Ambleside Blog

Calming the Troubled Heart

The Voyage of Life: Manhood

We humans are destined to live in troubled times. As novelist and screenwriter William Goldman so eloquently puts it in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Goldman echoes the words of Jesus, who made this clear to His followers, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” [1] Anyone who is paying attention knows this to be true. Trouble, sometimes more, sometimes less, is the norm, not the exception. The sooner one comes to accept this, the happier he or she will be.

The church has always taught, and I have come to see it as true, that in troubled times, the primary problems are inevitably troubled, disordered hearts. In no way do I deny that troubles are real (they are), that they are often quite serious (they are), and that they need to be addressed (they often but not always do). Indeed, every man, every woman is called to do what he or she can to alleviate the groanings of the world. I only suggest that when our heart is troubled, we are not very good at making things better, be it at home, at school, or in the public arena. Troubled hearts always tend toward paralysis and polarization. There are neurological reasons for this:

  • First, a brain that is negative, neutral or stressed is about thirty percent less efficient than a joyful or peaceful brain. In other words, troubled brains are primed to make bad decisions.
  • Second, when troubled and unsure how to get out of the trouble, the brain’s relational circuits begin to shut down. These networks of neurons are the brain structures that allow us to accurately read the minds of others and empathize. When they shut down, we are flying blind, unbeknownst to ourselves.
  • Third, when our relational circuits start shutting down, as things get more distressing and we feel more alone, we start to lose the executive function of our frontal lobes. When this happens, the so-called reptilian brain starts to call the shots, and we are left with the options of fight, flight or freeze.
  • Fourth, for humans, confirmation bias, the tendency to believe anything that supports what we already believe and disbelieve anything to the contrary, becomes a vicious cycle. Our brains would rather not have their existing neural networks challenged. In a troubled brain state, this bias increases. The more troubled the brain, the greater the cognitive rigidity and the confirmation bias.
  • Finally, as a protective measure, when relational circuits are down, we tend to imagine the worst outcomes and cannot be persuaded otherwise, leading us down an aimless path, which supports and increases our distress.

To some degree, we have all experienced such troubled hearts. They are bleak at the least, and at their worst, overwhelm us with a pervasive hopelessness, despair and loneliness. At the moment, it all seems so undeniably real. Such times are not good for making decisions. Yet, in troubled states, one wants desperately either to despair and quit, or to do something. But what?

In the simplest troubles – for example, if one’s heart is troubled by a leaky faucet – the trouble may be resolved by fixing the faucet. But, if one’s heart is troubled by some peccadillo of a spouse, it is extremely unlikely the trouble will be resolved by fixing the spouse. Seeking to cure a troubled heart by managing and controlling others or circumstances is an illusion, an alluring fantasy doomed to fail. Equally vain is the attempt to cure a troubled heart by obsessively ruminating over all that is wrong with persons and circumstances, even to the point of extending the complaint globally to the world at large!

What, then, is to be done?  If we are to address the troubles in our homes, in our schools, in our businesses, in our cities and in our country, we must first address our own troubled hearts. But how? In what follows, I do not mean to suggest an easy, quick fix, only to propose a few important principles. Deep wounds can take a long time to heal. Relatively minor wounds can fester and become infected, particularly if they mirror earlier wounds. While change can come quickly, in my experience it usually takes time, often a great deal of time, which seems a real downer. To some measure, it is for all of us a long pursuit. But what is the alternative? We move forward, or we regress back. Given that we never fully comprehend the depth of someone’s journey, even our own, we never condemn a person for their place on the road. If we do, we become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

When one’s heart becomes troubled, stays troubled, and is unable to get untroubled, the brain has encountered a trouble bigger than it knows how to process. As a general rule, what troubles us today troubled us yesterday and has the potential to trouble us tomorrow. Growth is a process of perseverance over time. Again, I do not mean to suggest an easy, quick fix. Recovering from a troubled heart is often a long and difficult journey. What I do want to suggest is that we are not designed to make that journey alone. There is nothing more painful than being alone with a deeply troubled heart. When no one knows me, no one gets me, my heart screams or turns to stone.

