(The following is Mr. Dunham’s address from our first Reformation/All Saints’ Day Feast.)
I’d like to tell you a Little Mr. Dunham story. Imagine when Mr. Dunham was a boy of about 5 – quite a bit shorter, quite a bit skinnier, probably still wearing a suit and tie. He grew up in the middle of the United States on a farm in rural Illinois. And he loved Thanksgiving. He loved Thanksgiving because of the food – turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, just like we’re having today; but he also loved Thanksgiving because he got to see family, sometimes family he didn’t even know he had! Yes, late on Thanksgiving morning, Little Mr. Dunham would stand at the door and excitedly wait for car after car to pull in the driveway and park, each one letting out dozens of cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents who came for the feast at Little Mr. Dunham’s family’s farm.
Now, as many of you know, this is the first Feast of its kind at Petra. Not only is feasting referenced throughout the Scriptures, but Christian history places feasting as the central demonstration and expression of gratitude toward God and the joy that comes from celebrating his Providence – that is, his provision – in our lives. This is what Thanksgiving is all about! Today at our feast, however, we want to observe two significant days in the history of the Church – Reformation Day and All Saints’ Day – and I’d like to tell you a little about each of them.
Almost 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, a troubled Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses (or statements) critiquing certain church practices to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. The door of the Castle Church served as the official university bulletin board and was regularly used for this kind of announcement – in this case, a public discussion on the practice of indulgences, or paying money to purchase a “free pass” for one’s sins instead of repenting of them. However, as there had been growing unrest among many church people over these and other church matters, when Luther’s criticisms were published by way of the newly invented printing press, the spark ignited a raging fire of debate about what the Bible says about salvation and quickly spread through many countries of Europe. This was the beginning of what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
All Saints’ Day is a holy day that the Orthodox church traces back to church father John Chrysostom in the 4th century as a recognition of saints – many of whom were martyrs – celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to Mary and the martyrs, initiated the practice in the Catholic church in 609 A.D. before Pope Gregory III officially established the holy day on November 1 in the mid-eighth century. Historically, Catholic churches have thought of “saints” as those officially canonized or “made” saints by the church, but in the Orthodox church, as well as in many Protestant denominations today, All Saints’ Day is celebrated as a remembrance of departed Christians from any time and place – those whom Hebrews 12:1 calls a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the Church universal. Thus, All Saints’ Day is a day in which we honor faithful believers who have died, but also those by whom we are sitting even now! For as in one of the verses of the hymn that our choir will soon sing:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
The supremacy of the Scriptures and the fellowship of the saints – this living truth and this “one in thee, for all are thine” reality – is what we celebrate today at our Reformation and All Saints Feast. Whether we are Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant, we can and choose to gather in unity at Petra to share this meal together. Why? Because we are together! We are part of God’s family because…
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made;
who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son;
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;
Who spoke by the prophets; and we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
These truths (and our unity as saints surrounding them) are what we celebrate today. Thanks be to God!
One of the books I’ve been reading of late is journalist Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World (and How They Got That Way). In it, Ripley chronicles the lives of three different American students – one from Oklahoma, one from Minnesota, and one from Pennsylvania – who spend a year of high school overseas in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, respectively. Ripley uses these students’ stories to put flesh on her facts from international research that suggests the right kind of rigor, parents who focus on the right things, and students who have bought into the promise of learning all matter a great deal in educating for a civilized society.
While I commend the book and its observations on rigor and results, I found the content on pages 107-109 most interesting. In this section (subtitled “The Geography of Parenting”), Ripley discusses research concerning the role and importance of family in a student’s academic success. She writes:
(Scientist) Andreas Schleicher noticed after the first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test in 2000 that a student’s home environment dramatically affected scores. He wanted to know more about how families shaped education, so he tried to get all the participating countries to agree to survey parents…By 2009, Schleicher and his colleagues had managed to convince thirteen countries and regions to include parents in the PISA. Five thousand of the students who took the PISA test brought home a special survey for their parents. The survey asked how they had raised their children and participated in their education, starting from when they were very young.
That parents affected their children’s learning was not in doubt; the question was, how?
