The stresses of the past calendar year have been numerous. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic colliding with regular responsibilities, many of us have found ourselves somewhat disoriented. Shifting priorities, schedules, and communities have forced creative personal and professional pursuits to the bottom shelf, and we’re struggling to find a way towards normalcy—much less excellence—again. Mental, emotional, and even physical energy is in short supply; our resources are spent on the essentials. In such times, it is tempting to view any attempt at “extra” activities as futile. We’re simply in survival mode, wondering if there is an end in sight.
Pandemic life has certainly dealt us a tricky hand, but one experience this spring gave me hope that I could find new ways to continue creative and intellectual exploration in the midst of so many restrictions. Prompted by a longing for some sort of structured reflection in the weeks leading up to Easter, I joined a reading group in an online creative Christian community called The Rabbit Room. Throughout the season of Lent, I joined with hundreds of other Rabbit Room members in reading a short book of collected poetry entitled The Word in the Wilderness. Malcolm Guite, who authored many of the poems and offers commentary for each poem in the collection, provided short Q & A videos as well as recorded readings for listening online. Here was a task that seemed reasonable; I only needed to read two or three short pages each day to find nourishment for my mind and heart.
Unlike many other books that have sat unfinished on my shelf throughout the past few months, I actually finished The Word in the Wilderness. And on Resurrection morning, I was so glad that I had. Just a few dedicated minutes a day (which, admittedly, sometimes came in the form of waits in the school pickup line, a break in between classes, or the last few moments before my eyes closed at night) had offered me an opportunity to engage with beauty, reflect on ideas, and participate in community. In the midst of restrictions and overwhelm, my heart, mind, and soul were fed.
As our family eyes the finish line of the semester and looks toward the open calendar squares of summer, we’ve started talking about our holiday goals. In addition to planning family vacations and summer camps, we usually ask our children to list a few topics or skills they are interested in learning more about during their free time. In the past, we’ve seen our kids engage in activities as varied as learning French, identifying plants and animals, delving into art history, and exploring the culture of Tanzania. Each child usually chooses something different, and we try our best to provide the resources for each endeavor.
After an exhausting year, we’re taking a different approach this summer—one similar to my own experience of reading and reflection throughout the season of Lent. Our goal this summer is to read 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know—little by little—as a family. Maybe we’ll chase a few selections down online or in person for further investigation; we might try our hand at an art project or two aimed at mimicking a particular piece or technique. Whatever extras we add, we’re at least planning to dedicate a few minutes a day to the communal pursuit of engaging with magnificent pieces of visual art, literature, film, and even music. Lest you be too impressed, this won’t be a family law; we will miss some days, and some days we may read more than one entry in order to catch up! Still we have a goal: to pursue truth, beauty, and goodness together as a family by reflecting on some masterful human creations. My hope is that, like my experience with The Word in the Wilderness, our small commitment will be rewarded with nourished hearts, minds, and souls.
I don’t have an online reading group to offer, but our family would be delighted for you to join us in this creative endeavor over the summer! Feel free to post comments or questions below. I’d love to see how others engage these works as a family!
Editor’s Note: Check out Sara’s most recently published article (besides this one!) at Circe about the value of literacy and the encouragement that working with struggling readers is worth it!