Ambleside Blog

Easter Reflection

What seems the most tender of the resurrection accounts:

But Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

In this life each of us has his or her share of suffering. One must bear a tenth measure, another a full measure, and still another ten times the normal measure. Mary has lived more than her share of brokenness and thus experienced more than her share of suffering. As this gospel scene opens, she is once again weeping. And, true to the dynamics of human physiology, her brain experiencing more emotional distress than it can process well, she can neither think straight nor see clearly. Even the glory of a pair of angels is insufficient to bring her clarity. She sees Jesus but doesn't see Him. If we quiet our hearts and reflect, undoubtedly we will all remember those distressed times when"having eyes we could not see and ears we could not hear." We see this phenomenon regularly among Ambleside students and not infrequently among parents and teachers.

Jesus speaks her name, "Mary", and all is clear. We only read the word, but what power must have in His voice, His tone conveying the:

Authority of a King of kings
Strength that conquered death
Tenderness born of long, gracious suffering
And, a love that would freely give its life.

Here again Jesus reveals Himself as the true teacher, a source of strength and a revealer of truth, with great potency and remarkably few words. Isn't it true that, when faced with another's distress and confusion, most of us attune too little and talk too much? Not so the master Teacher.

This Easter season, as we reflect on Jesus, the risen Savior, may we become more like Him.

The Great Divorce, the Will, and Easter

God often arranges things in our lives so that an idea that is true, beautiful, and important to him will not be missed by his (sometimes) less-than-observant children. I was challenged over Spring Break by the deacon at my church to read a work of theology as a practice for Lent in preparation for Easter. By coincidence, I found myself at the largest used bookstore in the world, Powell's Books, while visiting my older brother over the break in Portland, Oregon. After combing the shelves (and practicing self-control by not buying out their entire section of European history), I landed upon C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. It is a brief but powerful book about the choice humans make between Heaven and Hell. I recommend it to all of you--the beauty and simplicity of his allegory, the power of his prose, and his insight into life and God are profound. It is an excellent and worthy read. Lewis's premise throughout the book is that every human is afforded a choice between heaven and hell, and, like Dante, he, the author, is sent to observe the souls in Heaven and Hell. The decision to be made is, in essence, to live for the self, or to live for God. He says, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened."

In addition to challenging my walk with God and my approach to life, this quote struck me as very similar to Charlotte Mason's discussion of the Will in Book 2 of Ourselves, which we are currently reading in 8th grade Citizenship. She speaks of the Will as the key to being truly human, and that to Will is to choose something outside of the self, such as Willing to work hard at our jobs to honor God and provide for our families, rather than for the sake of personal acclaim, greed, or fear. According to Ms. Mason, the Will is neither moral nor immoral (it can be used for good or ill), but to fail to engage the Will is to be slave to our interior desires and the exterior influence of culture. Indeed, we were created to live as free by engaging our Will to choose a purpose greater than ourselves. After reading The Great Divorce, I think C.S. Lewis would say that there is nothing so important and joy-filled in life as our desire and resolution to engage our Will to live for God's purpose rather than our own.

As I sat and thought through this idea of the Will, Heaven, and the joy-filled life, I thought about Easter, and I thought about Jesus. Who better to illustrate the Will in action? Who better to show us the joy and the promise of submission to the will of the Father, no matter how painful it may be? In the garden, Jesus came to the ultimate crisis of Will--the same crisis that Lewis wrote about in The Great Divorce--to live for the Father or for himself. On one hand lay the cross, the weight of the world, suffering, death, and loneliness; on the other lay a way out, and an avoidance of unimaginable pain and loss. Jesus says in Luke 22 (which we also happen to be reading in Junior High), "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." The boundless joy that resulted from his heartache and his decision to engage his Will was, is now, and will be forevermore.

This idea, that submission to the Father's will is heavenly, and leads to living a joy-filled life as it was meant to be lived, is one that has demanded a rethinking of my priorities, my desires, and my purpose. Moreover, it has given me words and thoughts to pray as I ask the Holy Spirit to help me be a good husband, father, teacher, and man. It also comforts me that God has grace for me when I struggle to engage my Will, or when I make a poor decision to live selfishly. Perhaps God has grabbed a hold of your mind and heart with a similar idea lately. If not, I urge you to stop, look around you, think, and pray, because God's voice is everywhere. He speaks through avenues as diverse as our work, our vacations, through the words of a man and woman who lived in a previous century, and from a man who rose again 2000 years ago, who still lives today.

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Community

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” [i]                                                                                  

Today’s topic is something that has been on my mind since I first considered coming to Ambleside. It is something that has been written about extensively for centuries. Great thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau have debated the catalyst of its origin. Its proper employment has been and will continue to be the nucleus of every organized people group on the planet. Today it manifests itself in many different formats such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and the like. We all have a deep need and longing for it and have probably all been, at some time or another, disturbed by the seeming absence of it in our lives. I have had the privilege of witnessing the Ambleside family exemplify IT more truly than I have witnessed anywhere else. So, what is - IT?  I’ve been somewhat ambiguous about the identity because I thought it would be best if I left it up to you to guess what it is I’m getting at, and because  it’s the kind of thing I get a kick out of.

Okay, the suspense is too much! The it is Community – Something I have longed for all my life, and especially since receiving faith in Christ and then reading about the early months and years of the formation of the Church community.