Strange patterns emerged. For example, parents who volunteered in their kids’ extracurricular activities had children who performed worse in reading, on average, than parents who did not volunteer, even after controlling for other factors like socioeconomic background. Out of thirteen very different places, there were only two (Denmark and New Zealand) in which parental volunteering had any positive impact on scores at all, and it was small.
Ripley was incredulous:
How could this be? Weren’t the parents who volunteered in the school community showing their children how much they valued education? Weren’t the mothers who chaperoned field trips and fathers who brought orange slices to soccer games the ones with the most time and energy to devote to their children? The data was baffling. Yet other research within the United States revealed the same mysterious dynamic: volunteering in children’s schools and attending school events seemed to have little effect on how much kids learned.
So what parental action actually had effect? Ripley continues with her findings, which again should come as no surprise:
By contrast, other parental efforts yielded big returns, the survey suggested. When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen. It sounded like a public-service cliche: Read to your kids. Could it be that simple?
But what about after fifteen? Again, there should be no shock:
As kids got older, the parental involvement that seemed to matter most was different but related. All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books, and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading. Here again, parents who engaged their kids in conversation about things larger than themselves were essentially teaching their kids to become thinking adults. Unlike volunteering in schools, those kinds of parental efforts delivered clear and convincing results, even across different countries and different income levels. Research from within the United States echoed these findings. What parents did with children at home seemed to matter more than what parents did to help out at school.
Uh-oh. There go all our parent volunteers! Perhaps, but honestly, if it’s a choice between volunteering at school or reading books and discussing ideas with your student(s) at home, then so be it. The point is this: educating our kids has more to do with how we as parents interact with them, and less to do with signing up to be seen doing so.
Sure, Petra needs plenty of parental volunteer help (particularly when we’re a week out from our first feast next Friday, October 30, with food prep and service opportunities still to fill), but we’ll get it. When you sign up to help (and thank you in advance for doing so), give some thought to what you signed up for when you brought child(ren) into the world. As parents, we are called to read with them, to discuss with them, and to give them the gift of time spent together. Indeed, rigor and results are important, but neither more so than their relationship – now and always – with us.
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16
We sing a lot at Petra, and not just in choir or only at the elementary level. While there is plenty of music going on in our K4-6th grade classrooms each day (not to mention in our 1st-3rd grade violin program, or on Friday mornings as part of our elementary Great Assembly), our 7th-12th grade students gather for ten minutes of daily morning prayer and song, so named “matins” for the medieval tradition of corporate prayer and singing, scripture reading and response, and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and various ancient creeds.
In addition to the morning music, we usually also offer a musical blessing together before lunch in the form of the “Doxology” or “Gloria Patri.” And, since music is one of the “four ways” of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) of classical Christian education, at some point in the months or years to come, I hope we can work in some “evensong” to end each day as well. (We also have plans for more formally-developed choirs and orchestras, but that’s another post.)
As a classical Christian school, we want our students singing ancient songs and participating in traditional liturgies that have been important to Christians for millennia. Sadly, few churches even reference many of these anymore (let alone use them), so ours is not only an attempt at morning prayer but musical preservation. In addition to several traditional hymns to date, we’ve included service music like “Venite,” which is a musical chant of Psalm 95; “Kyrie Eleison,” which the students have learned to sing in a beautiful three-part round; and (currently) “Dona Nobis Pacem,” with three different parts sung in harmony. There is no accompaniment and no sheet music; students learn by ear and attempt to blend their voices with those of others as we focus together at the start of our day.
Earlier this week, we gathered all of our Petra students into the gymnasium to take an all-school picture. Everyone did a nice job assembling themselves (which is no small task for 198 K4-12th grade students), but after the picture was taken, it seemed a great opportunity since we were all together to have everyone sing “Kyrie.” Perhaps the best way to explain the result is to quote one of Mrs. Snyder’s first graders, who excitedly told her on the way back to class that “everybody’s singing sounded like beautiful opera!”
While I’m unaware of this first grade student’s actual experience with opera, indeed (and with a little help from the live acoustics of our gymnasium), the students’ singing was beautiful. But even better than that one moment has been that all this week I’ve heard first graders, fifth graders, and freshmen (among others), whistling while they work and humming in the hallways these ancient songs of the faith.
