Monday, November 05, 2007

The Prodigal Returns to the Magazine Basket

I am working my way through a pile of magazines up to 18 months old. I don't know why I stopped reading them--they're the ones with lots of words and very few pictures--except that I may have been traumatized by the man who offered me a bagel at S.'s softball game and then said, his tone dripping with mysterious venom, "Oh please, go back to your magazine."

Anyway, yesterday I found an article that did a lot to repair the psychic wound I incurred in that exchange. I love articles that tell me I'm raising my children properly, and this one was a doozy in that regard. It is entitled "Educated at Home," by Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., and can be found in the September 2006 issue of Chronicles magazine. I will now quote from it at tiresome length, because it bolsters one of my most cherished beliefs: that good conversation at a fine meal is the meaning of life.

Simply put, if, in a believing family, there is close attention to the quality of meals in both their culinary and their social aspects, and if, in the same family, care is taken to read and discuss the best sources, then the pleasure concomitant with these bodily and rational requirements of our nature will serve as a strong motivation for the will to retain the revealed Faith and moral virtue celebrated and proclaimed in the same family. Passing pleasures form the memory and stir up a nostalgia for the good things that never end.

...the sharing of food in the circle of the family and the sharing of thoughts in conversation are like two brackets between which all that is of any value in our culture can be contained.

A word to the parents who have done all they can, and whose sons and daughters have fallen away. There is a parable for you, that of the prodigal son: a parable of a successful domestic education. Was it not the basic human pleasures found in his father's house that moved him to come to himself and return with a heart full of hopeful compunction?...If there is a fatted calf, and music, and dignified vesture, and paternal discourse, we will all persevere until that Sunday afternoon at home comes which no evening shadow will follow.

Speaking of the prodigal son, I have a recommendation for you New York-based readers: the exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art entitled "The Art of Forgiveness: Images of the Prodigal Son." It is well worth the price of admission, if you take the trouble to slow yourself down, sit on a bench, and really examine some of the pieces. I was particularly taken by James Tissot's modern-dress version, especially since he was known for his exhaustive research into the dress, customs and landscape of the Holy Land in preparation for his other biblical work. I was also struck by how difficult it is to get the father's expression right; there is so much attention paid to the prodigal son and to the resentful "good" brother, but in some ways the father is the most interesting character in the tableau. Or maybe I just say that because I am a parent.

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