In the words of the renowned German writer Goethe, “One should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of one's life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
Let's face it, it's a desert out there. It is just so easy to get buried under the sandstorm of the fast-paced world in which we live, rarely free from the constant distractions filling our calendars and buzzing on our smart phones. Add motherhood into the mix, with its pressures, worries and fatigue, and sometimes days can pass without a pause to savor and nurture our own spirit.
So we try to wake up earlier, before the little ones, even if it is just to seize a few precious moments of quiet and a hot cup of tea. When we can, we take the tykes for a walk and enjoy just breathing in the outdoors. We try to think a few deep thoughts, even if it's while doing the laundry or driving to a meeting for work. Though all of this can be helpful, it is not always enough. It can sometimes feel more like a mirage than an oasis, a teasing taste of what we are really craving: inspiration for the soul. The arts can sustain us through “worldly cares,” life's ups and downs. They provide inspiration and add beauty to our challenging journeys. Can you imagine how boring life would be without music, without art, without poetry?
Time is limited. Some days a shower can feel like a stolen prize. But I suggest we challenge ourselves to take Goethe's advice and nourish our spirit in the three-step way he suggests. We can set a goal to give ourselves a daily dose of the arts “in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful.” If over the course of the day you have heard a little music (other than Elmo's Song) read a little poetry (other than “Goodnight Moon,” ) and seen a fine picture (other than a new finger painting) it has the potential to be a game-changer. If, as Goethe asserts, God has implanted a “sense of the beautiful” in our souls, then isn't it our job to water that garden through opening ourselves up to that wellspring of beauty, the arts? That connection has the power to nourish our souls, which then makes us better, more creative mamas.
How can a busy mother incorporate more of the arts into her own life and the lives of her children? Here are three easy ways to start making a big difference. If you do any one of these already, you rock! If you do all three, you are a maestro!
#1: Play great music for yourself—and your kids
Though as a new mother I was given and dutifully played the CDs of children's songs and nursery rhymes set to music ("Wheels on the Bus" anyone?), I also filled the house with an array of music, from classical to oldies from the fifties and sixties, from Chinese flute music to Flamenco... and I still do. That approach nourishes the adult need for musical variety and has the added bonus of teaching children musical diversity.
I also play a few tunes on the piano, showing that music is something that is created by a person, and cheer whenever little fingers find their way to the keys to experiment.
#2: Incorporate classics into your bedtime ritual with baby
What do children like best about bedtime stories? In order of importance: time spent snuggling with you, the sound of your voice, and hearing a good story or poem read aloud. So we needn't be afraid to get a little creative with what we read at night. For example, the poetry of Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson aloud can be as strange-wonderful to little ears as the cadences of Seuss or Shel Silverstein. (What Frost and Dickinson lack in silliness, they make up for in beauty). For a start? “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” can be read aloud to any child who likes nature and animals. You can even add sound effects like the ringing of bells or a hearty “neigh” when the horse “gives his harness bells a shake/ to ask if there is some mistake.” After a few nights of reading it aloud, you will have memorized a classic Frost poem.
#3: Put art history lessons onto the walls of your home
Who is your favorite artist? Is it someone whose art graced your dorm room? Did you ever visit a museum and stand so long in front of a great work that you almost forgot it was time for lunch? Bring that passion back! Do you have no idea who your favorite artist is or what your favorite work of art is? You deserve to know. I recommend discovering who your favorite great artist is and getting a few prints of their work to hang in your home as a way to bring some sophistication that adults can find peace in and children can learn from, growing in appreciation as those famous images become part of their soul's fabric.
For many, the arts is one of the most nourishing mainstays we can cling to when the going gets tough.
In an effort to provide a quick fix of great art, music and poetry all in one place, I recently launched the blog: Desert Bread. Its premise is the quote by Goethe, the pursuit of the arts to enrich life and keep the soul's "sense of the beautiful" strong. I write about everything from work to marriage, comedy to food. Choosing the music, art and poetry to feature is my way of staying connected to the arts each day, and meeting Goethe's challenge.
Whatever ways you choose to enjoy the arts to enliven your senses and uplift your soul, let some of them be simple enough to incorporate into the middle of your busy day, “in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful.” Soul food, baby. It's not just macaroni and cheese.
Annabelle Moseley is an award-winning poet, author of nine books, professor, and speaker. She recently launched a blog, Desert Bread: “Your Source for the Soul's Sense of the Beautiful.” Find her daily updates from the front lines of motherhood and meaning.