What we all desperately need is someone who will:

  • See what our troubled heart is seeing. It does not require agreement regarding the right or wrong of what is seen. To use a simple example of teacher with student, “I can see that there is a lot of work to be done here, and you think you can’t get it all done. Tell me about that.”
  • Empathize, enter into and reflect back, both verbally and nonverbally, what our troubled heart is feeling. “This amount of work feels overwhelming. How would you describe the feeling of overwhelm? How big is it? I usually feel overwhelmed in my stomach, shoulders and face. Where do you feel it?”
  • Recognize that which is relationally, psychologically and spiritually damaging (what the Bible calls sin) and name it without condemnation. “You seem desperately concerned about doing better than everyone else. That is not good for your heart, and no one wants this kind of turmoil for you, especially our Father. Is there anything I can do to help you let go of the anxious desire to best all others? Could we ask God to help you let it go?”
  • Facilitate our appreciation and thanksgiving. “It seems that for a while now your attention light has been focused on that which overwhelms. For a few moments, would you be willing to give your troubled heart a break by remembering and giving attention to a time, place, person or thing for which you felt appreciation and thankfulness? Describe this time. How would you describe the feeling of appreciation?”
  • Give us the gift of sacred presence. Sacred presence is a way of being with another that is difficult to describe. Best to remember a time and a place when your heart was troubled and someone was truly present. What was it like? What would it be like to be so present to another?

We are meant to support one another along the way, to bear one another’s burdens, to ease troubled hearts. We need parents to do this for children, teachers for students, friends for one another, husbands for wives and wives for husbands. The more skilled we become at doing these, the less troubled will be the hearts of our children, teachers, friends, husbands and wives. And yet, there is a still another way. Not better so as to replace, but to amplify, augment, raise to a greater fullness.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” [2]

For many, these are just words, but to those who have learned to drink, they are life. If a caring, mature human person can bring peace to the troubled heart, how much more the God and Father of our hearts?  But, like all forms of intimacy, to drink spiritual life is a learned skill. While at times God breaks into a troubled heart with overwhelming grace, the norm is that His grace beckons us to pursue, to hunger and thirst for Him. There are many ways of learning and practicing the skill of intimacy with God. Two such practices are Lectio Divina and devotional journaling. Like human relations, intimacy with God requires the cultivation of certain skills. These skills take practice. As a rule, the skills of spiritual intimacy are best practiced and learned in times of relative peace. The skills will then be in place when the troubles come.

One of the great “trouble” multipliers is the illusion of a quick and simple fix. We must not expect it. The most significant balm for the soul is “You are not alone.”

Finally, if while still young, a person learns the skills of recovering from a troubled heart, he or she will be much better prepared for facing the troubles that life inevitably brings. Learning such skills are an essential part of an Ambleside education.


[1] John 16:33 (NASB)

[2] John 4:13-14 (NRSV)

The Greatest Gift of All

On display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hangs a fourteenth century chasuble[1] depicting images of the Annunciation, of the Adoration of the Magi, and of Saints Peter and Paul, Andrew and James. With colored silks, threads of gilded silver, and pearls on red velvet, it is one of the finest surviving examples of Opus Anglicanum. The needle work of medieval English craftsmen, with its intricate patterns of woven silver, was so masterful and so famous across Europe that it was simply known as English work. Such treasured gifts were prized by popes and kings.

Like a master medieval embroiderer, God has woven luminous strands of glory into the fabric of existence, strands that bind and sanctify, that consecrate all of existence as a sacred mystery. There is more to the cosmos than the common eye commonly sees. One of the characteristics of sacred mystery is that it permeates and thus manifests at a variety of levels. One such mystery is sacred presence: the sacred presence of God to us, individually and corporately; of us to God; and even of us to each other. Christmas is a time to remember sacred presence and perhaps even a better time to practice it.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

        which means, “God is with us.” [2]

Christmas break is upon us; most are on holiday. It is hard to imagine a better opportunity for parents to practice sacred presence with one another and with their children. Part of such practice will surely involve calling attention to the story of the Christ Child. We sing and hear the story of Christmas; we retell and quietly think upon the story of Christmas.  We give thanks for the story and remember God present with us. This is as it should be.