When looking into Ambleside it appeared to me to be a place that really sought after authentic community. It was a place that seemed, by its principles, to be impervious to communal strife. It was very attractive and has been an incredible thing to experience thus far. However, actually living in community, verses dreaming about it, has been a bit different than I had dreamt it would be. It has led me to really think about the nature of veritable Christian Community. The following is what I have learned thus far.

First, a brief lesson in the etymology of the English word “Community.” It is derived from the ecclesiastical Greek word koinonia (Koy-no-nia), which biblical dictionaries explain is synonomous with the following: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, to name a few. Later, the Latin phrase communitas developed and evolved into what we now know as community; a term most simply defined as a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule. In other words, common unity.

Rule and Unity - The rule we find ourselves united under here at Ambleside is first, submission to the person and principles of Jesus Christ. Then, from that beginning, we are united in the belief that education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life, all of which is rooted in the notion that children are persons created in the image of God. We are united under the rule that education is more than data download. That education is more important than we can imagine. That children are graciously formed by the Holy Spirit, and it is our responsibility to be mindful of the process by putting before the student a feast of the good, the true, and the beautiful in order that, in the words of Charlotte Mason, the children would have “the habits of the good life in thought, feeling and action, and in spiritual things.” This is the rule that we are united by and under at Ambleside: first, the rule of Christ, and then that which the highest order dictates regarding the bringing up of our young persons.

That sounds pretty simple. Shouldn’t all go well? We know the rule, I hope we all agree that this is the rule, so what goes wrong? And it would be hard to ignore that at times, even at Ambleside, Christian community can go awry, and has evidently gone terribly wrong at times. The only conclusion I can come to is that we sometimes forget the “rule” part of community. But I guess that is what made the whole thing go boom in the first place (referring of course to the whole fall of man thing). However, with this in mind, and it is vitally important that we keep this in mind, we still need to learn how to do life together in a healthy way that honors the blessing of Christian Community.

I believe a good start would be to rid ourselves of our disillusionment of community, if there is any. First we must answer the question: From where does disillusionment come? In his discourse on “Faith in Community,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains that we are all likely to enter Christian community with a definite idea of what life together should be and then we try to realize it. But God’s grace,” he continues “speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.” Bonhoeffer’s point, I believe, is to say, when we bring our preconceived notions of what Christian Community looks like, we subvert divine reality for the sake of our ideals. We forget that Christian Community is founded on one principle alone: We belong to each other “Only through and In Jesus Christ”[ii]

 I bring this up, not because I have witnessed goings on uncharacteristic of Christian Community, or that I feel a great sense of disillusionment among Ambleside families, but because I think it is important that we be reminded that in the midst of doing life together, we should be united under one rule, and by one principle alone: We belong to each other “Only through and In Jesus Christ.”

So, what does that look like for us here at Ambleside? I don’t know, but I think a good start would be to look at our engagement in what Charlotte Mason called “The Science of Relations;” right relationships - one’s relationship to God, self, others, and ideas. This is at the core of what we do. It is why we do what we do. It is the fiber of our philosophical tapestry.[iii]

Perhaps examining the Science of Relations would be a great start as we approach the call of parenthood. As parents, when we move toward our children, in their weakness and ours, where are we in our own exploration of the Science of Relations? How do I relate to God, self, and others? Is it through my ideals, or is it through the one truth, that Jesus Christ is in me and that through Him I belong to others? I guess what seems to me most important within our framework, is recognizing that, like me, my colleagues, classmates, teachers, students, friends and family members are all in need of grace. We are all, as my pastor says at the end of each service “involved in our own great struggle.” That in this community, weakness is an opportunity for growth and that growth happens in the light of day. It is imperative that we view each other through this lens; that we step towards one another with grace and encouragement in the full understanding that our positioning is in common, that we are unified in and through Jesus Christ, and in this we will exemplify the Community we were made to be.


[i] Psalm 133:1

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D.  Life Together, 26-27

[iii] Mason, C., School Education, 182-188 excerpts

* Sculpture Kids on a Log by Paul Anderson

For the Love of Knowing

I have to tell of the awakening of a ‘general soul’ at the touch of knowledge. Eight years ago, the “soul” of a class of children in a mining village school awoke simultaneously at this magic touch and has remained awake.[1]

Here is an astounding possibility, if we would believe it, the awakening not just of one soul but of an entire class, not a class of the gifted (socially, financially, intellectually) but of a class of those who lacked the usual “advantages”. Unfortunately, we find it difficult to believe. Too many of our students are asleep, and we do not know how to awaken them. Perhaps, we do not even recognize that their minds are but asleep. We have come to see slumber as the normal state of things. So, we endeavor to prod or cajole, all in a well-intentioned effort to get the students to perform as they ought.  Yet, too many students resist. They are like the boy who, not wanting to get out of bed, rolls over hoping his mother’s nagging voice will simply go away and let him sleep. “Knowing” has been separated from “loving”, much to the child’s impoverishment.

What does it mean for the mind to be awake? A mind is awake when it is doing that which it is made to do, when it is pursuing knowledge. Having legs, toddlers desire to run. Possessing sight, they desire to see. Possessing hearing, they desire to hear. Possessing speech, they desire to speak. Possessing touch, they desire to touch and be touched. Possessing mind, they desire to know. Each capacity, seeks its own satisfaction, and the satisfaction of mind is to know. It is the desire for knowledge of persons and things that is the one all sufficient motivator of children to engage in the work/pleasure of learning. The student who hungers to know the ways of past peoples and cultures will learn her history. The student who longs for an author’s insight into the human condition will learn his literature. The student who craves understanding of the dynamics of number will learn her math. The student who eagerly awaits the revelation of some new mystery of creation will learn his science. As Charlotte Mason puts it, “The desire for knowledge is the chief instrument of education.”[2]

If Charlotte Mason is correct, then the most important variable in the education is the desire of the student to know. The desire to know is far more critical than the aptitude to know, for the great majority of students have a tremendous aptitude, for greater than that for which we give them credit. The dangers we face are twofold:

  1. If we neglect to feed the mind, malnourished its desire to know will become anemic.
  2. It is possible to paralyze the desire to know, by exciting competing desires.