What started out as joyful noise is metamorphosing into joyful music. As students learn these and other songs, we trust this venerable music will stay with and sustain them in good times and bad, just as it has done for so many saints before.
“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” Ps. 95:1
Translations: “Venite” (“Come.”); “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy.”); “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant us peace.”)
Photos courtesy of Ashley Dawn Photography
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
Having lived in Montana for all of three months now, and having spent the summer hiking and camping mostly around Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, last weekend was my first opportunity to see more of the Treasure State, as I drove to Great Falls to watch our varsity Griffins play volleyball.
If you’ve made the three-hour drive from Bozeman through Helena to Great Falls, I don’t have to tell you how beautiful it is. If you haven’t, I’m not sure I can adequately describe the vastness of scale, the contrast of colors, or the teeming of the Missouri River through the canyons it carved. I thought about having one of my daughters snap a few pictures with my iPhone, but we all know the limitations of trying to capture God’s grandeur in a viewfinder; it’s not a matter of finding the views, but fitting them that is always the trick.
Just as reading the book is always better than seeing the movie, experiencing the sight is always better than trying to take a picture of it. Personally, I’ve stopped trying to capture life in pictures, and instead just take ones that are good enough to trigger those I took in my mind. Life is more easily experienced than described, which is frustrating when experiencing something you want to share but can’t (or at least can’t adequately).
Which brings me to Recitation Day – one of our attempts (albeit a rudimentary one) to present to parents and grandparents of our elementary students just a hint of what they are learning in their studies at Petra. To watch a child learn is as beautiful and awe-inspiring a sight as seeing the Missouri meander through the Montana mountains; unfortunately, trying to tangibly capture that sight is as great a challenge as any.
But we try. We try to give you a glimpse of how your elementary students are engaging with classical content that has stood the test of time; of how they are forming (and being formed by) a Christian worldview of that classical content; and how they are learning this classical content and Christian worldview from teachers who live joyful lives with a love of learning.
To be sure, Recitation Day is only a partial picture of all that your children or grandchildren are learning at Petra, but we hope this snapshot will be one of many you collect as your student continues through our grammar, logic, and rhetoric schools. Enjoy the views!
by Thomas Banks, Humanities & Latin Teacher
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio‘s Calling of St. Matthew has famously proven among Caravaggio scholars a subject of contention. At issue for some time has been the question of which of two figures seated in the custom house in fact represents the future apostle: the prominent bearded man at the center, visibly startled by Christ’s appearance and command, or the surly youth at the far left, shamefacedly bent over the table as though vainly attempting to avoid both the glance of the Son of Man and the light that shines behind Him?
This controversy is of course one in which a non-expert such as myself, who knows precious little of the early Baroque, does well not to venture too confidently an answer which no one solicited in the first place. This being said, I pretend to offer no certainties here, only what I hope is a piece of fairly plausible guesswork.
I believe that Matthew is the young man brooding at the table’s end. True enough, Caravaggio has painted Our Lord’s gesture of summons ambiguously, and such is the effect of the painter’s tenebrism that His eye is not more obviously fixed on one man than the other. Also, the older man appears to be pointing at himself in anxious fear, as though this itinerant rabbi (of whom all the men in the customs no doubt have heard) is about to lay upon him some awful curse or command more awful still. Even the amused snobbery of the plumed worldling attired in gold and red has something of wide-eyed trepidation in it, as though his attention has been drawn truly and for the first time to something greater than himself. The authority of the Intruder at the right is visible enough to every other character in the composition, and little is added to His commanding presence by the innocuous piety of the halo which the demands of convention have compelled our artist to trace, however faintly, about the sacred head.
But the young man is past anxiety; he is crumpled into a heap of abashed resignation, alive only with the knowledge that what he has been, he can no longer be, and what he has worshiped he now must cast aside. The empty glance of crushed devotion he offers to the few pathetic coins before his eyes is nothing so much as the look of a man intent even in defeat on not looking up to see the knowledge of his losses in the features of those around him. Somehow I am reminded of the last words of the defeated French emperor on his deathbed asking rhetorically of his attendants, “Surely we were not cowards at Sedan?”