But there is more. Parents have a special opportunity to be present to their children. American parents are not particularly skilled at this. They may care greatly, provide well, and serve diligently, and still not be very good at offering sacred presence. Christmas is an optimal time for father and mother to be with their children in a very real presence. Just as children were made to live in the light of God’s sacred presence, so they were made to live in the sacred light of dad and mom’s presence. Ideally, parental presence establishes the neurological and psychological scaffolding that makes easy the apprehension of the Divine presence. Absent a sacred parental presence, adult children generally find it much more difficult to apprehend God’s presence. In other words, for children, Christmas always starts with dad and mom.

As we practice being present, here are some things to remember:

  • Each of us has an attention light. Think of it as a flashlight shining from the pre-frontal cortex (the very front of the brain) through the forehead and out onto some object in the world. I am only present to you when my attention light shines on you, you receive it and reciprocate.
  • Generally, we follow the eyes to detect the direction of another’s attention light, but “eyes on” is not enough. Sacred presence requires genuine interest in another, what he or she is thinking, feeling, and doing. Take a moment to imagine a time when someone was truly interested in you. What were the kinds of things he or she said, the kinds of questions he or she asked? What were the facial expressions? How did those expressions change over the course of the conversation? What would it be like for you to give this same kind of attention to your spouse, to your children, and to others?
  • It is possible to be a sacred presence in either a focused or a casual way. When you give me the gift of focused presence, your attention light shines on me. I know it shines on me because you are all attention for me. You are interested in me. Your questions, your retelling of what I have said, your comments on how my words and deeds touch you, all say you are with me and for me. I hear it in your words and see it in your face. Spouses and children long for this kind of presence. It is balm for the soul, water for a parched land. Most of us are not very good at this, particularly us men. But we can practice, and Christmas is a good time to practice.
  • When we share the gift of sacred presence in a casual way, we both turn our attention light onto the same worthy object or task. At regular intervals, we shift our attention from the object or task to each other, sharing thoughts and feelings, commenting or speculating, celebrating or censuring. I am interested in what you think and feel about what is happening. You are interested in what I think and feel about what is happening.
  • Electronic media (television, game consoles, handheld devices, and the like) so powerfully seduce our attention, like light into a black hole, that they make shared presence virtually impossible. While there are exceptions—some games may support an anemic form of collegiality—in the great majority of cases, if I am focused on a screen, I really am not paying any attention to you. If sacred presence of the casual kind is the gift I wish to give, it is far better to share board games, puzzles, crafts, a nature walk, the cooking of a meal or the meal’s cleanup; to throw a baseball or snowballs; to build a tree house; or to build a Lego city
  • Two of the most powerful means of offering casual, sacred presence are the sharing of a meal and the sharing of a good book. In the genuine sharing of a meal, more time is spent looking into the eyes of those around the table than looking at the food, mouths are open more often for conversation than for consumption. In the sharing of books, there is a periodic pausing among pages inviting communal response. What do you think of what just happened? What do you think will happen next? Let us laugh together, rejoice together, be angry together, or even cry together.

It is Christmas. Consider giving the greatest gift of all, your sacred presence. In a mysterious way, the giving of sacred presence to another; the true selfless giving of benevolent presence, is a participation in God’s giving of His presence to us, at Christmas and every day.

From all of us at Ambleside Schools, may yours be a blessed Christmas.


[1] The chasuble is the outermost liturgical vestment worn by clergy for the celebration of the Eucharist in Western-tradition Christian churches that use full vestments, primarily in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches.

[2] Matthew 1:23 (NRSV)

A World of Deep Delight (From Flourish Volume 7)

"Wonder"

 

How like an angel came I down!
How bright are all things here!
When first among his works I did appear
O how their glory me did crown!
The world resembled his eternity,
In which my soul did walk;
And ev’ry thing that I did see
Did with me talk.

The skies in their magnificence,
The lively, lovely air;
Oh how divine, how soft, how sweet, how fair!
The stars did entertain my sense,
And all the works of God, so bright and pure,
So rich and great did seem,
As if they ever must endure
In my esteem.

