“The thoughts of God are broader than the measures of man’s mind
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind,’ and all other knowledge and relationships and facts of life will settle themselves. Thus, only, is it possible to live joyfully, purposefully, diligently . . . At any rate, seeing these things, a man must go softly all his days and wait for light.” 1
Pick any day last spring, or any hour for that matter, and you probably would have found me reciting these words:
Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning
and yet the early bird
is out there chirping,
chirping its sweet-sour
pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,
hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn
up from the darkness,
note over note,
and letting us drink. 2
We had been learning this poem, The Early Bird, by Ted Kooser, in our Charlotte Mason-inspired Children’s Worship Ministry at church, and it quickly became my litany, my go-to thought—over and again—for months and months. Not being of a faith tradition that makes use of such things, it was something of a new experience for me.
I knew the first words to be true: this past year was filled with things that I would rather not have happened; months have gone from bad to worse, one after another. And while things could always be worse, my particular plate is full to overflowing, thank you very much. It has been “still dark, and raining hard.” I’ve been waiting for the light, any light at all, to break through.
Persevering through trial takes stamina, which adds to the weight. Chores and regular activities took significant effort, and I wasn’t always up for it. And knowing that so many things in my life were catastrophically different, and that people I love were hurting, and so was I, brings with it mental fog, distraction, identity crisis, and ennui. Except on the other days, when it brings about anger and fear, impatience and a constant, low-grade irritation with basically everyone.
While having a meltdown recently, my child wailed “What’s the use of living? Everything is just ruined by sin! It’s all ruined forever!”
And so many days this past year, I have agreed with her. What is the use if things are so far from where they ought to be?
That “and yet” catches my breath. It’s like how they always tell you in Bible studies that the “But God” is the best part of whatever passage you come across; how every single thing is entirely hopeless until that truth inserts itself. I know the “and yet” is only a line in a poem, but I have clung to it as a piece of truth.
My mother was Charlotte Mason-y before Charlotte Mason-y was a thing; my childhood was spent reading beautiful books and gobs of poetry. I spent time studying and writing poetry in college; I love reading it and reading it to my girls. I believe in poetry, yet sadly, I’ve really only dabbled in it; I never made a consistent habit of memorization. How did I come to meditate on this poem, at precisely the time I needed to hear every hour that dawn is coming up from the darkness, note over note?
God does provide, and this time, He was using the Children’s Worship Ministry at our church. We began two years ago, and we chose to include choral music, technique, hymns, composer and picture study, instrument exploration, as well as poetry and Psalms recitation in our time together. This approach helped us explore new avenues and reasons to worship the Lord. Of course, these types of things can be used in a variety of ministries or groups in order to facilitate wonder and worship.
We know that hard times and darkness will come—or have come already—for every person and child. And yet, the light has dawned on those living in the land of shadow.3 This means the church must follow Jesus into the light. We push back the darkness in any way possible—toward beauty and light—through grace. We know that each part added to the schedule of our Children’s Worship Ministry is a small reflection of a piece of God’s glory, and each shows us his glory in a way nothing else could. Charlotte Mason says the most vital thing is to ensure that the children know personally that God’s heart is “most wonderfully kind.”4 So as we participate together in these small tastes of grace, we are praying that we all will come to know the beauty of the Lord in a way that will make a difference in how we are able to remember His goodness and kindness to us, even in dark times.
Charlotte Mason tells us that grace “comes to us most freely in the moments we set apart; so it is well to secure for them the necessary leisure.”5 In this case, however, we were scheduling a time slot in order to set apart that leisure, and striving for a restful and joyful time together.
Perhaps the question in your heart has been how to set apart this leisure for the children in your church or community. Unfortunately, the particulars are so entirely different for each situation. I know that both Jesus and Charlotte Mason remind us that some things only come about by prayer.6 It will be important not to count on success—or even progress—but to proceed out of love.
Practically, our group relies on Charlotte Mason’s principles. We utilize short lessons in order to fit many things in our hour, varying the type of activity. We allow children to tell back or respond after a “lesson.” We divided into age groups so neither students or teachers would be overwhelmed; however, the lessons are consistent across the classes, with each student appropriating what they are able. Finding teachers who understand and support this style of class has been challenging at times, but we have tried to provide training, support and encouragement as we learn together how to apply these principles in different settings. At the end of the semester, we have a celebration, inviting parents and grandparents to share in all that we have been experiencing over the semester, with cookies to follow (obviously).
There’s one other small thing that has been a help to me as we have sought to bring an entirely new program and format into being: Charlotte Mason prescribes things that are true. Because they are true, she’s not the only one to have noticed. (She may be the only one who has noticed them altogether, but many have recognized the truth in parts.) I have found this to be very useful when talking with people who neither know or care who Charlotte Mason is, or what she suggests. When your suggestion of helping the children learn a poem in your Sunday School class is met with hesitancy, it doesn’t hurt to be able to pull out a quote, or even a whole article, by John Piper about why the church does need poetry.7 Or Francis Schaeffer on art.8 And so on, and so forth, including plenty scriptural support for each component of our class. Don’t be afraid to (graciously) use all the resources at your disposal. And adding things in slowly is quite alright: it’s never all or nothing.
The other good part about the things that Charlotte Mason prescribes is that they do work, and because they work, after a while people stop thinking that you are crazy for suggesting poetry, and a few might even start telling you how much they enjoyed listening to the poem all semester. (Don’t count your chickens, but it’s happened to me.)
Madeleine L’Engle writes “In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move unfettered among the stars.”9 By adding all these bits of grace to our corporate time together each week, we are teaching children about remembering God’s kindness when it seems impossible to believe. We remember together that He doesn’t leave us alone in the darkness, and that there is always a path forward through faith. And so we are able to wait patiently for the light after all.
1 Mason, C. M. Formation of Character. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989. Original work published in 1906), 150.
2 Kooser, T. Delights & Shadows. (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2004). 75
3 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016). Matthew 4:16 & Isaiah 9:1-2.
See also John 1.
4 Mason, C. M. Formation of Character, 150.
5 Mason, C. M. Formation of Character, 211.
6 Mason, C.M. Home Education. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989. Original work published in 1935), 348.
And The Holy Bible. Mark 9:29
7 Piper, J. “God filled your Bible with Poems.” Desiring God Blog. Retrieved August 2016 from
8 Schaeffer, F. “Art & the Bible.” (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 2006. Original work published 1973).
9 L’Engle, M. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press. 2015.)
I have also been helped and inspired by a few others that have written and researched about this topic on this blog (and other places.)
Fiedler, A. “Beyond Dust Particles: An Experiment in Sunday School.” Retrieved November 2017 from
Glaser, T. “Living Mason’s Ideas at VBS.” Retrieved November 2017 from https://childlightusa.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/living-masons-ideas-at-vbs-by-tammy-glaser
© 2017 Julie Stuber