So often merely the presence or a few pointed questions of Our Lord thus disarmed his interlocutors. His “Whence was the baptism of John, from Heaven or the sons of men?”, his “What you are about to do, do quickly.” – do not these cut to the center of His listeners far more keenly than could even the most starkly wrathful utterances of an Amos or an Ezekiel? Those who receive them have nothing left to say. He subdues them each and every one: Judas, Pilate, the Pharisees (time and time again) the woman at the well, the young aristocrat; as for this last, one wonders, could he ever again really enjoy his many possessions?
For that matter, does the young tax collector in this painting have the air of one who might yet love his worldly valuables after turning his back on a heavenly vocation? Notice that Caravaggio has painted the money on the table with no intoxicating glamour, no seductive radiance. The coins before the sinner hardly shine. But these, however commonplace their appearance, still remain for Matthew an idol of devotion, and were we not informed already of the incident’s conclusion, we might be forgiven for doubting whether he, abject as here he sits, could find within him the will to rise up as bidden, put off the mountebank, and put on the apostle. At this moment he has no love for what he is; like every votary of a counterfeit god, he has become the living image of his deity: hardened and exchangeable. “Similes illis fiant qui faciunt ea,” as the Psalmist has it; that is, “Like those who make it.”
In our natural estate of vicious imperfection, much of what makes each of us himself is that which he must leave if he would live. Truly to live – doesn’t every one of us desire it? But at what cost, and what terms of surrender? When I make up the account of those damning properties of which I must let go, how much of myself have I abandoned? I consider the words of the great Ignatian prayer: “Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem. Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem” (“Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. My memory, my understanding, and my will.”) It is not the thought only of the suffering that must attend the sacrifice of our liberty and memory and will that disquiets us. Do we not also ask, “once the offering is made, will I any longer know myself?”
None of us is more than the sum of his deeds, and when our deeds are evil we lose the ability to conceive of any version of ourselves that is not somehow twisted and corrupt. It is at this point that we are first tempted to apply the first ether to our conscience; to tell ourselves that what we are we are, and that whatever hints of greater goods might now threaten to unsettle our self-love, these need not trouble us so much that we should wish for any strong medicine to cure us of our ailments. How often have we heard it said (how often have we said it?): “I have a sense of what I really am, and can live with that reality. I make no apologies for what I have done, because any compromise with iniquity is worth the reward of self-knowledge.”
Here the egotism of Rousseau is prophetic: “Such as I was, I declared myself; sometimes low and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast seen my inmost soul. Power eternal! Assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my Confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.”
This, I think, is the battle that rages within Matthew as he stares down at the tokens of his past life. He has been avaricious, disaffected, cynical, corrupt. But he knows himself for what he is, and the familiarity of degradation holds, for a moment, its position against the overtures of the terrible strangeness of sanctity. To find himself, the sinner must lose himself, and so put on a new man whom he does not know, and whose purity can only be, to the eye of flesh, something wholly alien. Is it not so with all of us? And is not the beauty of Holiness as frightening as any Hell?
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
One has taught at L’abri in Switzerland. One was born in Quebec but grew up in Cameroon. One has traveled to 16 countries and four different continents, but still thinks Bozeman is best.
Who are these people? They’re our teachers, of course.
At various points across this week, I spent some time reviewing and updating our faculty and staff bios before we published them on our website (we’ll update their pictures from last year next month when we have portraits taken – more on that as we get closer to October). As I was adding and editing the biographical information they submitted at orientation, I quickly realized that I’m in the presence of some extraordinary people on a daily basis.
The good news? So are your children.
All of our teachers have bachelor’s degrees; some have a master’s degree (or two) to boot. Several of our teachers graduated from their respective institutions magna cum laude. Some of our teachers have enough liberal arts training that they could teach subjects in which they have not even earned degrees…and they could do it well.
They’re learners, all of them.
As a Headmaster (or “lead teacher”), I’m daunted by the challenge of keeping up with these excellent educators, but I’m also grateful for it, as it pushes me in my own practice of learning and inspires me to improve in my own attempts at leading.
As a father, I’m grateful that these are the people my four daughters (ages 16, 15, 13, and 11) are spending time with when they’re not with Megan and me. If I’m honest, these teachers may very well shape my daughters’ affections for what is True, Good, and Beautiful as much as I will.
