A Balanced Life

How fortunate we are, how blessed to live in a time when Miss Mason’s ideas are alive and well in the 21st century, especially here in America.  There are so many wonderful, talented people out there spreading the feast through research, writing and speaking on Miss Mason’s works.  There are excellent books, articles, blogs and podcasts available at our fingertips. What a privilege to live in a technological age that allows us access to a seemingly endless amount of information at any time, any day.  But do you ever feel that you’ll never have enough time, energy or resources to get through those volumes, attend that conference or listen to that podcast all while teaching your kids, managing a household and investing in relationships?  It all can quickly become overwhelming.  What to do? I have found that an answer lies with a Brit and a saint.   

About seven years ago I was introduced to St. Benedict and his teachings by a dear friend and kindred spirit.  I had discovered Charlotte Mason about a year earlier and was in the midst of tackling her volumes for the first time.  I was amazed to discover that many of Benedict’s teachings seemed to parallel those of Miss Mason’s.  My soul was struck profoundly.  It caused me to wonder whether or not Miss Mason had studied the 5th century saint herself.

The teachings of St. Benedict say that a life well-lived has everything to do with how we spend our time.  He claims that a balance of regular prayer, sacred reading, work, community participation and rest are the practices that allow us to truly live life to our fullest and deepest potential.  It is the harmony of these working together that create a well-balanced life.  There are so many parallels to Miss Mason’s philosophy and practices that come to mind. Like Benedict, a Mason education is first and foremost based on ‘The Great Recognition" that the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind and the knowledge of God is the primary goal.  Mason’s practice of reading living books slowly and intently coupled with the act of narration mirrors sacred reading (lectio devina).  The work being done in a Mason education is done through a well-balanced liberal arts curriculum that reveals the truth, beauty and goodness of our Lord. Her emphasis that education is the science of relations encompasses community participation while masterly inactivityechoes Benedict’s rest, or holy leisure, in that both call for time set aside in our day for contemplation and reflection.  Just as Benedict suggests an order and balance for a harmonious life, so Miss Mason seems to do in the intentional structuring of school days.  As Tara Schorr states of the scheduling in a Mason education, “Everything compliments and strengthens the other…the balance facilitates all those components into becoming a lifestyle.”

Education is a life. – Charlotte Mason

Balance is the key.  Anything that takes over too much of our time and energy and neglects the other components causes us to become overworked, overstimulated and overscheduled.  Even the great ideas can be lost by the wayside without a balanced lifestyle.  Many have said our beloved British educator not only was intentional about the structuring of students’ school days, but she modeled this in her own life.  It is here where we should take special notice.  We too need to model a well-balanced, harmonious life for both our children’s sake and our own.  Creating an atmosphere where the rhythm of life is consistent allows for the small taking in of new ideas and the slow patient work of digestion.  In so doing, the ideas have time to take root and thrive in fertile soil ripe for growth and a bountiful harvest. 

What I do not bring to life, life cannot possibly give me. – Joan Chittister

In an age that is constantly pulling at us to do more and be more, may we heed the wisdom of two revolutionaries of their own time.  May we seek to live a well-balanced life so that others may too say of us:

People who live this kind of life…live life well.  They are, in fact, fully alive. 
Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, J. Chittister, p. 77

The Gift of Music: Reaching for the Divine

Yesterday marked the first day of Advent.  This season of expectation is present everywhere you turn.  People are bustling with their Christmas shopping, smells of cinnamon and warm cookies fill the air, and the town transforms into a magical wonderland of twinkling lights.  The atmosphere is rich with the anticipation of this most wonderful time of the year.

One of my most favorite things about the Advent season is the beautiful music that comes bursting on the scene as if packaged and tucked away for a whole year only to explode in glorious song at the close of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Music is such a vital part of Advent that I don't think it would be the same without it.  Concert halls resound with orchestral Christmas classics, churches echo the angelic choruses from the choir lofts and carolers warm the hearts of neighbors with their simple harmonies.  Some of my personal favorites are those nostalgic Christmas tunes I grew up listening to on the family record player:  Bing Crosby's White Christmas, Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song and Gene Autry's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  I loved that last one so much I begged my mother to sing it to me every night of the year!  There is something about music that touches the human soul.

