a way to keep the ordinary days of the trip, I am sure no great academic progress was made; no great thoughts were captured; no wonderful manuscript produced, but I was encouraged to notice and somehow newly awake to the preciousness of time and the import of each daily incarnational encounter with Glory.” She goes on to explain that the notebooking habit that came out of her experience turned her not only into a writer but a “student of Divinity.”

I was really struck by these words. I think that they capture the gravity of what keeping can do for those who choose to engage it. And I feel that it all starts with attention. In our world, so driven by a whirling chaos of things to do, people to keep up with, and ever changing ideas flashing across our computer screens, we are all attention deficient. We tend to fly through life, flinging from one thing to the next without really taking the time to give one thing our full attention.

I have been learning lately that attention has no on and off switch. No, attention has to be cultivated. And so far, the most effective way I have come across to cultivate attention is to keep. When I am sitting with my nature journal sketching a plant; counting its parts; detailing its attributes for later categorization, that plant has my full and undivided attention. To draw something, you first have to see it. I mean really see it. To identify a plant species you have never named before takes the utmost attention to detail.

It wasn’t until I started drawing and painting that I began to fully noticing my surroundings. Just to illustrate this, a few months ago I noticed an entire mountain range, that has been there for my viewing all my life, that I had somehow skimmed over and never truly noticed. And when I pointed it out to a few others, I got a lot of, “Hmmm, I never really noticed those. I wonder which mountains those are.” Now I am always looking around for the thing I have failed to notice. And the beauty I have experienced in doing so has been life altering. I am witnessing the glory of God on a daily basis, in areas where I never would have expected to experience it.

This is what paying attention does for us, it makes us students of the Divine. It shows us Glory in our every-day lives. When we have sufficient time to reflect, we can start to see things clearly. For example, the keeping of a thankfulness list, which I have learned gives me time to actually reflect of my seemingly hum-drum life. While reading Ann Voskamp’s amazing book, “1000 Gifts,” I started to keep a list of all the little things I was thankful for each day. This could be as simple as the smell of clean clothes, or as complex as the answer to a long prayed over prayer. Attention begot more and more thankfulness, and suddenly I was seeing all of the little and not so little miracles that were happening around me every single day. The change it brought to my outlook was profound. I can’t even begin to quantify the outpouring of joy, and rest in God’s providence that came from this practice of keeping a simple list.

Another beautiful gift that springs from the cultivation of attention, through keeping, is memory. When I write down a quote from something I am reading it creates an indelible mark on my memory. That quote, lovingly and painstakingly taken down, will stick with me much longer than if I were to simply graze over it. Then, when I later go back and read it in my commonplace book, I will remember how it made me feel the first time. And any of the thoughts that I had will likely be there too. This is how the word of God can impact a soul. This is how a poem can fill you with beauty. This is how you find deep and meaningful companions in the stories you read. By keeping, we build strong relationships with the kept, and a profound love grows out of the words and sketches.

RM, my partner in founding this group, brought up a great point about keeping a book of centuries. She pointed to a little sketch of a spinning wheel, and noted how it was a simple object from the past. But when the time was taken to draw it, a relationship was formed with the object, and love grew out of that. When we are studying history it can seem like a far off thing, but when we write down the facts, in order, and maybe even draw a simple sketch, we develop a relationship with those events, details and objects. If I sketch a spinning wheel, I will have a connection to it. I will better be able to imagine sitting at one, perhaps surrounded by those connected to it, and in the time period where it was used. Through that I will have a better understanding of the past, and even a love for the people that lived there.

I’ve never liked history, mostly because it just seemed like a big jumble of disconnected facts that didn’t seem to affect me. But sitting down with my children, and putting together a book of centuries has really changed that. When history comes alive for you several things happen. Connecting to the past, and gaining an understanding of humanity through the events that have occurred, really broadens your understanding of the human condition, human nature, and beyond that it sheds light on current happenings. It also gives you a better view of the way God works; what the devastating effects of sin can be; and how redemption really finds us right where we are.

