Paideia, Pentecost, and a Little Hygge in the CiRCE Apprenticeship

Jan 28, 2020

I typically expect to be a little depressed in January. It is my least favorite month of the year and misplaced Christmas-season expectations often leave me feeling empty, cranky, and ashamed. It is possible after a cheerful glass of mulled wine I may have jokingly expressed to my family that “Christmas in THIS house would not happen without me. I am Christmas. Just lay me in that manager.” This terrible confession is true.

But this year, my involvement in the CiRCE Apprenticeship has lifted me out of the doldrums of January and is nurturing every part of my God-given nature—head (mind), chest (will), and belly (appetites). My nature, according to The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, needs all aspects fed. My first year in the Apprenticeship so far has fed all three by proposing “paideia,” “Pentecost,” and a little “hygge” (pronounced “hoo-ga”). These funny words, which feel silly on the tongue, give an ultimate blessing when sealed with the salvation of Christ.

Consider first, paideia, the Greek word to describe general learning by the study of liberating arts. “Education as paideia is not preparation for life, for college, or for work; it is our inherited means of living fully in the present, while we grow in wisdom and in grace, in conscience and in style, entering gradually into ‘the good life’” (David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, 130). For some reason, when I first began digging deep in the classical tradition, the meaning evaded me. I could not articulate it and the sound of the word made me think of a traditional Spanish dish, paella.

No, this word does not mean a delicious lunch made of rice and seafood. But to help me remember, I followed this train of thought: paella is good because lunch is good and seafood is good—therefore paideia is good, the “good life.” I now articulate this word as a life rich in meaning and purpose, where ideas fill the soul with joy, life suddenly makes sense, and I am understanding my part in the journey of humanity.

The Apprenticeship delves deep into the knowledge of great books, which helps my mind understand the human tradition. What is the Ideal Type? How do great stories embody Truth? What are mythos and logos? What questions guide my mind to discover relationships of these ideals to all things? My mind is nourished with the good, true, and beautiful of God’s ultimate view of humans. Paideia is much more satisfying than a Spanish lunch.

As a child, I only understood Pentecost as the moment when tongues of fire came down on the apostles. In my childish ignorance, it seemed a terrifying experience where chaos ensued. The terror was solidified when I attended a certain Pentecostal church where I observed chaos, a performance before me that I neither understood nor wanted. I was an outsider peering inside a circus tent.

In reality, Pentecost means “fiftieth” and was a feast day in the Old Testament commemorating the fiftieth day after the Jewish Passover and celebrates harvest. In the New Testament, it commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit imprinted His power on the apostles to usher in a new era in Christianity after the resurrection of Christ. The helper had finally come to assist believers in finally embodying the power Jesus promised.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4, NASB)

Now, these worshipful, awe-inspiring Pentecost moments are now welcome revelations of wonder. The Pentecost moments that happen within the CiRCE Apprenticeship actually make my body shudder. When my will (chest) has received a Truth that helps me understand my relationship to Christ, a power alights. This power (which I visualize as the glowing heart-light of E.T. the extraterrestrial—excuse my 1980s influence) fuels my purpose to live out my life in the knowledge of Christ. It drives my choices and worldview to see what God wants me to see in the way he wants me to see it. It brings the mind and the appetite together.

Another strange word (to my ears) I recently discovered is “hygge” (pronounced “hoo-ga”). It may need a little more explanation for most. Before Christmas this year, I received a little book from my goddaughter. It is called The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking. I have never been to Denmark and I do not believe I am Danish, but I am convinced that they are my people. Hygge is a word that describes my lifestyle. My intuitive goddaughter was spot-on knowing I would savor this concept.

“Hygge” is the Danish word for “cozy.” It is described as a “hug without touching,” music to introverts’ ears. Apparently, it is a word used proudly by the Danes who describe and recommend their best pubs on their level of hygge. The hygge concept keeps many Danes centered in the long, cold nights of the winter. It is the Christmas feeling all year round, without the madness of Christmas. Sign me up!

How is hygge embodied? For the Danes, it usually involves low lighting, coffee, cake, a comfy chair, a large woolen sweater, and a small group of friends over for a glass of wine and hospitable conversations. For me, my personal hygge is the first cup of coffee in the morning, fresh bread, tomato soup, a dance party with three specific friends, wine, deep discussion, a thunderstorm, fireplace, candles, and an epiphany from a book. These little things satiate a physical appetite and compliment what is going on with the soul. In moderation, we can enjoy these good things of the “good life.” The Apprenticeship is also a place of hygge. Many elements of hygge are naturally there: small safe group, deep discussion, great books, wine, coffee, lovely food. We celebrate paideia and Pentecost with elements of hygge. CiRCE people know how to hygge fittingly. Hospitality abounds. Maybe that is why I have fallen in love with my apprenticeship—even before I was aware of hygge.

I often argue to myself that I need to be “doing” more in my Christian life—that I need to study my Bible more often, join a small group, and attend Sunday School. These are all wonderful disciplines in which Christians can take part to fellowship with others, learn to serve God with purpose, and live the “good life” in Christ. However, during this season of my life, I am learning so much by joining a human conversation that reaches further. By reading the great books, I understand the same questions men and women have posed since the ancient times. It generates more questions in me that lead me searching to integrate with my life. It gives me another type of dogma to compare my worldview with and help me articulate and embody my faith. As Christians, our Ideal Type is Christ and we are called to imitate him. This is a “moment by moment” endeavor as Francis Schaeffer describes in True Spirituality—a continual awareness of Christ and how we can embody him daily. During this season of study, I worship and honor my Lord in this way.

In essence, the CiRCE Apprenticeship is a life-giving odyssey that nurtures all parts of the human nature. It awakens the mind with knowledge about how to live Paideia, or, the “good life.” This in turn fuels the Christian with many Pentecost moments to fulfill their educational purposes and, as David Hicks says, “to will and to act in accordance with what one knows.” Finally, the appetites of the student are nurtured with “hygge,” comforting and cozy hospitality to discuss life’s biggest questions—all with good food, drink, and kindred spirits. This winter, instead of allowing the depths of January despair to overcome me, you will find me nurturing all parts of my humanness—which is what I believe God intends. His plan and revelation for me is not segregated to just the four walls of the church. It is lived out in all aspects of my life—my mind (head), will (chest), and appetite (belly). Now excuse me while I grab The Tempest and a cuppa by the fire and have a moment of paideia, Pentecost, and hygge.

Carrie Eben

Carrie Eben

Carrie Eben is a new CiRCE Apprentice. She resides in Siloam Springs, AR, where she lives with her husband of twenty-four years and homeschools her high school daughter classically. Her son is a sophomore at John Brown University not far away. Carrie holds a BSEd degree from John Brown University, an MSEd degree from Oklahoma State University, and she recently began a PhD program in Humanities at Faulkner University. This fall, Carrie and her husband helped open a classical school in Siloam Springs as founding board members. After twenty-one years of classically educating in schools and at home, she is still passionate about educating students toward academic excellence and virtue as well as empowering educators and parents using the classical tools of education. If you care to listen, you can visit her podcast about classical homeschool, Making Memoria, on iTunes at Homeschool Counselor: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/homeschool-counselor-podcast/id1454403188.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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