In her book A Touch of the Infinite, Megan Hoyt explores the emotional connectivity humans have to music.  In her chapter, "The Science of Relations", she discusses a scientific understanding of why humans have an emotional reaction to music.  Interestingly, Ms. Hoyt explains that musicians admit to a heavy focus on the technical aspect when composing a piece, but that the emotional connectedness within their music is a mystery. She goes on to share that neuroanatomist Andrew Arthur Abbie believed that "pathways from the brain stem and cerebellum to the frontal lobes could weave sensory experience and coordinated muscle movements into a homogeneous fabric and when that happens, it is the key to perfect expression in art."  It has only been recently that scientific studies support this idea of the connection between movement, the brain and music.  For me, this truly comes as no surprise and causes me to pause and reflect on our amazing God, the creator of man and music.

The Father knows every fabric of our being and admittedly proclaims that when he created man it was very good.  When sin entered the world, we moved away from the Father, but being created in the image of God we have within us the divine desire to be in harmony with our Creator.  We long to reach Him to be made whole. 

There is no satisfaction for the Soul of man, save one, because the things about him are finite, measurable, incomplete; and his reach is beyond his grasp; he has an urgent, incessant, irrepressible need of the infinite.                                          ---Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

Our God is a jealous God who longs for us to reach for Him.  He knows us so well. He knows how to woo us by every good gift from above.  This includes the good gift of music.  That is why I believe Charlotte Mason includes music appreciation in her curriculum.  She recognized God's good gift of music and knew it had to be included in the feast spread for students to partake.

Miss Mason proclaimed that the Divine Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind.  She held that all good things come from the Father and are revealed in His good creation.  Miss Mason believed that the great recognition of parents and teachers is that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth and the Inspirer of genius. She claimed no distinction between the secular and sacred by supporting the idea of the Florentine mind of the middle ages that

...every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God or recognized whence his inspiration came.
             ---Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

This is why I believe our souls are stirred at the hearing of Handel's Messiah as well as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  It is an invitation from the Divine, a stretching out of the hand toward us.  It is up to us to reach for it and recognize the true Giver.  When we do, we are participating in the restoration of God's good world.

The musical atmosphere of Advent is magnificent because it is a gift of the harmony of the Trinity.  The Supreme Educator is teaching us with love and grace His truth, beauty and goodness.  As parents and teachers, may we be good stewards by spreading the musical feast not only during this season, but the whole year through. 

Natural History Clubs: A Case for Inspiration

Last year at the Charlotte Mason Institute Conference I was inspired by CM mom and educator, Cheri Struble who presented the idea of the Natural History Club.  She explained that the original club was established by members of the Parents’ National Educational Union to support parents and teachers in their study and understanding of Natural History.  “…children will not become keen and enthusiastic about Natural History, unless their parents and teachers also show feeling of interest and devotion to it.  But as very few, comparatively speaking, of the present generation have been taught to study Natural Science in their youth, it is now a difficulty how to set about learning, and how to show enthusiasm over what is unknown and unfamiliar.” (the Lady Isabel Margesson, “Our P.N.E.U. Natural History Club”, The Parents’ Review, p. 920).  What a wonderful testimony of people coming together to meet a need in their community.  The result?  Natural History Clubs established across England that breathed life into parents, teachers and children that then became inspired to study nature.

Fast forward to 21st century America and sorrowfully we still find parents and teachers suffering from similar circumstances that prompted the P.N.E.U. to establish the Natural History Clubs.  Modern parents and educators, like those of the early 20th century, have not a strong foundation in natural history and while they see the value in teaching the subject, they are way too busy with life’s demands to figure it out.  To make matters more challenging, this generation has been raised in the digital era and is dangerously susceptible to being numbed by the distractions of technology. Unfortunately, our relationship with nature and the created order continues to be broken. We are ever indoors when we should be out. We are enamored with pixels when we should be in wonder of the Primrose. We have exchanged the real for the virtual and find ourselves more and more isolated and disconnected from God’s good world.