 

~Thomas Traherne

On a brisk, bright, multicolored autumn day recently, a bit melancholic, I walked along a wooded trail. Catching sight of a chasteberry tree, actually more shrub than tree, with its clusters of fragrant, lavender-blue flowers, I paused. I looked at the lovely flowers. It had been months since last I looked, truly looked, at a flower. As I looked, I grew thicker inside, more centered, more grounded.

Continuing on, I came to a clearing. Looking up, I saw the sky, azure blue with wisps of cirrus clouds, and the bright, golden sun. I looked. It had been months since last I looked, truly looked, at the sky. As I looked, my heart grew lighter, more alive, more hopeful.

Continuing on, I happened upon a swarm of grasshoppers sunning themselves on a thirty-yard strip of asphalt trail. I stepped, and a dozen scattered high in all directions. I stepped again. Another dozen jumped. I paused, leaned over, and looked at the grasshoppers. It had been years since I had last looked, truly looked, at grasshoppers. Another step, another dozen. I laughed the deep laugh of delight.

As he was for Charlotte Mason, so is Thomas Traherne one of our favorite poets, for Traherne saw and knew what few see and know today–the glory of the “works of God.” For those who have eyes to see, the divine majesty is manifest in the good and the beauty of nature, the good and the beauty of human persons, and the good and beautiful work of human hands. Marred, corrupted, even enslaved by sin, undoubtedly, but something of the original glory of Eden remains around us and in us. An inability to see this glory and delight in it greatly impoverishes us and gives Satan more ground than he might otherwise have.

“All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3). For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the world is a gift, our inheritance from Him. At Ambleside schools, every day we seek to mediate this gift. Much of human flourishing depends on it.

Dr. Bill St. Cyr
Founder, Ambleside Schools International

Read more articles from Flourish Volume 7 here!

God Will Provide The Insects (From Flourish Volume 7)

I have always appreciated God’s provision on my journey as a teacher. He provides the living books, the enlightening philosophy, the timely feedback needed to grow—everything. But, as I have realized many times over the years, God’s provision also—I would say, especially—includes the difficult parts: for example, those moments when a student’s cup of anxiety overflows. One year, God sent me a dear little third grader who was terrified of all flying insects. He also sent me wasps.

My student and I began our lessons in walking through fear one beautiful autumn morning during recess. Wasps and bees often expel unnecessary drones from their hives and lock the door behind them. This makes winter provisions go farther for the “essential” citizens. This is why flying creatures seem to appear at every autumn picnic and are overly interested in what you are eating. It would be an understatement to say that my student noticed the increase in their numbers.

Wasp Photo by USGS

In the weeks that followed, my young friend and I saw a lot of each other. When she spotted an insect and wanted to run inside, I called her to me and put my arm around her. It seemed as though a wasp landed on someone almost every day. She always seemed to be right there as I brushed a little fellow off a classmate’s shoulder. After every “rescue,” I found her widened eyes, took a breath with her, and laughed. God was walking through the fear with us. I noticed that the insects never landed on her—and was I ever thankful!

But, in life, as well as in lessons, I suppose there must be exams. One day, at the end of autumn, after a wasp-free recess in the crisp air, we filed back in and shut the door behind us. Suddenly I had three students whispering to me, urgently. My friend, so went the report, had a wasp…in her hair. I confess that my heart sank. Would all our careful, non-traumatic work be wasted?

I locked eyes with my young friend. I see it. I am with you. Don’t be afraid.

“Stay still,” I said. “I will get it.” She blinked slowly. And then my young friend displayed the most trusting, poised, even stately self-control you could imagine as I extracted the little fellow out of her long hair, crushed it in my fist, and shook it onto the floor. There was a moment of silence as everyone felt their heartbeat. Then my class exploded into cheers, relieved laughter, and applause. “I can’t believe you got it with your hand!” she said. “I can’t believe how brave you are!” I replied.


I was reminded that it is God who conquers fear. If He never sent us hard times, we wouldn’t know how brave we are with Him, and we wouldn’t be certain of who He is: Immanuel, God with us. May we always trust Him for everything we need—even wasps!

Heidi Kimball
Teacher, Ambleside Colorado
Read more from Flourish Volume 7 here!

Count It All Joy (From Flourish Volume 7)

Growth often comes when least wanted but most needed.