One reads British literature for fun. One is a lover and student of calligraphy. One could, because of her military training, drop and kill me if she wanted (yes, I said “she”), but her heart for Petra and our work together has kept me alive so far to die another day.
Who are these people?
They’re Petra, and as I trust you’ll discover, they’re what makes our school the amazing place it is.
by Sarah McClaflin, 6th grade teacher
Be still, my soul. Four simple words:
“Be” – we exist because God created us for a specific purpose His own glory
“Still” – a state of contentment and rest, not fretting or looking for an alternative
“My” – that which we are responsible for and can manage, remembering that we cannot change the actions or motives of anyone else
“Soul” – the inner being that is constantly offering counsel that we listen to more than any other advisor
Kenneth Osbeck relays in his book 101 Hymn Stories that the familiar hymn, “Be Still, My Soul” originated in the seventeenth century in Germany during a movement known as the Pietistic Revival. Leading this time of revival in Berlin, Philip Jacob Spencer encouraged singing, which led to a great revival of hymnody in the country.
One of the most prominent hymn writers of the time was Katharine von Schlegel. Born in Germany in 1697 at the tail end of the Reformation Movement, it is no surprise she was a member of the Lutheran church. As the Pietistic Revival itself was characterized, the lyrics which flowed from the heart of von Schlegel were also characterized by “genuine piety, depth of feeling, rich Christian experience, and faithfulness in Scriptural expression.” This is clearly portrayed in the lyrics of “Be Still, My Soul.”
I am so thankful for the translation work of Jane Borthwick over one hundred years ago, as she made the outpouring of von Schlegal’s heart accessible to my own. Heading into a new school year with a new headmaster, new families, new fears, old hurts, a larger building, and numerous other unknowns, I’ve been meditating on the lyrics of this beloved hymn.
Anticipating changes with a still soul has always been a challenge for me. I fight the temptation to take up the worry, anxiety, and even exhausting enthusiasm that relentlessly knocks at the door of my heart.
Last year I had the opportunity to incorporate two new foundational curriculum changes (math and history) in my classroom. During this process, I often battled thoughts that ranged from, “I can’t make this or that work!” to “I am physically and mentally exhausted. Where will the strength and enthusiasm come to teach today?” The comforting phrase, “. . . leave to thy God to order and provide” became a constant reminder to press on, ask for help and guidance, focus on the next right response, and grow in my faith.
This coming year ushers in our new headmaster. The extensive search and interview process that the board and administration conducted last year was definitely full of unknowns and lofty expectations. As a staff member, I began to wonder if our school would continue to function as it had or if radical change was going to be implemented. What would that mean for me as a teacher and my children as students? What about the Petra community? Would the new headmaster understand what it is like to lose a leader who loved us so well? Would he or she embrace that, even though we know it is time to move forward, there is still a feeling of loss associated with the past?
As worry and fear would begin to build in my heart, the Lord would bring to mind the beginning of the second verse of this old hymn: “Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past.” Then, when the staff first met Craig Dunham, I found myself in awe at how the Lord had perfectly prepared this particular individual to lead our school with purpose, humility, and wisdom. Here was a man who, in spite of his own fears and hurts, clearly continued to love – the Lord, his family, other people, and the work God has given him to do. When he accepted the position, there was great relief and anticipation about what this coming year will bring.
As we prepare for this coming school year, I’m still doing some individual heart searching with the following questions: Is my soul still and at peace, or am I fretting and unsettled? Do I regularly remember that the Lord is on my side or do I think I am fighting these battles alone? Am I leaving to my God to order and provide or am I insisting on my own way? Is my confidence in myself or in Almighty God?
Other questions: Am I running to Jesus to soothe the hurt in my heart or do I forget that He longs to comfort and assure me? Am I remembering that the suffering I may be experiencing right now is temporary and that as a believer in Jesus Christ I have a unique future hope? Do I know with confidence that God is who He says He is and His existence is not dependent on my belief or actions?