Before treading any further, we must ask the question of why the study of nature is so important?  Why does Charlotte Mason place so much emphasis on the natural world?  When reading through Miss Mason’s volumes, particularly vol. 1 Home Education, we find that Nature Study in a Charlotte Mason education is foundational to all of school life.  How so?  Nature study is a study through observation.  It requires the observational power of our senses. By taking in the natural world through our senses we organically begin to distinguish, discriminate and identify those things around us. The more we observe, the more the opportunity to strengthen these and other skills needed in academics.  No wonder Miss Mason advocated for young children to be out of doors 4-6 hours every day!  Not only is nature study valued for being foundational to academics, but it is highly valued because of the aesthetic experience it offers.  Being out in nature, most anyone will tell you, is refreshing and renewing to the soul.  Charlotte Mason herself is said to have spent 2 hours a day in the outdoors.  Mrs. Edward Sieveking had this to say in a Parents Review article on the educational value of natural history:

About everyone who has drunk deep the wells Nature, there is always a calm, absorbed freedom from mental stress, from emotional wear and tear…[Natural History] takes us off to a new world of life, to a new way of looking at our own world.  It has a power of Divinity in it, for it makes all things new to anyone, man, woman or child, who comes to it not preoccupied, and with an open mind, ready to be taught a wider education of life at first hand.

It is this education of life at first hand that leads to the most important purpose of nature study: to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Creator God and His magnificent, good creation.  God reveals Himself through the natural world and it is ours for the taking.  It is education from the supreme educator first hand. 
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was inspired by the concept of the Natural History Club. In our community, we have a growing number of homeschooling parents new to Charlotte Mason.  The enthusiasm is tremendous, but so is the time and effort that goes into self-educating, parenting, teaching and being the CEO of the household.  Unfortunately, subjects like Nature Study begin to be seen as “extra” and get put off day after day.  We cannot let this be the case if nature study is the foundational study of a Charlotte Mason education.  I believe Miss Mason understood the demands of motherhood and still offers hope when she states,

I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. (vol. 1, p. 44)

Having faith that we are capable of working wonders may require some lifestyle changes—a simpler life that creates space in our minds, schedules and tasks to let the wonder work.  We need to lean on each other, encourage one another to have the faith that we can work wonders.      Inspired to support parents and teachers in this endeavor, I have started offering a Natural History Club in my local community.  Parents and children meet at one of our local natural spaces once a month for a nature walk, prepared object lesson, time for exploring and journaling.  You can learn more about The Natural History Club here.  It is a time for children and parents to know and experience nature together.  It is an opportunity to do and learn despite the distractions and busy life.  It is an opportunity to be inspired.  At the end of our first meeting this year, a young child experiencing Nature Study for the first time came up to me and said, “You know, I spend a lot of time playing video games.  I don’t think that’s good.  This was nice, being outside like this.  I think I need to do this more.”  It’s quite true then what Mrs. Sieveking says, “There is this about the education that comes to us in the out-of-door study of natural history, it never lets us go when once it has taken hold of us.” Here’s to inspiration!

                                                                                Wander away and away
                                                                                   With Nature, the dear old nurse,
                                                                               Who will sing to them night and day
                                                                                  The rhymes of the universe.

Geography By the Way: A Family Travel Log

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old
dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

The long Labor Day weekend provided a much needed opportunity for a quick family getaway to our neighboring state New Mexico. My two eldest children were especially interested in exploring the old southwest and experiencing first hand what they have read in Holling C. Holling’s The Tree In The Trail. As teacher and mother, I was giddy at the chance to broaden the geographical feast for our family.  In Home Education Miss Mason states, “But the value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures” (Mason, 1925a, p. 272).  Here was an opportunity to feed our minds up close and personal…