We appreciate it in the end, but in the midst we would be glad to have somebody else do the growing! Whether it is the ebb and flow of pains in a child’s limbs, the summiting of a 14er mountain, or an infant’s birth, the journey of growth reminds us that this won’t last forever and good will come out of this.

Keyhole Route up Longs Peak (a 14er), PC: 14ers.com

This certainly resonates with what it means to be living “in the year of our Lord, 2020.” We have all experienced the novel uncertainty in many areas of our lives. Our closest associations—families, schools, churches—have all been deeply affected.

Like you, we’ve experienced these challenges within our school community. Whether it was with not knowing if or how we’d start the school year, how obstructing masks would be, or changes in how we learn together, Christ has demonstrated that He is Immanuel, God-With-Us. In times of uncertainty, illness, and even death, we are reminded through this year’s growth that He is with us each step, even when the next step is unknown.

Our school, like yours, will likely continue to face many challenges, but our best response to them will include gratitude.

Let’s be honest: being thankful for challenges is not something that comes naturally. And when we are thankful, aren’t we often thankful for the gift rather than the giver? It seems that we tend to put our gratitude on hold until we get what we want or think that we need. How often do we thank God for solving our problems instead of thanking Him for being our Great King?

This area has been a prime opportunity in which our community can grow, this deepening understanding of our identity in Christ and an ability to give thanks even for the hard stuff. As we continue this challenging year together, let’s keep the truth of these words in mind:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-3 (ESV)

The more that we are grateful to God for the life that we have together in this year—not just in spite of but because of the challenges—the more that our children will see the fruit of trusting in Christ. As we live out the truth of “it is good to be me here with you!” no matter what, we will demonstrate to our children what a joyful, grateful discipleship is. We will also be that much more effective in demonstrating love to hurting people by being a people marked and known foremost by our gratitude.

Brandon Byrd
Principal, Rocky Mountain Christian Academy
Read more from Flourish Volume 7 here!

The Primary Thing For Them—Thanksgiving 2020

The First Thanksgiving[1]

Reflecting on the nature of the heroic, Thomas Carlyle claims, “It is well said, in every sense, that a man’s religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man’s, or a nation of men’s.”  Carlyle is speaking here of something more than the mere assertion of beliefs. He further clarifies:

But a thing a man does practically believe, the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest… I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is. Of a man or a nation we inquire, therefore, first of all, What religion they had?[2]    

So it is, that to understand the Pilgrims one must understand “what religion they had.” Unlike the Puritans, who were content to remain in England hoping to purify the church from within, the Pilgrims, or Separatists, saw no way forward in what they deemed a compromised church. Their Religion demanded they journey forward in faith. Arguably the greatest of their leaders, William Bradford, describes this in his journal, Of Plymouth Plantation.

They could not long continue in any peaceable condition but were hunted and persecuted on every side…. For some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were fain to flee and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood.[3]

Moving to Holland, the Pilgrims settled in Leiden, a strange, new city to them, with unfamiliar customs, and trades, and an unknown language.

But these things did not dismay them; though they did sometimes trouble them; for their desires were set on the ways of God, and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and they knew Whom they had believed.[4]

Leiden would be the Pilgrims’ home for only twelve years.  Their religion, the chief fact of them, compelled them to pursue a more suitable land to actualize their vision of a home in a vast wilderness. Led by faith, they would face the hardships of a still longer journey to a still more unknown place.  Thus, they set off for a New World. Traveling first to England, the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower. From there, one hundred two passengers began a grueling ten-week crossing of the Atlantic.

Sustained by an absolute faith in a Divine Sovereign to whom they were consecrated, the Pilgrims voyaged to the New World. Confident in Divine Presence and motivated by the desire to be intimately acquainted with their Heavenly Father, they sought Him moment by moment, not lamenting the perils, not questioning the Father’s direction, not afraid of the unknown, resisting every temptation to despair as they faced the unknown future. Their religion instructed them in the knowledge of a God whose providential care was ever present. Thus, they “set on the ways of God.”

Throughout their journey, they commended themselves to God’s Providence, perceiving His favor even in the midst of adversity.

Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation, they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor…What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say, “Our fathers were Englishman which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in the wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,” etc.  “Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and His mercies endure forever.”[5]

Seeing God as Almighty, thankful for His mercies and His deliverances, they sought Him and found refuge in Him, His presence, His kindnesses, and His enduring love. Their religion proclaimed a God omnipotent as Creator, Everlasting Love as Savior, and True Guide as Shepherd.

The Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. They then faced the most terrible of times, a harsh winter with meager supplies, and the greatest of sorrows, what became known as the Starving Time.

Mayflower passengers who survived to the first Thanksgiving (Photo: Jim Steinhart)

 

But that which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months’ time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inacommodate condition had brought upon them. So as there died sometimes two or three of a day in the foresaid time, that of 100 and odd persons, scarce fifty remained.[6] And of these, in the time of most distress, there were but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their Captain and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our low and sick condition. And yet the Lord so upheld these persons as in the general calamity they were not at all infected with sickness or lameness….That whilst they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.[7]

After burying the dead, the 53 surviving Pilgrims began the labor of spring planting. It would lead to a successful harvest which was celebrated, as was the English custom, in the autumn of 1621. There are two accounts of this celebration: William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation. Winslow writes:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

The Pilgrims defined daily living in relationship with God; He was ever before them, the primary thing for them; their unfailing constancy in need and in provision, lives sustained in Him and through Him. May we gain daily perspective through the uncertainty of our times lived in and through Him and pause for Thanksgiving.

 

Follow our Pilgrim Heritage:

Pilgrim Roots in the United Kingdom  

Leiden American Pilgrim Museum

Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Mass.

 

[1] Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving, 1914. She was a direct descendent of Mayflower passenger, Elder Brewster.

[2] Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1904), 2-3.

[3] William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016),10.

[4] Ibid.,11.

[5] Ibid., Excerpts 61-63.

[6] Of the 102 Mayflower passengers who reached Cape Cod, 4 died before she made Plymouth; and by the summer of 1621 the total deaths numbered 50. Only 12 of the original 26 heads of families and 4 of the original unattached men or boys were left; and of the women who reached Plymouth, all but a few died.

[7] William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), 77-78.

The Lord Directs His Steps (From Flourish Volume 7)

Twenty years ago, if you had walked through a crowded forest in the suburbs of Washington D.C., you might have noticed a mother and her four children painting tulip poplar leaves.

Winter would find them tucked cozily in their living room in front of a fire, listening to Treasure Island being read aloud by their father.

Every now and then, he would stop and say, “Matthew, can you tell that back?” and I would—eagerly.

If my mom had had her way, my three sisters (soon to be four) and I would be homeschooled using Charlotte Mason’s method until 8th grade, and maybe even through high school. However, “a man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”

As a seven year old, I had no concept of the future, but a trauma my family suffered that year changed the course of my life. When we were on an outing, my dad slipped down a rock face and suffered a severe brain injury.

Knowing my mom would not be able to homeschool us anymore, family friends reached out to Leslie Voorhees, founder of Ambleside School in McLean, within a week’s time. Even though the board knew our family couldn’t afford tuition, Leslie arrived Monday evening with uniforms. That night, my mom sat us down at the dining room table and said, “You’re going to school tomorrow.” I had never been to school in my life.

My first day was September 11, 2001 — we were there for one hour. A few weeks later, someone anonymously paid our full tuition, and my mom ended up becoming Head of School within two years. She has been serving faithfully there for seventeen years.

Despite many disciplinary trips to the principal’s office, I graduated from Ambleside in 8th grade, grateful for the education but excited to move on. I studied economics in college and was thinking seriously about going into wealth management. When the St. Cyrs asked me to come to an internship, I accepted, but knew that I had other plans. Even if I wanted to teach, I couldn’t in the fall because I had to fulfill an old promise: to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail with a friend.
Hiking the PCT

Halfway through the hike, I got an email saying that there would be an open position at an Ambleside School in October — the same month we were planning on finishing the journey. My mind immediately turned back to those first days of my Charlotte Mason education spent painting in the woods. I chose to accept the offer.

