Sitting up stairs in Chapel this past week listening to our 6th grade class recite these beautiful words of Augustine, pondering the richness of their having access to them for the rest of their days, it occurred to me that his words in this passage peer into the experience I have had here at Ambleside. I have never before encountered a place of teaching (or any place quite frankly outside of the Church, and even that is regretfully rare) wherein the entirety of experience of a child is geared toward knowing and experiencing the Creator God. There is, in fact, no break from this. Recess is not designed as an escape time—a time for “letting down the hair” and putting off serious business of knowing. Neither are break times, or lunchtime, or after school learning sessions, or discussions with teachers about the weighty things of growing up. Indeed, all is purposefully done to put children into play in the lush, lavish courtyards of our Lord; to center them in some fashion upon the wellspring of never-ending life, which—when we allow it to—will sweep us away into infinite joy and ceaseless wonder!
It has dawned on me several times throughout the year here that even when I see a child wandering without the walls of the courtyard, so to speak; or when I myself have forgotten my primary duty—which is in fact—to merely walk them to the terrace, for we all lose our way now and again; I am always astounded as to the ease in which we find our way back. I have seen so many educational settings where force and coercion are not in short supply. They seem to be the only sure method of retention in their courtyards of education. But there is a gentleness to this place, like the quiet, constants of the tide—which carry us deeper and deeper almost entirely unbeknownst to ourselves.
In each conversation, each Literature class, each lunch meal together, each playtime at recess, it is almost palpable—watching each child step closer and closer to Christ. But that is not really what is going on, is it? It’s quite the other way round; it is rather our Lord who does the drawing. He breathes on the students, with each poem. He flashes his beauty and power with each Astronomy lesson and whispers his truth to us in each Math class. And the students here, they are so different from other school students—they are caught up in it. It is as if they have tasted the thing behind the thing itself—the joy, not of knowing Whitman, Augustine or Tennyson—but of the one about whom all beautiful words are truly spoken, the Triune God Himself!
This gentle experience of Ambleside is the way of true knowledge, knowledge bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit; by the constant, inexorable pursuit of our God, who never stops rushing at us, never stops wanting us to know more; to have more of Himself with us, in us. So, this summer, as we leave this place for a time, let us draw in a nice deep breath of this peaceful, yet persistent presence. Let us capture it in the jars of our hearts and play in it with our children, friends and loved ones as we learn, laugh and play in the grasses of all that is good, right, and beautiful.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
Mr. Nathaniel Johnson
Francis Towne Ambleside