When one thinks of Colonial American history, we often picture Puritans at Plymouth Rock, or the first permanent English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia. But here in the southwest, the Pueblo Indians and the Spanish invaders established a vibrant culture long before the English ventured across the North Atlantic. Conquistadors and holy men like Coronado, Juan de Onate, and Cabeza de Vaca mixed with the native inhabitants to form a vibrant culture filled with elaborate webs of friendship, trade, alliances, and conflict that continue to shape modern New Mexico.
Although it’s a mere couple hundred miles from us here in Colorado Springs, this “Land of Enchantment” truly is a unique and breathtaking country. Making our way south past the Spanish Peaks, we found ourselves traversing the old Santa Fe Trail up and over Raton Pass (Did you know that ‘Raton’ is Spanish for ‘mouse’?). What took them upwards of three days to summit in ox-drawn wagons brimming with beaver pelts, only required a paltry 15-minutes in our family sedan. Having brought along Holling’s book, as we ascended the top of the pass, we read of the treacherous journey trappers and tradesmen made in their quest for the Santa Fe trading post.
From the crest of the hill, the majestic grasslands of New Mexico lay spread out before us like a quilt. For fun, our children starting a game of who could count the most out of the hundreds of antelope dotting the roadside.  One enthusiast counted 155!  It was easy to see why human beings have been calling this place home for centuries, seeking out a living farming and herding these vast grasslands. In fact, this land is so cherished by her inhabitants that she’s simply called Querencia, which is Spanish for “the beloved place.” There is a true sense of place here, and even people who no longer farm for a living still feel an intimate connection with the landscape. Author Keith Basso describes sense of place as “the idea of home… of entire regions and local landscapes where groups have invested themselves, and to which they feel they belong.”

Climbing out of these high prairies and into the mountains we finally made our way into Santa Fe. And the first stop, food! The Pantry has been serving authentic New Mexican cuisine since 1948 and after taking our orders of breakfast burritos, papas (potatoes), enchiladas, and chili relines, our server asked us the official question of New Mexico: “red or green chili”? New Mexico is literally the only state in the union with its own question! That’s how famous their chili is! And, if you want to go crazy, get it Christmas style, with both red and green chili topping your order.
Santa Fe sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is actually the oldest capital city in North America and the oldest European city west of the Mississippi. Known now for her art, culture, and museums, the city boasts a vibrant tourism scene where Native Americans line the plaza square selling their home made textiles. Our children were especially excited to visit the historic Palace of the Governors, originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain's seat of government for the American Southwest. The adobe structure houses the state’s history museum and was landmarked an American Treasure in 1999. And just like a few hundred years ago, the structure looks out on the central Plaza which is still filled with artisans, tradesman, and jewelers selling their goods to tourists.

Just up the street is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Romanesque structure dominates the skyline and reminds visitors of New Mexico’s strong ties to Catholicism. Here we stopped to witness the profound artistry of the stations of the cross.

Although New Mexico borders Colorado, it feels like a world away. The culture and people are steeped in a beautiful web of Spanish and Native American roots that one rarely sees in modern North America. Simply being a minority was a learning experience for our children, who are daily surrounded by people who look and talk just as they do. The American West has always beckoned people to wonder and seek what lies just over the next ridge. It’s a wild, arid, and unforgiving landscape that intrigues the imagination and extends an invitation to explore.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” —Marcel Proust

Poetry in Summer

June 20th we usher in the summer solstice.  We welcome a season of slowing down and taking in the warmth and beauty that summer brings.  It is a time to rest and contemplate--to let our souls be revived by the season's offerings.  I find myself longing to swing on a hammock or rest beneath a shade tree with a book of collected poems to be read in solitude or perhaps with three lazy heads in my arms.  The beauty of the poet's words paints a picture of the simple, yet profound created world that points us to the Divine.  Charlotte Mason states, "Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers" (Ourselves, p. 71).  This summer, why not select a favorite poet or even discover a new favorite or perhaps take in a collection of poems for the season?  Open yourself up to what the Spirit would reveal to be true, beautiful and good through the most intimate of teachers.

Summmer Sun

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose; 
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays. 

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool, 
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through. 

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad; 
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles. 

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground, 
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy's inmost nook. 

Above the hills, along the blue, 
Round the bright air with footing true, 
To please the child, to paint the rose, 
The gardener of the World, he goes. 