In the lyrics of each stanza of “Be Still, My Soul,” the author acknowledges that life is filled with things unknown, disappointment, grief, sorrow, change, and pain. Yet for the believer in Jesus Christ, all of this is eclipsed by the hope and confidence that we have in future glory. And still, we have a present task here and now, for each day brings choices and decisions to make. Some may seem significant – purchasing a home or caring for an aging parent; others may seem less so – stopping to pick up a forgotten item at the grocery store or helping with homework Regardless, each one is an opportunity to trust in an all-powerful, all-knowing, faithful, loving God to bring resolution rather than relying on ourselves to try to do so alone.
As we approach the beginning of another school year, we will encounter multiple opportunities each day to choose to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). In our stillness, we can meditate on God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23), rejoice in His blessing (Philippians 4:4-8), remember who we serve and the indescribable gifts He has already given (James 1:17; John 3:16), and anticipate the future with hope and confidence (I Timothy 4:10; Philippians 1:6). We are children of God – blessed, chosen, sealed, adopted, forgiven, and loved (Ephesians 1; Romans 8).
These truths, kept in the forefront of our minds and on the turf of our hearts, will sustain. In the midst of new procedures, old habits, malfunctioning technology, and inspiring lectures, these ancient words remain, and we can continue to draw new strength from them.
by Sam Koenen, Academic Dean
One evening this summer, I sat on my front porch and began a short volume of poetry by Wendell Berry. The first poem was only three lines long, but its powerful image forced me to stop reading and to think about its implications.
Though this poem consists of a single image, it contains many wise lessons that all of us—teachers, students, and parents—can seek to apply as the new school year approaches.
Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.”
The poem’s single metaphor is an exhortation for us to work as the snow works. By contemplating what it means for snow to “work”, we can draw four lessons from Berry’s exhortation.
1) Work with consistency. Berry’s snow falls quietly, without rushing and without anxiety. Its consistent, step-by-step efforts eventually blanket the landscape completely. This time of year, it is common for students to start worrying about the next nine months of books and papers, math problems and science labs, projects and deadlines—and for some, the looming horror of the junior thesis.
Teachers often experience a similar anxiety, wondering how they will be able to prep all the assignments their students are worrying about, as well as attend sports games, teacher training meetings, be home with their families, and serve in their churches—all at the same time.
Berry’s poem encourages us to remember the wisdom of consistency. The nine months’ of work we are worrying about comes to us a single day at a time. When we focus on the work we have today, our work isn’t so overwhelming and our anxiety settles down. The snow doesn’t spend time fretting about the amount of ground it has to cover in complete and precise detail. It just starts working flake-by-flake, and eventually it completes its task.
2) Work with contentment. The snow accepts the landscape it’s been given. It doesn’t complain about the challenging sharp corners and vertical surfaces it will struggle to cover. The snow simply does the best it can with what it has in the time it has been given.
Several times this year, both students and teachers will be given assignments that tax them, assignments full of sharp corners. Instead of wasting time in worry or complaint, let us commit now in the ease of summer to simply knuckle down and do the work we’ve been given. Let us trust that as we work (and pray about our work), we will find all the resources, energy, and wits we need to complete our work well. Let us commit now simply to do our best with what we have and trust God to provide what we lack.
3) Work with charity. The snow also teaches us to be utterly charitable in our work. Snow covers everything and leaves nothing out. It is considerate of every part of the landscape. The snow also works in a way that blesses others. It gains nothing from its work, but creates beauty and comfort in the emptiness of winter.
It is easy to forget that our work should always be marked with charity. All true Christian endeavors seek both to glorify God and to bless our neighbor. As the first day of school approaches, let us pray that God will fill us with love for each other, so that as we write lesson plans or papers, as we hear lessons or give them, as we discuss and learn and teach and spend our days together in Petra’s hallways, all our work will bless those around us—leaving nothing and no one out.
4) Work with hope. Finally, the snow teaches us to labor in the faith that our efforts will not be in vain. The snow of winter provides the ground water needed for the plants of spring. But it never sees the fruits of its labor. It has no immediate reward, no instant gratification for its work. In fact, the snow has passed away by the time its work comes to fruition.
So it often is with schoolwork, especially at a classical, Christian school. Mid-year, students are tempted to ask, “What’s the point? Where’s the payoff for all my blood, toil, tears, and sweat?” They don’t see an immediate purpose to the work they are doing (aside from the ability to quote Churchill in their angst). But the reason the payoff isn’t visible is because they aren’t looking far enough down the road. Growth in an oak tree can be measured only over many years. And it takes a long series of faithful, patient waterings to produce this growth.