Five years later, I am still working at the same school. Three months ago, I married a teacher I met at my mom’s school in McLean. Frances and I now work together at the school. When I reflect back on my and my family’s unexpected journey, my ears can hear a word behind me, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
 
Matt Wilcox
Teacher, Asst. Dean of Students, Ambleside at Skylark
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To Know and To Love

In the fifteenth chapter of his Gospel, Luke records one of the best known of Jesus’s parables, and there is perhaps no teaching more deserving of the attention of parents and teachers.

There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So, he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.  But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”[1]

 

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail)

In this parable we find three major players, each with a different orientation toward 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

Throughout history, humans have changed truths into lies. Spend ten minutes listening to modern media,  you will  certainly hear the cultural lies. You should have what you want. You should do what you want. You should be what you want. These lies are permeated through media, to our families. It is not surprising that like the younger brother, we find ourselves tempted to wander in a distant land where we might ESCAPE and INDULGE. The wandering man or woman, boy or girl is a minimalist when it comes to the habits of right thinking and right actions. They put forth little effort and long to be entertained, are quickly bored and impulsive in action, and sacrifice the good of others for self’s pleasure, remaining chronically dissatisfied. Having eyes directed toward what is not, he cannot see the good that is. Lacking eyes to see the good that is present, gratitude and joy are scarce. Self-denial is an unknown habit. And, thus, he wanders, gorging where possible but without peace, without satisfaction. Parents and educators must ask, “Who will help such a one find the way home?”

There is a second great lie going around, one promulgated by almost every contemporary American institution, including the nation’s schools. It is a lie so much in the air that we can hardly imagine it not being true. It is the lie that life is a competition in which high performers are rightfully winners and low performers are rightfully losers. One asks, what could be wrong with seeking to perform? Nothing, if by perform one means for love’s sake to give one’s best effort in diligently pursuing that which is Good, True and Beautiful. Everything, if by perform one means the anxious, angry climb to the proverbial top. Losses are desperate. Victories are a vapor. The cosmos is a competition, and my neighbor is not my brother but my adversary.  Suffering from the delusion that fulness of life is found by being better and getting more than one’s adversaries, performers are lost when it comes to entering into the celebration of life, particularly when it comes to doing so with those perceived as unworthy. It has been a tempting human delusion since the time of Cain and Abel, but twenty-first century coaches, corporate consultants and elite soccer parents have elevated the performance orientation to new heights. As a people, we celebrate those who, like the older brother in the parable, make PERFORM and CONTROL the chief maxim by which they live. In so doing, we encourage far too many to wander in a distant land far from home. Parents and educators often fail to recognize this pathology. Often, they even encourage it. My student is performing well—he or she is winning. What could possibly be wrong? Only that my student is chronically anxious, frequently angry, and seems to find little joy in life.

No repentant saint believes these lies; rather, for us life is an invitation to a shared adventure, an opportunity to love and be loved, a three steps forward, two steps back journey to maturity. We want what the father in the parable has, the father who seeks TO KNOW and TO LOVE. He knows his sons and 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 own grief leads not to bitterness but longing. His many tears, because they are free, hopeful but not demanding, are open to becoming tears of joy. He sees his sons, is willing to hurt with them, and is unafraid; thus, he can love and potentially lead his sons TO KNOW and TO LOVE. There is no more worthy goal to put before ourselves and our students than TO KNOW and TO LOVE.

It is in this context that we must frame all of education and indeed all of life. Fulness of life is found neither by escaping and indulging nor by performing and controlling. Rather, fulness of life is found in knowing and loving the Father in Heaven and all of His good gifts to us, gifts of friends, flowers, birds, stars, music, art, literature, math, worthy work, and joyful play—all that is Good, True and Beautiful.

To educators of a maturing heart, it is obvious that such knowing and loving is not promoted by “the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations” [2] which characterizes so much of today’s so-called education. Rather, 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. When this mutuality between love and knowledge is disrupted, things go terribly wrong and our children wander far from home to a distant land; they have exchanged the truth for a lie.

 


[1] Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

[2] Charlotte Mason, Home Education (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), 171-174.

God's Providence (From Flourish Volume 7)

We speak about God’s providence often as Christians, but what does it mean and how does it impact our lives? We believe that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and that He has a vested interest in our lives as humans.