First, all too often, children’s minds are underfed. Malnourished, they become indifferent.

We neglect mind. We need not consider brain; a duly nourished and duly exercised mind takes care of its physical organ provided that organ also receives its proper material nourishment. But our fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed. The mind is a spiritual octopus, reaching out limbs in every direction to draw in enormous rations of that which under the action of the mind itself becomes knowledge. Nothing can stale its infinite variety; the heavens and the earth, the past, the present, and future, things great and things minute, nations and men, the universe, all are within the scope of the human intelligence. But there would appear to be, as we have seen, an unsuspected unwritten law concerning the nature of the "material" which is converted into knowledge during the act of apprehension. The idea of the Logos did not come by chance to the later Greeks; "The Word" is not a meaningless title applied to the second Person of the Trinity; it is not without significance that every utterance which fell from Him is marked by exquisite literary fitness.  Only as he has been and is nourished upon books is a man able to "live his life." [3]

Cannot people get on with little knowledge? Is it really necessary after all? My child-friends supplied the answer: their insatiable curiosity showed me that the wide world and its history were barely enough to satisfy a child who had not been made apathetic by spiritual malnutrition. What, then, is knowledge?––was the next question that occurred; a question which the intellectual labor of ages has not settled; but perhaps this is enough to go on with;––that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon.

Children's aptitude for knowledge and their eagerness for it made for the conclusion that the field of a child's knowledge may not be artificially restricted, that he has a right to and necessity for as much and as varied knowledge as he is able to receive; and that the limitations in his curriculum should depend only upon the age at which he must leave school; in a word, a common curriculum appears to be due to all children.[4]

When minds are not engaged in the life-giving endeavor of a shared feeding upon ideas, it becomes malnourished and lethargic, at times bordering on the comatose. Students must be given the free opportunity to engage the best ideas of the best minds, gained chiefly through “living books.” Teachers must provide not only the suitable diet, but also a suitable atmosphere.

This desire might be paralyzed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him; the desire for place,––emulation; for prizes,––avarice; for power,––ambition; for praise,––vanity, might each be a stumbling block to him. It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,––by means of marks, prizes, and the like,––and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education. [5]

It is a worthwhile endeavor for all teachers to consider the well-intended activities which squelch the “desire to know.”  Most are brought on by the false belief that the teacher/parent must do something to get the students to learn. In fact, this way of thinking at the least interferes with the students’ coming to know and at worst shuts down their minds completely. We must cultivate a practice where “Teachers shall teach less and scholars shall learn more.”

It is not easy to sum up in a few short sentences those principles upon which the mind naturally acts and which I have tried to bring to bear upon a school curriculum. The fundamental idea is, that children are persons and are therefore moved by the same springs of conduct as their elders. Among these is the Desire of Knowledge, knowledge-hunger being natural to everybody. History, Geography, the thoughts of other people, roughly, the humanities, are proper for us all, and are the objects of the natural desire of knowledge. So too, are Science, for we all live in the world; and Art, for we all require beauty, and are eager to know how to discriminate; social science, Ethics, for we are aware of the need to learn about the conduct of life; and Religion, for, like those men we heard of at the Front, we all 'want God.'

In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum.

Perceiving the range of knowledge to which children as persons are entitled the questions are, how shall they be induced to take that knowledge, and what can the children of the people learn in the short time they are at school? We have discovered a working answer to these two conundrums. I say discovered, and not invented, for there is only one way of learning, and the intelligent persons who can talk well on many subjects and the expert in one learn in the one way, that is, they read to know. What I have found out is, that this method is available for every child, whether in the dilatory and desultory home schoolroom or in the large classes of Elementary Schools.

Children no more come into the world without provision for dealing with knowledge than without provision for dealing with food. They bring with them not only that intellectual appetite, the desire of knowledge, but also an enormous, an unlimited power of attention to which the power of retention (memory) seems to be attached, as one digestive process succeeds another, until the final assimilation. "Yes," it will be said, "they are capable of much curiosity and consequent attention but they can only occasionally be beguiled into attending to their lessons." Is not that the fault of the lessons, and must not these be regulated as carefully with regard to the behavior of mind as the children's meals are with regard to physical considerations? Let us consider this behavior in a few aspects. The mind concerns itself only with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments; it declines to assimilate the facts unless in combination with its proper pabulum; it, being active, is wearied in the passive attitude of a listener, it is as much bored in the case of a child by the discursive twaddle of the talking teacher as in that of a grown-up by conversational twaddle; it has a natural preference for literary form; given a more or less literary presentation, the curiosity of the mind is enormous and embraces a vast variety of subjects. [6]

  • Spend a few minutes considering those teacher behaviors which support student desire to know and those behaviors which hinder it.

 


[1] Mason, Charlotte, A Philosophy of Education, p. xxv.

[2] Ibid. p 11

[3] Ibid p. 330.