When students look for an immediate payoff, they have forgotten that they are very much like trees (Ps. 1), and the work their teachers have given is water for their roots and sunlight for their leaves. Through the grace of God, their Petra education is growing their souls, nourishing their hearts, and fertilizing the soil of their roots so their thinking can go deep.
When we—students, parents, and teachers—begin to question the point of our work at Petra this year (as will inevitably happen), let us remember that we all labor in the dawn of everlasting results.
And remembering this, let us turn and begin our work again, “quietly, quietly, leaving nothing out.”
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
Here in Bozeman of late, one might lose sight of (or even forget for a moment) the beautiful scenery surrounding our fair Verona due to the smoke from the wildfires to our west. Granted, smoke is better than fire, but the result (at least with regard to all things respiratory) is basically the same. As Petra Humanities teacher Thomas Banks posted on his Facebook page, “In Bozeman today we are all smokers. Solidarity.”
Solidarity, indeed. We’re all affected by the smoke – some more than others (young children, older adults, and those with asthma perhaps the most) – as we all breathe, and in doing so, we all know something’s not been quite right of late in Gallatin Valley.
This, of course, makes for the most timely of metaphors. Born into a world created good by God, ours is an atmosphere and ontology tainted by the “smoke” of original sin. Though redeemed if we are Christians, we nevertheless live not-yet-restored lives as what theologian Francis Schaeffer labeled “glorious ruins” – still glorious because we bear the image of God, yet temporarily ruined by the effects of choosing (past and present) apart from Him.
All this shrouds our human experience of what Aristotle called “the transcendentals” of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; and yet, it does not negate their existence. The parallel is obvious: regardless of the smoke, living in Bozeman and heading northeast of town will run us into the Bridgers because, well, there they are, and have been since God created them. Likewise, living in this world – fallen as it is – will run us into God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, because there they are, remnants of His creation and wonderfully incarnated in the person of Jesus the Christ.
So how do we see and discover – yea, even experience! – what is there? The answer is less dependent on us than we think. For just as we can do little but pray for the westerly winds to blow smoke out of the Gallatin Valley, so, too, can we do little but pray for the Spirit of God to blow sin out of the valleys of our own hearts. Let us pray this same simple way for our children, that as they begin school at Petra in two-and-a-half weeks, God’s Spirit would blow out the smoke of sin from their hearts and grant them a clearer picture of Himself through all that they learn.
Oh, the view! May this weekend be one in which the blue, big skies of Bozeman once again meet the familiar peaks of the Bridgers. And, may this upcoming school year be one in which our students (and we as their parents) once again meet the God of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful in the world.
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
Writing in his essay, “Of Education,” poet and polemicist John Milton sums up well the goal of learning:
“The end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the neerest by possessing our souls of true vertue,
which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”
Repairing the ruins; regaining to know God right – and then loving, imitating, and being like Him because we know Him; possessing souls of true virtue; being united to faith and thereby experiencing the highest of perfections. This is what true learning looks like…and what classical and Christian education is!
Lofty goals, to be sure, yet ones we trust, by God’s grace, that our faculty and families will embrace and imbibe in this, our 20th academic year of Petra Academy. Toward that end, I would like to invite you to our Parent Orientation on Wednesday, September 2, from 7-9 p.m. to learn more about our shared pursuit this coming school year. Upper School students may attend Orientation as part of the program; however, please make other plans for kids 12-and-under so as to get the most from the experience.
Because the beginning of a school year can feel overwhelming, we are working on a series of “helps” – everything from hands-on Chalkable training to thinking more classically and Christianly about daily life – especially for Petra parents. We look forward to announcing these at Parent Orientation on September 2, but until then, would direct you to our list of article and book recommendations under our new Parents tab to perhaps build some enthusiasm.
We look forward to our new school year starting Tuesday, September 8th. May this year – Petra’s 20th! – be a year in which our students “regain to know God aright” in their studies, activities, and very lives. Thank you, parents, for entrusting us with the privilege of assisting you in pursuing this glorious goal.