And should I die
before you wake,
there’s something I would want to say:
Love life with all your might
Love peace but be willing to fight
Love beauty and train your sight
Nurture your appetite for beauty, goodness and truth
Be strong and be brave, believe and be saved
For there is a God.
~ Wes King, words for his kids, written on a airplane sick bag
after violent turbulence on a flight
from There Is a God on the CD What Matters Most
We never tire of listening to this exceptional CD. The phrase, nurture your appetite for beauty, goodness and truth, keeps turning over in my mind, gently clanging like the metal rivets and buttons from jeans tumbling in the dryer.
1. We must distinguish beauty from ugliness, goodness from mediocrity, truth from cleverly couched lies. I tend to shy from evaluation – that’s my husband’s department – but nurturing an appetite involves evaluation all the day long. It is good to ask
Why do we love this movie?
Why don’t you like this type of music?
What makes this wonderful?
Where is this weak?
How could this be improved?
What is the point?
What would complement this?
Is this good?
This is one of those inescapable truths. Whenever we feed ourselves and our children – food, words, sounds, images – we are developing appetites. If I raise my family on a routine of chicken nuggets, french fries and pop while I drive in the van, they will not learn to appreciate sitting down together to a crisp green salad, a crusty loaf of bread and Quiche Lorraine. When I buy 20 39¢ hamburgers from McDonalds to scarf down together (which I’m humiliated to admit we did on Sundays coming home from church for, um, years) what kind of appetite am I nurturing?
A steady diet of sitcoms trains the mind to expect quick fixes, shallow character development and short attention spans. This is my beef with Sesame Street type shows. It develops a taste for quick takes, easy images, multiple camera shots, and overstimulation: all directly opposed to the patience required to sit, listen to a book, and form the pictures in your own imagination.
2. We (as parents and as self-monitors) must monitor the inflow and make the decisions. If a child is offered a choice between ice cream and oatmeal, that child will assuredly choose the ice cream. If, whenever there is a lull, we pop a DVD in or turn to a computer game, we are nurturing an appetitie for easy entertainment. Many folks have praised the television writer’s strike because it was the enforced restriction they needed to find better ways to spend their evenings. Carrie’s comments (see below) illustrate how effective complete withdrawal can be.
3. Begin introducing tiny tastes of what is wonderful to your family. Start small. Put on Bach while you are getting ready for a meal. Read a short poem after the meal. Get on your belly on the grass (or the beach) with a toddler and a magnifying glass. Turn over on your back and look for faces (eagles, mountains) in the clouds. Read through the psalms in the Authorized Version. Pick flowers and put them on the table. Teach your son how to make Dutch Babies. Buy postcards of fine art and study them together. Look for the funny things of life and laugh.
These “nurturing appetite” threads are intertwined with the idea of furnishing our minds. This Wendell Berry interview has also been tumbling in the dryer of my mind for over a year.
The country in front of us now falls off steeply toward Cane Run and
the horse barn. Berry says he hunted squirrels here as a boy. As we
begin to descend, I am thinking about boyhood and Berry’s poetry, and I
ask Berry if he agrees that school children should be reintroduced to
the lost institution of memorizing and reciting poems.
“Yes,” he replies, “you’ve got to furnish their minds.”
The idea of poetry as furniture expands within my imagination and for
weeks, I think about a poem committed to memory as an old chest of
drawers in the corner of a child’s room. At first the thing is simply a
place to put clothes. With time, the grown man, or grown woman learns
to see more of it: toolmarks left by the hand of a long-dead craftsman,
a cornice molding around its top in a shape found on ancient Greek
temples. And by gazing at its sturdiness for so many years, he or she
knows something about how to make things that last.