Enjoy other poems this summer by Robert Louis Stevenson in collected works such as:

Ideas on Justice

"Justice requires that we should take steady care every day to yield his rights to every person we come in contact with; that is, "to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us: to hurt nobody by word or deed" -Mason, Ourselves

This week we pause to remember, and seek to live into the dream given us by Dr. Martin Luther King. As America's pre-eminant civl rights activist, Reverend King led an organized, non-violent resistence movement seeking freedom, equality, and justice for African Americans. Each year I sit down with my children to recap this watershed moment in US history by watching Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I cry every time. He was an incredibly gifted orator that captured imaginations and inspired change by offering through poetic passion a brighter vision for our shared future. Watch the full speech here:


As I sit 50 years later and listen to Dr. King alongside my 11 year old daughter, I'm amazed at the connections she makes by taking in this particular moment in history. She is transported to the reflecting pool in Washington, D.C. of which she has just read in Halliburton's Book of Marvels. "There's the Washington Monument!" Our eyes scan the gathering crowd, come to bear witness to their own full humanity. We follow the crowd up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and rest our gaze upon Dr. King. Looking on with a solemn, yet peaceful countenance is that collosal statue of Abraham Lincoln, whose ominous presence seems to echo his approval of the movement he initiatied a century earlier. In fact, the words etched in marble beside Lincoln speak to the character of the man we are reading about in Lincoln's World.

As he speaks, King draws you into the world he envisions by referencing well-known icons in America's public and private history. His prophetic voice calls upon Scripture, geography, literature, and folk songs to paint a vision of a new and inclusive America free from racial inequality and injustice. Even the average listener is struck by the depth and breadth of his education, a self-education, drawing from the best minds and ideas from every educational discipline. My daughter takes notice. "He's talking about the things I'm reading!" Ideas are being discerned. Minds and hearts are being formed. King embodies the belief that education is not simply well-stored information, but that it is "passed, like the light of a torch, from mind to mind, and the flame can be kindled at original minds only." Ideas have consequences, both for good and for evil. As Maryellen St. Cyr reminds us "The nature of knowing begins with ideas, the live things of the mind, that strike, impress, seize, and catch hold of one. Ideas are the initiators of habits of thought and habits of action." And if a recent Duke University study is correct, that over 50% of life is performed through habitual actions, the ideas that form our thoughts and habits are eternally important.

Our role as parents and educators is to place before our children the daily nourishment of ideas by way of living books-yes, even living moments caught on tape- that promote "living thought". We then allow the mind of the child to do it's work. The work of attending, reflecting, and using what has been apprehended. It is through the time of reflection, this seeking of knowledge through meditation and contemplation in the quiet and through the life experiences we encounter that the ideas either take hold or fall away. And if ideas, as Charlotte Mason says, "...are of spiritual origin", then we come to discern the knowledge of God's truth, beauty and love in this world. Miss Mason believed that ideas in education would intruct the conscience and lead to right action as made evident in the life of Dr. King.

In the midst of great struggle and unrest-a dark blot on human justice, I witness King as a child of God, a child formed by noble, living thoughts and experiences rise up to proclaim these ideas of spiritual origin, to live out right action or what Dr. King states as "God's will" in his life. May we accpet the tremendous priviledge and responsibilty to allow the torch to be passed to our children and nurture the profound principle that Education is a Life.

The Atmosphere of Advent

"Mommy, why do we light these candles anyway?" This from my probing seven year old. It is a valid question as we prepare our home for the advent season. It wasn't too long ago that I began asking this same type of question during this most wonderful time of the year. Back then I didn't think much about advent, let alone really know what it meant. The month of December for me was the typical pulling out of Christmas decorations, writing a hundred Christmas cards, baking, shopping and attending a slew of holiday parties. It was all exhaustingly fun. That is until, like my son, I began asking myself, "why am I doing all this anyway?". "For the vast majority of us, December flies by in a flurry of activities, and what is called 'the holiday season' turns out to be the most stressful time of the year. It is also a time of contrasting emotions. We are eager, yet frazzled; sentimental, yet indifferent. One minute we glow at the thought of getting together with our family and friends; the next we feel utterly lonely. Our hope is mingled with dread, our anticipation with despair. We sense the deeper meanings of the season but grasp at them in vain; and in the end, all the bustle leaves us frustrated and drained." (Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, introduction) Not exactly the atmosphere of holiday cheer.

Just as the Christ candle in the advent wreath signifies the light of God coming into the world through his son Jesus, so too does His light shine to reveal understanding when we stand aside and allow the Holy Spirit to teach.