[4] Ibid p. 11-12.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. p 13-15

 

Atmosphere: To Love and To Know Breathed In

Pervasiveness of Dominant Ideas.––Again, we are with the philosopher in his recognition of the force of an idea, and especially of those ideas which are, as we phrase it, in the air at any given moment. "Both the circle of the family and that of social intercourse are subjected to forces that are active in the entire social body, and that penetrate the entire atmosphere of human life in invisible channels. No one knows whence these currents, these ideas arise; but they are there. They influence the moods, the aspirations, and the inclinations of humanity, and no one, however powerful, can withdraw himself from their effects; no sovereign's command makes its way into their depths…

"Whether the power of these dominant ideas is greater in the individual, or in the body of individuals as a whole, is a matter of indifference here. Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that their effect upon the one is manifested in a reciprocal action upon the other, and that their influence upon the younger generation is indisputable."[1]

In the above quote, Charlotte Mason challenges the understanding most of us have about the ideas we hold. 

  • First, most of us tend to think in terms of the primacy of individual choice in selecting the ideas which are held and those which are rejected. In fact, the dominant ideas which have the greatest impact upon us are caught not taughtThey are “in the air” and breathed in, either from the society at large or particularly significant individuals.
  • Second, most of us tend to think of ideas in terms of propositions – groups of words constituting a statement that affirms or denies something and is either true or false. While “propositional truth” statements and logical argument conducted using propositional statements constitute an essential process for discriminating between true and false ideas, Charlotte Mason considered ideas to be a much more global concept than propositions.

Following Coleridge, she saw the possibilities of an idea existing in the human mind in a “definite form” (propositional truth being one such form) or as “a vague appetency” (a desire, craving, propensity towards a thing). Further, she held that the ideas most foundational were breathed in.

Let us hear Coleridge further on the subject of those ideas which may invest us as an atmosphere rather than strike as a weapon:

"The idea may exist in a clear and definite form as that of a circle in that of the mind of a geometrician or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something . . . like the impulse which fills a young poet's eyes with tears."

These indefinite ideas which express themselves in an 'appetency' towards something and which should draw a child towards things honest, lovely and of good report, are not to be offered of set purpose or at set times: they are held in that thought-atmosphere which surrounds him, breathed as his breath of life.

It is distressing to think that our poor words and ways should be thus inspired [breathed in] by children; but to recognize the fact will make us careful not to admit sordid or unworthy thoughts and motives into our dealings with them.[2]

Consider the student who walks into classroom and states, “Good, it’s time for math.” In making this statement, the student points to a rather definite idea about himself, math, and the relation between the two. It is important to note, that, prior to this idea ever being formed in “his head”, there was a much more indefinite idea, an appetency towards math which had taken shape. In terms of modern neuroscience, the definite idea took shape in the left, pre-frontal cortex of the student’s brain, but the “appetency” was both neurologically prior and formed by a much more global interaction of the nervous system within itself and with others. To put it metaphorically, the definite idea in the student’s “head” was determined by a prior indefinite idea which had taken shape in his “heart”. Simply put:

We live by our hearts not by our heads.

Further, our hearts are shaped by:

  1. The “atmosphere” we inhale, those “indefinite ideas” communicated to us by the community in which we live.
  2. The more “definite ideas” which seize not only our heads but our hearts as we engage in an internal, contemplative dialog with our selves and an external, social dialog with others.

Thus, our head does have an essential role in clarifying the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of what is good and what is bad, critiquing the state of our heart, pointing us in the direction of a new heart, and maintaining the dialog with self and others that helps shape our heart. But, we live by our heart, and if we are to live well our hearts must be shaped to love well. Consider the words of Augustine:

 And now regarding love, which the apostle says is greater than the other two--that is, faith and hope--for the more richly it dwells in a man, the better the man in whom it dwells. For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves. Now, beyond all doubt, he who loves aright believes and hopes rightly. Likewise, he who does not love believes in vain, even if what he believes is true; he hopes in vain, even if what he hopes for is generally agreed to pertain to true happiness, unless he believes and hopes for this: that he may through prayer obtain the gift of love.[3]

These principles are profoundly important for anyone involved in cultivating the hearts and minds of children. The greater the extent to which a teacher owns them, the more effective he/she will be.

The importance of these principles is demonstrated by the power of “indefinite” ideas to shape all that happens in a classroom.  For example, let us consider a set of particularly dominant ideas which a teacher will surely communicate (by verbal and non-verbal cues) and thus establish one of two very different atmospheres. 

Atmosphere of Joy

Atmosphere of Anxiety

It is good to be me here with you.

It is not good to be me here with you.

It is good to be learning math, science, literature, history, etc.

It is not good to be learning math, science, literature, history, etc.

Personal Exercise:

  • Spend some time considering together how these very powerful ideas (It is good to be with you/to be learning… and it is not good to be with you/to be learning…) are communicated to students.
  • We cannot fake it.  When it is “not good to be me”, everyone knows consciously or unconsciously. What impact does this have on the students – the formation of their hearts and their long-term relation with a subject of study? How does it impact their love of knowing?
  • When as a teacher is it “not good to be” you or “not good to be learning”?
  • What can a teacher do when it is “not good” on the inside?

[1] Charlotte Mason, School Education, pp.93-94

[2] Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 107.

[3] St. Augustine, Enchiridion, chapter 31.

 

To Know and To LOVE

It is worthwhile to stop and ask the question: what exactly are we as a school community about?

Consider the well-known parable of Jesus:

 A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate.

Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.” And he said to him, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”[1]

In this parable we find three major players, each with a different orientation towards life.

