The Rite of the Tea Towels
It is, as always, a joy and a privilege that I have been given the opportunity to encourage you on this journey of classical Christian education.
I’d like to start off reading something to you from Basil the Great (c. 329-379 AD). This excerpt comes from a writing he did on education and the importance of seeing it as a journey, one that lasts well beyond childhood.
He says, “It is for this eternity that I would exhort you to acquire travel-supplies, leaving no stone unturned, as the proverb has it…
And because this is difficult and calls for toil, let us not on this account draw back… in the expectation that through habit it will prove agreeable, we should attempt the best things.
For it would be disgraceful that we, having thrown away the present opportunity, should at some later time attempt to summon back the past when all our vexation will gain us nothing.”
Most of you know that my grandfather passed away just a few days before Christmas in 2015. He was 97. We had a wonderful time celebrating his life and legacy of faith. That time with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmother was truly a gift.
As one is wont to do under such circumstances, I thought a lot about my family and the memories I have and the stories I have heard that have been passed down.
I thought about my wedding, when my Grandmother Krause gave me one of the most treasured gifts I have ever received: embroidered tea towels. It wasn’t that the towels themselves were so precious. They are typically used for drying dishes, covering a bowl of bread dough as it rises, a makeshift apron or bib, or a sling for playing hospital.
What was so special to me about those tea towels is that growing up, my mom had some just like them, and so did all of my aunts, my grandmother and great-grandmother, who was still living when my oldest daughter, Madeline, was born. We actually have a picture of my great grandmother, grandmother, my mom, Maddie, and me all together.
I was the first of the grandchildren to get married, and that gift of the tea towels for me was a rite of passage into adulthood in the family. It meant that my aunts, grandmother, and great-grandmother were welcoming me into what it meant to be a Krause woman.
The tea towels meant much more than drying dishes. I was being entrusted with the memories and legacies of the women who had come before me. I was being welcomed in by women who were strong, resolute, and knew how to set their faces like flint. These women knew hardship and loss. They knew joy and triumph. They had faced life with grace and determination. They knew when to roll up their sleeves and when to let down their hair. They had either lived through the Great Depression or grew up on the stories about it. They carried the memories of their mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. They served their families, their churches, their communities. They have a fierceness about them that comes out most frequently and intensely in their prayers.
The rite of the tea towels meant that was their gift to me was duty. That duty was legacy, faith, expectation, honor, trust, and most of all, love.
In other words, the tea towels were part of my “travel supplies” for the journey of marriage, motherhood, and life, because as certain as life is, I, too, would encounter hardship, loss, joy, triumph, just as the other women in the Krause family had. Not because those things only happened to the Krauses, but because these things are simply part of life, part of the journey. Krause women, though, met those experiences a certain way. They faced them – good and bad - with a bold determination, hands on their hips, ready to pray, and ready to do.
In so many ways, what we are doing here at Oakdale is like the rite of the tea towels.
I hope it is obvious how much we love your children. We love them.
We love them enough to entrust them with the tea towels of the great intellectual and cultural heritage of which we are stewards. We love them enough to give them the gift of duty. Yes, the gift of duty - duty of legacy, faith, expectation, honor, and trust.
We love them, and because we love them, we can trust them with handing down to them the Great Stories and the Great Ideas of those who came before us; not just excerpts or snippets, or Spark Notes. No, we love them – the stories and the children - too much for that.
There are those who would say that the tea towels I was given were an odd gift, one that perhaps symbolized an outdated notion of a “woman’s role” in marriage. But one would only think if one had never actually met a woman in my family. It’s not because they are loud or brash, but because there is an uncommon undercurrent of strength and faith that is rarely found today.
And similarly, if someone were to think that what we teach is outdated and antiquated, it’s likely they think that because they’re not well acquainted with those ideas – ideas like duty, courage, valor, honor, and faith, and the value of the free man.
The work to read and engage in this education is, as Basil the Great wrote, difficult, and a cause for toil; but we should developing the habits of hard work so that we can “attempt the best things. For it would be disgraceful that we, having thrown away the present opportunity, should at some later time attempt to summon back the past when all our vexation will gain us nothing.”
Having been married now for over 20 years, I understand much more about the significance of those tea towels than I did at the time I received them. The same should be true for the education your child is receiving here. It will continue to mean more to them as they are on their own journey. The tea towels both welcomed me and then helped me along the way. The great stories and ideas will do the same – they both welcome us and help us along the way. The journey is difficult, but the habit of toil does indeed produce the best things.