Could it be that the souls of all [persons] are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living.
Mason, An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. xxv.
I’d like to share a story with you that might just echo one of your own. It’s just a short episode–a reflection on the awakening of my soul, a gradual settling in of truth, and how the impact of the wisdom of a person, Charlotte Mason, can extend beyond herself for generations.
We all play our parts . . . sometimes it seems like there are so many different roles. I recently spoke at our Mother of Preschoolers group (MOPS) as we finished our year together. These young moms are working to remember who they are in the midst of little feet and hands that pull them in all directions amid already very busy lives. Such a sweet and tiring time with the many pressures of our culture added to the mix. They often talk about identity; “Will I ever be able to be me again? And how do I know what that even means?” they wistfully question. It is one of the main questions that come with each new group every year. You have all been there; you work with either your own precious littles or have others entrusted to you as an educator. We know about how chaotic it can seem while we change our hat to fit the situation–teacher, parent, spouse, Christian, ad infinitum. We are working and worshiping, playing and learning, living and dying, all in pieces of our compartmentalized culture–the bits and pieces of a bigger picture.
So we started with a game. Not really all that original, but it worked well. All the groups had a basket with parts of things to figure out what fit together from the other baskets to make a whole. When we were done we shared what was collected. One was ingredients for caramel nut brownies which one lucky family got to eat that evening. I did give the disclaimer that a snack of only pecans might be the healthier choice, but that part was certainly not “the whole goodness” that my daughter proclaimed the brownies to be when she thought it was for our dessert. Another set of items was a complete outfit for a toddler which I borrowed from one of our MOPS friends. We reasoned that Erica wouldn’t dress her daughter Addie in just the hair bow and call it an ensemble. It reminded me of my two-year-old son, now grown. My neighbors might have guessed that I had something more in mind as I set out clothes for the day than when they saw him out front splashing in puddles wearing only his yellow rain boots. Another grouping they pieced together was a large Monet print I had cut into a puzzle. One piece was the grass, one the parasol, one the sky, one a woman’s face, etc. Looking at just the pieces separately didn’t give the whole picture.
I had been thinking about this as I wandered the rooms at the galleries of the Smart Museum on the campus of University of Chicago. They currently have an exhibit called the ‘Monster Roster.’ That probably means something to some of you art gurus; for the rest of us, it is existentialist art. That should bring up visions of brokenness and dark internal focused expression, body parts and the birth of death. I might have left in a pretty morbid stupor; however, what it did for me was remind me of our CMI conference at Gardner Webb a few years ago. No really, stick with me here. Remember the year Makoto Fujimura spoke? He talked of the way art can communicate grace and hope as well as darkness. That God inspires and gives the Christian artist ways to communicate who He is amidst the constant questions of a world that asks, “Who am I and what is my purpose or place here?” My high school children and I added Fujimura’s essays, Refractions, to our reading that fall. In the recovery and healing after 9/11, he writes about the broken pieces that refract the beauty of who God made people to be, and as Christians, to refract his beauty as we reflect who He is to others who need hope and grace.
As these moms considered all their roles in life and the pieces of who they are, we began to consider together the nature of wholeness. Because this is a Christian venue, we were able to speak of our identity in Christ and the basis that is found in our relationship with him. Yes, we have roles, but they aren’t separate from one another. We aren’t one person at church, another at our work, another at home, another at school. We may refract pieces of grace out of brokenness, but we reflect the Triune God in ways that can only come through our wholeness as people created in his image. It makes a difference when we keep this perspective in front of us, and it answers the core questions of our identity–we are made in his image as a whole person.
So far, most of us in the room were hearing the good reminders of grace we all need to help us keep focus. Then, unrecognized outside of the Charlotte Mason community, her foundational principles began to slip in throughout the rest of our talk. We had talked about our mom part as only one piece of who we are–not the whole picture. We went on to talk about our children. What does that whole person concept mean when I consider my child? And if God has made them so from the very beginning and has given them into my care under Divine Authority, how does my perspective change toward them? I can begin to act and display that I am under Divine Authority as well–not so many arbitrary rules for my convenience, but learning together to take off the old habits and put on the new (see Colossians 3). I then treat the children in a way that respects them as persons yet guide them toward a life of service and love. What do I do differently if I value them for who they are rather than what they will become? If they are to be nourished and grow, could it be that all the things we do to externally shape them will not make a difference if they don’t establish personal relationships with God, others and the world? I can begin to give my children real ideas to think about–to use their mind to discover all the things God has made for them to learn. I will try not to give them pieces of information without a context that they relate to, something they can learn for themselves and integrate into who they are. I recognize that real growth means moving beyond the C.S. Lewis idea of ‘looking at’ something to ‘looking along’ it. I might consider that real learning means something beyond what our society expects about beginning preparation early for a lucrative career starting with getting into the best preschool. Maybe we are too easily satisfied like the child playing with mud pies in the slums who doesn’t understand the chance for a trip to the seashore (Lewis, The Weight of Glory). Is it possible that I could hinder the Holy Spirit by compartmentalizing my child into pieces of life that give him no time to learn and process? Take heed that ye OFFEND not, DESPISE not, HINDER not. Charlotte Mason explains the code of education in the Gospels (Mason, Home Education, p. 12). There is grace for what we begin to see for ourselves and for our children. Grace for yesterday, grace today, and grace ahead as we trust God to supply everything we need for nurturing the children he placed in our care. As we recognize that we are made to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism), we begin to think differently about who we are and who they are too. It changes how we see them and act toward them. Let’s consider the fullness of life for the whole child–not just bits and pieces, but the bigger picture.
Now, even though these moms did not know about Charlotte Mason, they took with them an idea. One that may grow as it is considered and whispered to the soul of a parent. An idea that has been ‘passed mind to mind’ that may even affect that little person whose outfit we borrowed for a morning.
‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room’, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living . . . .
Mason, School Education, p. 170