  • The younger brother who seeks to ESCAPE and INDULGE
  • The older brother who seeks to PERFORM and CONTROL
  • The father who seeks to KNOW and to LOVE

Teachers regularly encounter students who like the younger brother seek to ESCAPE and INDULGE. They are minimalists when it comes to putting forth effort, long to be entertained, are quickly bored, are impulsive in their actions, and sacrifice the good of others for their own pleasure. Self-denial is a habit far from their experience. And, thus, they wander far from the place that would provide peace and deep satisfaction.

Likewise, teachers regularly encounter students who fit the type of the older brother. Their primary concern is to PERFORM and CONTROL. What could be wrong with seeking to perform? Nothing, if by perform one means to give one’s best effort in diligently pursuing that which is good, true, and beautiful. Everything, if by perform one means besting others for the sake of narcissistic self-satisfaction. Indeed, such persons are tragically self-focused. Like the older brother in the parable, everything is about self. They find it difficult to enter into the joy of anything that is not about “me”. They do not seek to know for the joy of knowing but to know for the sake of besting others. Older brothers are anxious and angry. They don’t know how to enter into the celebration of life. Often, teachers will fail to concern themselves with such students. They seem to be doing well. Yet, they are often harder to reach.

Then, there is the father, who seeks TO KNOW and TO LOVE. He knows his sons, reaches out to them, undeterred by their brokenness. He does not become selfish because his sons are selfish. He does not become neurotic because his sons are neurotic. He knows with a relational knowledge.  His “stuff” does not get in the way. He sees his sons, is willing to hurt with them, is unafraid, thus can love, and potentially lead his sons TO KNOW and TO LOVE.

Is this not a worthy goal to put before ourselves and our students? TO KNOW and TO LOVE – to know and to love God, others, self, flowers, birds, stars, music, art, literature, math, all that is good, true and beautiful. It is obvious that this kind of knowing is not “the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations” [2] which characterizes too much of so-called education. Rather, it is the kind of knowledge implied in Charlotte Mason’s statement that “education is the science of relations” or that ALL KNOWLEDGE is a product of “the teaching power of the Spirit of God". It is the knowledge gained when a child recognizes the symmetry of a leaf, the courageous heart of a literary figure, the struggle for justice in a civilization, the discovery of order in multiples, all which nurture a deepening relationship between a child and her world. Furthermore, these relationships are inherently satisfying. All coming to know is a seeing of the good, true, and beautiful relation of things (even when through recognition of the evil, false, and ugly). Thus, all true knowledge leads to love and in turn love leads to deeper knowledge. There is a relational mutuality between knowing and loving. If this mutuality between love and knowledge has been disrupted, something has gone terribly wrong.

A little over 500 years ago, western civilization made a terrible mistake. It began to associate knowledge with the cold, calculating, rational processes of the brain’s left prefrontal cortex. It abandoned the much more global RELATIONAL CIRCUITS of the brain in favor of the RATIONAL CIRCUITS.  This is not to say that the brains relational circuits are irrational. In healthy mature brains, they are supra-rational, integrating the very important data which comes from the rational circuits with the relationally meaningful data which comes from other parts of the brain and extended nervous system. In the parable above, the older brother’s rational circuits were working overtime. He had no problem rationally justifying his own indignation. However, his relational circuits were completely shut down, leaving him literally out in the cold. This happens not only between student and teacher, between student and classmate, but also between student and mathematics or student and literature. If the mutuality between knowing and loving is severed, if the relational circuits are closed down, progress will be painful, minimal, and likely enhance the neurotic aspects of both student and teachers’ personalities.

If we are to be instruments of KNOWING and LOVING, as our students need us to be, it requires that we be a certain kind of person ourselves. We must be oriented to KNOWING and LOVING. We must have our relational circuits turned on. If our relational circuits are turned off, we are part of the problem not part of the solution. Below is a simple diagnostic questionnaire[3] to assist in determining if relational circuits are on or off.

  • I just want to make a problem, person, or feeling go away.
  • I don’t want to listen to what others feel or say.
  • My mind is “locked” into something upsetting.
  • I don’t want to be connected to someone I usually like.
  • I want to get away or fight, or I freeze.
  • I more aggressively interrogate, judge or seek to fix others.

If any of the above apply, it’s a safe bet that relational circuits are turned off, that everyone around (consciously or unconsciously) knows that your relational circuits are turned off, that you are now part of the problem rather than the solution, and that the best thing you can do is give yourself a prayerful time-out to allow space to turn the relational circuits back on. Seek the support of someone who has his/her relational circuits turned on. Nothing helps us get our relational circuits back on like being with someone who keeps her/his relational circuits on in spite of us. This is, of course, always the Father’s stance with us. His relational circuits are always open to us.

What are we to be about? To know and to love. This is a worthy goal to put before students and teachers each day of the year.

Personal Exercise:

  • Identify a time when you were engaged with a student and both of your relational circuits were turned ON. Describe your experience and that of your student in as detailed a manner as possible.
  • Identify a time when you were engaged with a student and both of your relational circuits were turned OFF. Describe your experience and that of your student in as detailed a manner as possible.