All of us are on the journey of life, and we all will face trials and tribulations, pain and suffering and obstacles that will have to be navigated. If we don’t face our pain or obstacles, we become stuck in our journey and life can become increasingly difficult.
Hout Bay Students Hiking
This is where God’s providence comes in; God does have a vested interest in our lives individually and as a race. He cares for humankind as revealed in His plan by sending His son Jesus to earth to live among us and become the ultimate sacrifice so that no one should perish but have everlasting life.

God cares for each of us, but his providence doesn’t always come in the form we might imagine or even ask for – God is in control and He knows what’s best for us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” 

When our faith is tested and the trials we face seem impossible to overcome, we have to believe that He will never give us more than we can handle, and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).

This year has surprised and tested us, yet I see God’s providence. He has kept our school functioning. He has given the staff the strength and knowledge to move instruction to an online platform. We’ve kept all of our staff employed; God provided for us when all seemed lost. The team has drawn closer together and relationships have deepened, something which may not have happened outside of this crisis. Even though there has been extreme difficulty, loss and hardship, through God’s providence we have and continue to overcome.
 

When I cast my mind back to the time before Covid-19, I’m amazed at the hand of God on our little school here in Hout Bay. 

 
When I took over as principal in 2016 there were many areas of the school that were on shaky ground. We didn’t have enough staff, our building needed urgent maintenance, and finances were challenging. Through God’s providence, the right people joined our team. The finances started to improve, and we were able to not only complete the routine building maintenance but renovate the entire bathroom block. I am so grateful to God for the people He brought to Ambleside School of Hout Bay and am so grateful to those people who were obedient to God’s providence in their lives that ultimately led them to us. To God be the glory.
Gavin Smith
Principal, Ambleside Hout Bay

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God's Provision (from Flourish Volume 7)

Jehovah Jireh, My Provider, how the provision of the Lord abounds! The cascading purple petunias, the mass of white wood asters, the crystal blue sky...beauty to inspire. A soaking rain, an overcast sky, a sabbath day...refreshment for the earth and soul. Chili in the crock-pot, a freezer full of food, and a stocked pantry...sustenance for the body.

Could I ask for anything more?

Many years ago, as a college freshman in the genetics lab of Dr. Wesley Kloos at NC State University, I was a humble lab technician making $4.25 per hour doing the work that only a freshman lab technician would be asked to do. One day, the voice of Dr. Kloos came from behind me, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” His question caught me off guard. “I don’t know...I like plants,” I replied. His next words have stuck with me to this day. “You can have all the hobbies you want but you need to make a living. You need to be able to support yourself.” In the short term, plants were out...hobby or otherwise.

From NPS
Looking back, I’ve realized two things. First, I probably could have made a living in plants– landscape designer, horticulturist, etc. Second, Dr. Kloos was only trying to help. I did need to be able to support myself and I also needed to get busy making that happen. Therefore, I majored in biology and got an internship at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico working with plants...making $49.50 a week. Clearly, not enough to support myself. It was in Bandelier, at age 24, that the Lord Jesus’s loving call got my attention, and I became a believer in Him. Bandelier was also the place where the next steps of my life were to be laid out. When the internship was complete, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Education at George Washington University and became a teacher.

I have taught many ages in different environments. I taught science in an alternative high school, preschool through high school at my church, and 1st, 7th and 8th grade at Ambleside, McLean. God provided me with a plan to move forward in life and also with a way to support myself! My reply to Dr.Kloos, when he asked me what I wanted to do, remains with me.

At Ambleside, I am thankful that plants are a significant part of the week as we engage in nature study. Nature study provides an opportunity for intentional and focused observation, conversation and artistic representation of the world around us. Over my years of teaching, I have filled many journals of my own with these deliberate studies and have created my own self-prized Diary of an Edwardian Lady.


God, in His loving kindness, provided me an avenue to not only support myself, but the means to delight in plants as well! Thank the Lord that this delight is not only enriching to me, but provides me an opportunity to inspire and encourage others. Praise be to Him, Jehovah Jireh, My Provider!

Krise Nowak
Teacher, Ambleside McLean

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