To bring it in a little closer, let’s examine the joy in keeping in regards to the goings on in your own household. In the novel “Little Men,” Jo keeps a book about the boys living at her school. Every night, she quickly jots down a little of the good or bad doings of each boy. Then at the end of the week she has a little meeting with each boy to see how they did. In this way, she sees how each one is progressing; what areas they need to work on; and learns just what little gems exist in each one of them. By sharing the records with her boys, they too learn these things. Think what a great blessing it would be to mothers if they were to take just a few minutes each night to record some little thing about each of their children. How much joy would her heart receive at seeing all the beautiful little things her children have done. And how much peace would she receive when she was able to view the little failings more clearly, and help that child to correct those things before they become a lifelong habit.

In all, keeping is about growing as a human being, made for a purpose, and cultivating that purpose within yourself. It’s about slowing life down enough to take a long deep drink of the beauty that surrounds you, and let it refresh your soul. It’s about seeing God in all his glory. It’s about cultivating love; finding truth; knowing rest. Keeping deepens our lives in countless ways. And after reading just the first chapter of “The Living Page,” I am inspired to add to my growing collection of notebooks. Some may not see my hand for weeks at a time, but when they do there I meet real life, joy, truth, renewal, beauty, glory and above all, love.

I hope these ideas inspire you as much as they have inspired me. Please join in the conversation and let us know how the art of keeping, and living Scholé is enriching your life.

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Reflecting on “The Living Page” Ch. 1

As I prepare for our first ever Scholé Sisters of New Mexico meeting, I have been pondering chapter 1 of “The Living Page,” by: Laurie Bestvater. I hope you have found it just as inspiring as I have. Here were some of my first thoughts.

When I sit down in front of a new notebook, filled with excitement over the empty pages, I am also apprehensive, not wanting to spoil the beautifully blank space with something meaningless; but with a deep desire to make a lasting, meaningful mark. Reading “The Living Page” I am drawn in by the idea that keeping a notebook is in so many ways deeply human. It encompasses our desire to remember, and to marvel over the mysteries, sorrows, and glories of life. “Keeping” not only deepens our own understanding of the things we keep, but also leaves a lasting mark on the world. How many countless notebooks have been kept by our great thinkers, which are still being used to pass on their knowledge to us today?

This leaves me wondering about our current “paperless,” digital age. Whenever my husband prods me to use my smart phone calendar instead of the pretty day planner I keep; or talks of replacing my wall calendar with a screen, something deep inside of me resists. When I am prompted to make digital notes or lists, I later miss holding the book or paper in my hands. I almost never re-read journal entries that I have not taken the time to write out by hand. And I love my photo albums. The things that are stored in my computer and on my phone always seem to get lost in the heap of data.

Is it just me? Am I strange for wanting to keep these antiquated notebooks and papers and albums? “The Living Page” gives me hope.

There really is something about holding a book in your hands, or writing with a pen. You can see it in the older generation. My father, who is in his 70’s, recently wrote a very personal letter to someone he has known a long time. And he said to me, while he was thinking about what to put in that letter, “I am going to write the letter by hand, on paper, and send it in the mail.” There was something intrinsically more meaningful for him in doing that. He knew that the person receiving the letter would find more meaning in its contents if it came in the mail, hand written, and as a tangible item, instead of a digital email.

While discussing this with my husband, he brought up a good point. With digital media we have the ability to store an infinite amount of information. We can keep absolutely everything; and in doing so, much of it becomes meaningless.

Take photographs for instance. When we had cameras that took film, we were careful about the pictures we took. But with digital cameras we can take as many pictures as we want. We document everything and rarely look back. How often do we sift through those thousands of pictures we have taken? It’s quite the job to do so. Space is limited in a physical album, so only the best and most meaningful photos make the cut. There’s nothing like pulling out a photo album of your childhood and reliving all those memories in the frame of one beautifully put together book.

The same is true for the notebooks we keep. When we sit down to write out an entry by hand, chances are what we are keeping is in some way precious. As Bestvater points out, our forefathers kept records of the sacred. Following in their footsteps we are beckoned to do the same. It’s not the blathering, every day come and go of our random thoughts on Facebook, but the deeper, more meaningful thoughts, studies and works that get hand written in a journal that takes up physical space in our homes. If we are taking the time to write it down by hand and then keeping it somewhere in our house, it is worth keeping. Because we don’t pour over and retain the meaningless, but the meaningful.

What do you think? Is there something to this whole idea of Keeping? What did you think of Charlotte Mason’s perspective in all this?

It makes me want to continue my common place and nature study books, and to write out all the family stories I have, for my children and future grandchildren. It makes me want to print pictures and keep painting, scrapbooking; and do it all with my children.