[1] Luke 15:11-32 NASB
[2] Charlotte Mason, Home Education. 171-174
[3] From Jim Wilder, Ph.D. in psychology and executive director of Shepherd’s House

 

Education, the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies

In education, as in every human endeavor, there exists the possibility of erring to the left and erring to the right. We live in an age in which the responsibility of adults to be intentional and diligent in the formation of children’s habits is largely forgotten.  Charlotte Mason was very clear in pointing out the careful formation of habit is a vital tool for the lifting of a child beyond his nature, the deliverance of a student from the power of “chance desires.” However, the fact that our culture so frequently errs to the left does not protect us from the possibility of erring to the right. We must be careful that we do not elevate the formation of habit to a status beyond its rightful one-third of education. Habits are essential tools, tools which must be given to a child if he/she is ever to be well educated.  But, a sculptor, who is overly fixated on his tools rather than focusing on the object of his creation, will fail to bring forth the beauty latent in a piece of marble. In like manner, habits are not the heart of education. Overzealous and continuous prodding can both hinder the formation of habit and distract from the heart of education which is the cultivation of a cornucopia of inspiring relations. Consider Charlotte Mason’s writings on education as the science of relations.

Education, the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies.1

     "But who shall parcel out
     His intellect by geometric rules,
     Split like a province into round and square?
     Who knows the individual hour in which
     His habits were first sown, even as a seed?
     Who that shall point as with a wand and say
     'This portion of the river of my mind
     Came from yon fountain'? "––Prelude.

I need not again insist upon the nature of our educational tools. We know well that "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." In other words, we know that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere) to forward his sound education; should train him in the discipline of the habits of the good life; and should nourish his life with ideas, the food upon which personality waxes strong.

Only Three Educational Instruments.––These three we believe to be the only instruments of which we may make lawful use in the upbringing of children; and any short cut we take by trading on their sensibilities, emotions, desires, passions, will bring us and our children to grief. The reason is plain; habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may all help each other to get the best that is to be had of these; but we may not meddle directly with the personality of child or man. We may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, or anything that is his by very right, anything that goes to make him a person.

Our Limitations.––Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognizing the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord's education of the Twelve.

"Our Lord," says this author, "reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be molded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father's eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type." (Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., 6.)

…Spontaneous Living.––The laws of habit are, we know, laws of God, and the forming of good and the hindering of evil habits are among the primary duties of a parent. But it is just as well to be reminded that habits, whether helpful or hindering, only come into play occasionally, while a great deal of spontaneous living is always going on towards which we can do no more than drop in vital ideas as opportunity occurs. All this is old matter, and I must beg the reader to forgive me for reminding him again that our educational instruments remain the same. We may not leave off the attempt to form good habits with tact and care, to suggest fruitful ideas, without too much insistence, and to make wise use of circumstances.

On what does Fulness of Living depend?––What is education after all? An answer lies in the phrase––Education is the Science of Relations…. What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future––with all above us and all about us––and that fullness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.

George Herbert says something of what I mean

     "Man is all symmetry,
     Full of proportions, one limb to another,
     And all to all the world besides;
     Each part may call the farthest brother,
     For head with foot hath private amity,
     And both with moons and tides. (The italics are mine.)

Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony, heir to all the ages, inheritor of all the present. The question is, what are the formalities (educational, not legal) necessary to put him in possession of that which is his? You perceive the point of view is shifted, and is no longer subjective, but objective, as regards the child.

The Child a Person.––We do not talk about developing his faculties, training his moral nature, guiding his religious feelings, educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. The joys of 'child-study' are not for us. We take the child for granted, or rather, we take him as we find him––a person with an enormous number of healthy affinities, embryo attachments; and we think it is our chief business to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.

An Infant's Self-Education.––An infant comes into the world with a thousand such embryonic feelers, which he sets to work to fix with amazing energy:––

             "The Babe,
     Nursed in his Mother's arms, who sinks to sleep
     Rocked on his Mother's breast; who with his soul
     Drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eye!
     For him, in one dear Presence, there exists
     A virtue which irradiates and exalts
     Objects through widest intercourse of sense.
     No outcast he, bewildered and depressed:
     Along his infant veins are interfused
     The gravitation and the filial bond
     Of nature that connects him with the world." (The Prelude)

He attaches his being to mother, father, sister, brother, 'nanna,' the man in the street whom he calls 'dada,' cat and dog, spider and fly; earth, air, fire, and water attract him perilously; his eyes covet light and colour, his ears sound, his limbs movement; everything concerns him, and out of everything he gets––

             "That calm delight
     Which, if I err not, surely must belong
     To those first-born affinities that fit
     Our new existence to existing things,
     And, in our dawn of being, constitute
     The bond of union between life and joy."(The Prelude)

He gets also, when left to himself, the real knowledge about each thing which establishes his relation with that particular thing.

Our Part, to remove Obstructions and to give Stimulus.––Later, we step in to educate him. In proportion to the range of living relationships we put in his way, will he have wide and vital interests, fulness of joy in living. In proportion as he is made aware of the laws which rule every relationship, will his life be dutiful and serviceable: as he learns that no relation with persons or with things, animate or inanimate, can be maintained without strenuous effort, will he learn the laws of work and the joys of work. Our part is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belongs to him.

Our Error.––Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up. We are the people! and if we choose that a village child's education should be confined to the 'three R's,' why, what right has he to ask for more? If life means for him his Saturday night in the ale-house, surely that is not our fault! If our own boys go through school and college and come out without quickening interests, without links to the things that are worth while, we are not sure that it is our fault either. We resent that they should be called 'muddied oafs' because we know them to be fine fellows. So they are, splendid stuff which has not yet arrived at the making!


1Mason, C., School Education,182-188 excerpts

 

The Right Use of the Right Books

How to use the Right Books.––So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea. The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk. Intellectual sympathy is very stimulating; but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, "Mother, I think I could understand if you did not explain quite so much." A teacher said of her pupil, "I find it so hard to tell whether she has really grasped a thing or whether she has only got the mechanical hang of it" Children are imitative monkeys, and it is the 'mechanical hang' that is apt to arrive after a douche of explanation.

