“And when do the children meet with God?”
A striking question asked by a church visitor. Scottie May tells the story in Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey. After the visitor observed the children’s activities and dramas, she politely asked May this very question.
The story has echoed through my mind in the midst of teaching and laundry and carpooling. When do my children meet with God? Where are the “times of quiet that allow for reflection?” (Stonehouse & May, 2010, p. 88). How do they come to own the truths of the Bible and hear Jesus calling them His beloved?
I have a hunch that Charlotte Mason was curious about this too. She invited mothers to train their children that the “divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits” (Mason, 1906, preface).
In true Mason style, there is no formula, no lesson plan for teaching children to meet with God. It’s unique, just like our children. I know you will guide your children along this mysterious journey in a way that’s best for your family. Yet I believe there are keys to nurturing our children’s spiritual journeys. Mason’s three educational instruments of atmosphere, discipline and life go beyond education; they foster an environment for children to meet with God.
At the foundation of educating children is atmosphere. If only it were as simple as a scented candle or a soothing playlist. These help, but they won’t overcome my hurried voice or the nagging that hinders an atmosphere where God can speak to my children.
How can I create an atmosphere that is peaceful, curious and loving?
As parents, we reflect God’s image to our children, giving a first glimpse into what God is like. I want them to see God as someone worth getting to know. If I’m going to model God’s character it’s essential that I nourish my inner world, and ask God for his grace to practice His patience and kindness. When I move in this direction I can feel the peace permeate our home. Joy and contentment begin to reign and prevail against the chaos. In this atmosphere hearts are able to rest and reflect and, like a flower opening, we can meet with God in the garden of life.
In my journey with God, I’ve found the greatest times of spiritual growth are always accompanied by healthy spiritual habits.
Mason spoke of education being a discipline made up of habits and practices formed “definitely and thoughtfully” (Mason, 1906, preface). The discipline of consecutive Bible reading was part of her programs for all ages. “Let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words of the gradual unfolding of the story of the Scriptures” (Mason, 1906, p. 249).
It helps to begin simply. Over the past five years our family has slowly built our spiritual practices. When my children were young we read aloud a short passage of Scripture during breakfast and one child narrated each day. We added a hymn that we learn together, then a prayer. Recently we’ve experimented with silent prayer, allowing the candle to be the focus for thirty seconds as we individually talk to God about our concerns for the day and listen for what He might say to us.
At night we’ve had different habits for different seasons. Currently, we gather for prayer before my youngest goes to bed. Then my husband reads a short passage and invites everyone to share a word or a picture that came to mind. These rituals show our children that we are pilgrims together with them.
As educators, each day we commit an act of faith by setting before our children the feast of living ideas, believing that something will connect with them and recognising that there is no division between the intellectual and spiritual life.
When these living ideas are combined with narration there is a natural synergy that allows children to own the truths they’ve been presented. They must chew on the knowledge and ideas they’ve heard in order to assimilate them. Often there is a moral or ethical nature to the ideas which requires the exercise of discernment. Through this process God’s Spirit has room to work, speaking to our children in the quiet of their minds, feeding their character.
Mason also advocated for times of masterly inactivity, when children could work independently on an assigned occupation. This is where its hands-off parenting and hands-on God. Children need this space where they can meditate on the feast being presented to them. In these moments they can hear their own thoughts and those of Holy Spirit, guiding them to insights and calling them to fall in love with God’s good and beautiful character.
Slowly but surely, my children are growing in a sacred relationship with their Creator. Sometimes it’s hard to see that growth but Mason’s words give me hope: “We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children” (Mason, 1906, p. 248). There is much I will never comprehend, but this I know: through cultivating the atmosphere, practicing spiritual disciplines and offering living ideas God’s presence is welcomed.
Mason, C. M. (1906). Home education (Vol. 1). K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.
Stonehouse, C., & May, S. (2010). Listening to children on the spiritual journey: Guidance for those who teach and nurture. Baker Academic.
Copyright © Colleen Klatt 2018
Colleen Klatt lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where she homeschools her three daughters using Charlotte Mason’s ideas.