Charlotte Mason’s poem “The World to Come” was originally published in her second poetry volume entitled The Saviour of the World. Mason associated the poem with a verse of Scripture from the Gospel of John: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
Elsie Kitching writes that this poem, “‘The World to Come’ … and a number of other poems were written about 1865” (In Memoriam, p. 121). So Mason was only 23 years old when she wrote this. This was a full twenty years before she began her lecture series entitled “Home Education.” And yet so important was this poem of Mason’s youth that it was later reprinted on the opening pages of In Memoriam in 1923.
And so important it was that Mason wrote about it extensively in a private 1911 letter to Henrietta Franklin (“the little red books” is a reference to The Saviour of the World):
Do you mind my asking you to read again Vol. II. of the little red books pp. 71-76 and Vol. III. pp. 106-117? I have tried to say there in a very crude way something of what I mean. (I know you too receive Jesus as “a teacher sent from God” and that is all the argument requires). But l want to tell you why I feel I must go on living as long as I am allowed. I do not look for anything in the way of punishment or reward or compensation more than of the sort I get here – with the one vast exception of “life more abounding,” that is, I think God-knowledge, God-consciousness.
But there will be there
So much to do
So much to know
So much to see
So much to love
At the present time people can only see, know, do, love, as they are prepared, and I have a notion we have to begin the things in the flesh. We shall go on with it in the spirit. All the people we shall meet we ought to know, realise, first; all the flowers in the world — all the stars in the universe (and I know no astronomy to speak of!)
Of course “His servants shall serve Him” always in all manners and we don’t know which is first or last of the ways, you remember Browning’s Lazarus, how intensely insignificant things attracted him.
I shouldn’t wonder if this is the sort of Gospel our age is waiting for and we are so sick waiting that we play like tired children at a fair.
This poem beautifully expresses the thought of a poet and theologian who thoroughly and completely rejects dualism. (And I think Mason is both of those: a poet and a theologian.) If we are at home in the body, and if we are at home in this world, then what of heaven? If we find joy in nature study, drawing flowers and leaves, then what of heaven? If our highest and best is found in work and not leisure, then what of heaven? The questions must be answered by the one who rejects dualism.
We don’t want “crowns nor crystal seas, Or harps or singing or eternal ease.” We want to be like our Father! For He works, creates, builds, and acts!
We love this world! Sure, it is “sin-defiled,” but it is also the home to the things we love: friends and family, trees and sky, and the sacramental bread and wine. “O the dear world, sweet life, congenial joys!”
Perhaps there may be “joys” in the heavenly “spheres” of the next life—but this, “this, our home!” It is in this world that we met Jesus, it is where He became “our own.”
But perhaps the new heavens and the new earth are not so different as we might think?
Death opes not heaven’s gate; for long ago,
Soon as the King
Shone in upon the soul
Did heaven begin:
A blessed state, a lifting up forever;
Not some far seats when soul and body sever:
Perhaps what we love about this world is that heaven is already here! Eternal life began when Jesus entered our hearts! Heaven begins today, not when “soul and body sever”!
Perhaps there we find not “harps or singing or eternal ease,” but the best of what we have now:
Then to live out all possibilities
Of love and help,
Of counsel and support
Not an eternity of leisure and rest, but an eternity of work:
And not unowned, or self-imposed, our tasks;
By the dear Word of God,
Willing His will,
In the low rest of meekness, were our ease:
So, working, should we yet from labours cease.
Working and yet labors cease? In the world of prose, analysis rejects such paradoxes as contradictions. But in the world of poetry, we begin to see the deeper truth. We begin to see that even now, even today, we may enter into resurrection bliss.
©. 2018 Art Middlekauff