Children must Labor.––This, of getting ideas out of them, is by no means all we must do with books. 'In all labor there is profit,' at any rate in some labor; and the labor of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalize, classify, infer, judge, visualize, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher.

Value of Narration.––The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading,––one reading, however slow, should be made a condition; for we are all too apt to make sure we shall have another opportunity of finding out 'what 'tis all about' There is the weekly review if we fail to get a clear grasp of the news of the day; and, if we fail a second time, there is a monthly or a quarterly review or an annual summing up: in fact, many of us let present-day history pass by us with easy minds, feeling sure that, in the end, we shall be compelled to see the bearings of events. This is a bad habit to get into; and we should do well to save our children by not giving them the vague expectation of second and third and tenth opportunities to do that which should have been done at first.

A Single Careful Reading.––There is much difference between intelligent reading, which the pupil should do in silence, and a mere parrot-like cramming up of contents; and it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly, after a single careful reading. This is a power which a barrister, a publisher, a scholar, labors to acquire; and it is a power which children can acquire with great ease, and once acquired, the gulf is bridged which divides the reading from the non-reading community.

Other Ways of using Books.––But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyze a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.

The Teacher's Part.––The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity. Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.

Disciplinary Devices must not come between Children and the Soul of the Book.––These few hints by no means cover the disciplinary uses of a good school-book; but let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains. Science is doing so much for us in these days, nature is drawing so close to us, art is unfolding so much meaning to us, the world is becoming so rich for us, that we are a little in danger of neglecting the art of deriving sustenance from books. Let us not in such wise impoverish our lives and the lives of our children; for, to quote the golden words of Milton: "Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a good reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself––kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye."


1Mason, Charlotte, School Education, 178-181

Faith Framed

Over the Christmas holidays, we visited friends on their farm. It was a brisk sunny day, as we walked corrals, pastures, and woodland, taking in nature’s sights and smells.

After surveying the land, our friends’ young son called me over to the meadow, declaring that he wanted to show me something. Looking into the tall grass, one could see a narrow path with high grasses on both sides. "The deer made the path,” he said.

I shared with him an encounter I recently had with a deer. “ I was backing my car out of the garage several weeks ago. Turning around to the right, through the early morning darkness, I saw a very large buck staring at me. I rolled down the window, looked and stared back. Greeting the magnificent creature, I said, You can stay, I will be back in a bit.” Of course, when I returned, the buck was nowhere to be seen.

This reminded my young friend of a similar story. “See that tree, with the long horizontal limb. I was riding my bicycle up the hill and when I looked back, I saw a red tailed hawk. The reason I know is because it’s my favorite bird.”

I looked and stared at the empty limb, and my young friend shared matter of factly. “I believe God showed the red tailed hawk to me.  And God showed you that buck the other day.  You have got to believe God showed that buck to you. You have got to believe,” he implored.

“I do believe. And there are a hundred things God wants us to see.” I said. God showed it to me, all right - faith through the eyes of a boy, a path in the grass, and a hawk on its perch.

May our faith increase each day of this New Year.

Do Not Hinder the Children

Do Not Hinder the Children1

In Mark 10:13-15 is found the third admonition Christ gives regarding children:

And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."

Children are made for God. They are drawn to God; possess a spiritual capacity for God. Often, they are graced with a spiritual insight which would astound the adult. This is no denial of the fact that children are self-absorbed creatures with a great capacity for sin. It is recognition that the precious Savior and loving Father are attractive to them, unless adults get in the way.

The most fatal way of despising the child falls under the third educational law of the Gospels; it is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with Almighty God. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me," says the Savior, as if that were the natural thing for the children to do, the thing they do when they are not hindered by their elders. And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Savior and God with unconscious delight and trust.

There are several ways by which adults hinder children’s approach to Father and Son. The first is what Charlotte Mason called “nursery theology.”

Now listen to what goes on in many a nursery:––'God does not love you, you naughty, wicked boy!' 'He will send you to the bad, wicked place!' and so on; and this is all the practical teaching about the ways of his 'almighty Lover' that the child gets!––never a word of how God does love and cherish the little children all day long, and fill their hours with delight.

 While such harshness concerning the divine may be less common today than in Victorian England, does not the way we cheapen God (make Him out to be something less than the glorious, holy, lover of our souls) have the same effect?

Listless perfunctory prayers, idle discussions of Divine things in their presence, light use of holy words, few signs whereby the child can read that the things of God are more to his parents than any things of the world, and the child is hindered, tacitly forbidden to "come unto Me,"––and this, often, by parents who in the depths of their hearts desire nothing in comparison with God.

Perhaps nothing hinders a child from life-giving relationship with God, with parent, with teacher, with learning, with all that is Good, True, and Beautiful, than does an absence of love and joy in home or classroom.  There is much to be explored regarding these two, but let us begin with joy’s twin, gladness.  For if we be not people of gladness, if our homes and classrooms be not places of gladness, then surely children will be hindered from not only learning, but from God, Whom we represent. Consider Charlotte Mason’s reflection on the matter.

Love's Lords In Waiting: Gladness2

It is a seemly fashion to be glad.
The merry heart goes all the day.

