Naomi turned nine last week and as part of her birthday present I thought it was time to give her a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, simply because I loved it at her age. I might read it to her, since although she is well past the point of needing it, I know she would love to cuddle up on the sofa with me and listen to a chapter or two.
It must be the cooler weather and end of daylight saving which makes me return to plans to read to this eldest child, to bake bread, to do a bit of knitting – all things that I enjoyed doing last winter. I want to do nourishing things, and especially read nourishing things.
I want to feed the children as many good stories as I can.
And I want them to develop a taste for scripture too, which is something we haven’t done too well so far but it’s not too late to begin.
I remember at Naomi’s age selecting and then being made to practise ad nauseam my pieces of scripture to recite at the Parramatta and St George eisteddfods. Those verses today are among my favourites – it was, I realise now, almost lectio divina which my mum and I were doing without even knowing what that was.
We don’t just read stories and watch movies, we ingest them. They are formative, they become part of us. And scripture is the quintessence of this – we take in Jesus both in the Eucharist and the Word. We eat God’s Word and hopefully we become a bit more like him each time.
So many people are attracted to the notion of eating healthily, eating better quality food with an emphasis on unprocessed and raw or lightly cooked foods. Healthy food is no longer seen as daggy, taste-less or only for lentil-loving hippy types.
And this is a great thing, this cultural tide against the nutritionally poor, highly processed, high salt, sugar and saturated fat diet which much of the Western world embraced over the last century.
I wonder if a similar tide will turn on the consumption of shallow, poorly produced, and emotionally unhealthy entertainment? They say one’s man’s trash is another’s treasure, but just as no one will argue that a diet high in fat and sugar can lead to a host of health problems, surely any rational adult could point to books, movies, or games which are detrimental to spiritual health.
This is apart from the debate about state censorship to protect children, I’m talking about adults’ nutritional choices for themselves.
It’s interesting to me that we humans can become so particular about what we put into our mouth, but not see that there’s anything wrong with consuming daily a mental and spiritual diet of trashy or adversarial reality shows, violent dramas, or dark, ironic humour.
Gosh, I like a deep-fried chicken dinner from a cardboard box, but I wouldn’t eat it every day without expecting some unpleasant consequences. Nor would I expect to watch most of the stuff served up on TV every night without ill-effects.
I guess a health food industry can arise out of our greater awareness to nourish our bodies, it’s harder to imagine millions of dollars being generated by wholesome entertainment because it is wholesome.
But then we’ve had a couple of decades to take on board that healthy food can also be enjoyed on its own merits as enjoyable. We’ve gone back to baking our own bread and growing our own vegetables, supporting local farmers and taking our vitamins.
I just like to hope that writers and filmmakers and actors who care about moral health and spiritual sustainability will have their day, too.