Gladness enough in the World for all.––Yorkshire people say their bread is 'sad' when it is heavy, does not rise. It is just so with ourselves. We are like a 'sad' loaf when we are heavy––do not rise to the sunshine, to the voices of our friends, to interesting sights, to kindness, love, or any good thing. When we do rise to these things, when our hearts smile because a ray of sunshine creeps in through the window, because a bird sings, because a splash of sunlight falls on the trunk of a dark tree, because we have seen a little child's face––why, then we are glad. Carlyle, whom we do not think of as a very happy man, used to say that no one need be unhappy who could see a spring day or the face of a little child. Indeed, there is Gladness enough in the world for us all; or, to speak more exactly, there is a fountain of Gladness in everybody's heart only waiting to be unstopped. Grown-up people sometimes say that they envy little children when they hear the Gladness bubbling out of their hearts in laughter, just as it bubbles out of the birds in song; but there is no room for regret; it is simply a case of a choked spring: remove the rubbish, and Gladness will flow out of the weary heart as freely as out of the child's.

Gladness springs in Sorrow and Pain.––But, you will say, how can people be glad when they have to bear sorrow, anxiety, want and pain? It is not these things that stop up our Gladness. The sorrowful and anxious wife of a dying husband, the mother of a dying child, will often make the sick-room merry with quips and cranks, a place of hearty Gladness. It is not that the mother or wife tries to seem glad for the sake of the sufferer; there is no pretending about Gladness. No one can be taken in by smiles that are put on. The fact is that love teaches the nurse to unstop the fount of Gladness in her own heart for the sake of the sufferer dear to her, and out come lots of merry words and little jokes, smiles and gaiety, things better than any medicine for the sick. In pain, too, it is not impossible to be glad. Have we not all been touched by merry sayings that have come from suffering lips? I doubt if Margaret Roper could help a smile through her tears at the merry quips her father, Sir Thomas More, made on his way to the scaffold. We commonly make a mistake about Gladness. We think of it as a sort of ice-cream or chocolate––very good when it comes, but not to be expected every day. But, "Rejoice evermore," says the Apostle; that is, "Be glad all the time." We laugh now and then, we smile now and then, but the fountain of Gladness within us should rise always; and so it will if it be not hindered.

Gladness is Catching.––Before we consider the Daemons of Gladness, let us make ourselves sure of one thing. We cannot be glad by ourselves, and we cannot be sad, that is, heavy, by ourselves. Our gladness rejoices the people we come across, as our heaviness depresses them.

A London mother once wrote to me of how she took her little golden-haired daughter of two out for her first walk, and the little girl smiled at the policeman, and he was glad, and kissed her hand to some French laundresses working in a cellar, and they were glad, and smiled at the crossing-sweeper, and generally went on her way like a little queen dispensing smiles and gladness. A still prettier story was told by a Bible-woman in a big town who went out of doors depressed by the sordid cares and offenses of her neighbors; and a small child sitting in a gutter looked up at her and smiled, and in the gladness of that little child she went gaily for the rest of the day. There is nothing so catching as Gladness, and it is good for each of us to know that we carry joy for the needs of our neighbors. But this is treasure that we give without knowing it or being any the poorer for what we have given away.

Gladness is Perennial.––Now, if we have made it clear to ourselves that there is in each of us a fountain of Gladness, not an intermittent but a perennial spring, enough and to spare for every moment of every year of the longest life, not to be checked by sorrow, pain, or poverty, but often flowing with the greater force and brightness because of these obstructions; if we are quite sure that this golden Gladness is not our own private property, but is meant to enrich the people we pass in the street, or live within the house, or work with or play with, we shall be interested to discover why it is that people go about with a black dog on their shoulder, the cloud of gloom on their brow; why there are people heavy in movement, pale of countenance, dull and irresponsive. You will wish to find out why it is that children may go to a delightful party, picnic, haymaking, or what not, and carry a sullen countenance through all the fun and frolic; why young people may be taken to visit here or travel there, and the most delightful scenes might be marked with a heavy black spot in the map of their memories, because they found no gladness in them; why middle-aged people sometimes go about with sad and unsmiling countenances; why the aged sometimes find their lot all crosses and no joys.

This question of gladness or sadness has little to do with our circumstances. It is true that we should do well to heed the advice of Marcus Aurelius.––"Do not let your head run upon that which is none of your own, but pick out some of the best of your circumstances, and consider how eagerly you would wish for them were they not in your possession."

We are Sad when we are Sorry for Ourselves.––Let us get the good out of our circumstances by all means, but as a matter of fact it is not our circumstances but ourselves that choke the spring. We are sad and not glad because we are sorry for ourselves. Somebody has trodden on our toe, somebody has said the wrong word, has somehow offended our sense of self-importance, and behold the Dæmon of self-pity digs diligently at his rubbish-heap, and casts in all manner of poor and paltry things to check the flow of our spring of Gladness. Some people are sorry for themselves by moments, some for days together, and some carry all their lifelong a grudge against their circumstances, or burn with resentment against their friends.

Gladness a Duty.––We need only look this matter in the face to see how sad and wrong a thing it is not to be glad, and to say to ourselves, 'I can, because I ought!' Help comes to those who endeavor and who ask. We may have to pull ourselves up many times a day, but every time we give chase to the black dog, the easier we shall find it to be gay and good. The outward and visible sign of gladness is cheerfulness, for how can a dour face and sour speech keep company with bubbling gladness within? The inward and spiritual grace is contentment, for how can the person who is glad at heart put himself out and be dissatisfied about the little outside things of life? "Rejoice evermore, and again I say, rejoice."   


1Charlotte Mason Home Education 19-20
2Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, 131-135

 

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