Education is formation. The formation of our mind, heart and soul is taking place through our education. Charlotte Mason states that "Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline and a Life". In other words, our atmosphere forms us, our discipline forms us--they form the one life we live out in this world. One of the most formative experiences that shapes the rhythm, order, and meaning to life is the calendar. Think about it, how we mark time says a lot about what we believe to be true about ourselves and the world around us. How we tell time is in itself a formative educational experience. It roots us in a particular narrative. The holidays that make up our calendar reinforce reality through the atmosphere of celebrations, festivals, parades, and tributes. Think for just a moment about our American calendar. What we choose to observe says a lot about what we value: President’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving. Together they reinforce a specific narrative about who we are and our place in the world.

Since her inception, the church has been telling time in her own unique way. The liturgical calendar moves in and out of the world around us creating an atmosphere of 'holy days' or holidays. It grounds us in God’s story and it is the lens through which we read and interpret the history of the world. In particular, the church's way of telling time begins with Advent, a period of longing, anticipation, and hope. It is a time that we recall the prophets' patience for the long-awaited King. It is the recovery of how to live in a world of impatience as a patient people awaiting the second adventus. But just how do we do this in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and despair?

We create an atmosphere that reflects the lighted candles of the advent wreath: hope, peace, love and joy. We slowly read the scriptures on which to meditate these godly virtues. We read noble stories from Dickens and sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". We spend balanced time with loved ones and serve those in need. We feast on such things and bear witness to how our atmosphere has formed us: by how we live out our lives with the same hope, peace, love and joy. "Mommy, why do we light these candles anyway?" We light them for the atmosphere of advent.

Small Things

A walk on a mild autumn afternoon amidst the falling golden Aspens. The air is warm and crisp. The wind rustles the quaking leaves. The color is brilliant hues of yellow, gold and brown. It is quiet. The sky a deep blue that contrasts the fading summer vegetation and complements the bright fingers that reach up to offer their crowns of gold. Take it in…

Sit down by the waters’ edge, a bit cooler here, but the sun’s warmth wraps around just enough. Squirrels play. A curious fowl befriends. The water sparkles like a million twinkling lights. Brush to paper. Take it in deeper…

Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr states, "One flower, one frog, one dog, one tree—that’s what it takes to pull you into the depth of anything. And when you get to the depth of anything, for some wonderful reason, you have the power to get to the deeper stream, the universal. God is found at the depth of anything." A Mason education is designed to take it in and go ‘into the depth of anything’. We read Frost, Dickens and Shakespeare. We listen to Brahms, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. We look at the works of Monet, Durer and Constable. We contemplate Job and the gospels. We take it all in slowly, deeply. We work with our hands to sew, hammer and dig. We take nature walks to awaken our senses to keen observation that reveals our Creator’s handiwork and character. We take in the particular, that which perhaps most of the world might consider small things.

Small things for many go unnoticed because we live in a fast-paced, self-indulgent culture that is constantly distracting us from taking in the small things in a small way. Here is a great sadness and neglect of education and the fullness of life. Education is in the slow, simple, small things. In her chapter entitled Education and the Fullness of Life Mason writes, "We are doing something; we are trying to open the book of nature to children by the proper key—knowledge, acquaintance by look and name, if not more, with bird and flower and tree; we see too, that the magic of poetry makes knowledge vital, and children and grown-ups quote a verse which shall add blackness to the ashbud, tender wonder to that ‘flower in the crannied wall,’ a thrill to the song of the lark…Saturday rambles mean not only ‘life,’ but splendid joy." (Mason, vol. 6 A Philosophy of Education)

Small things reveal universal truth, beauty and goodness. In a Mason education, we take these in through the study of God’s man, God’s world and God Himself. We do this slowly, little by little, in small ways to digest the ideas on which we have feasted. In this way we build relationships with this world and it’s story. "What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future—with all above us and all about us—and that fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of." (Mason, vol. 3 School Education)

When we are in relationship we devote ourselves to something other than ourselves. We see the humanity in others and ourselves reflected in them. We see God reflected in His creation. And we begin to care. Small things make us care. Small things begin great works within ourselves to go, do and be in this world. So, take them in. Take them into the depths.

"Small Things" by Anna Kamienska

It usually starts taking shape

from one word

reveals itself in one smile

sometimes in the blue glint of eyeglasses

in a trampled daisy

in a splash of light on a path

in quivering carrot leaves

in a bunch of parsley

It comes from laundry hung on a balcony

from hands thrust into dough

It sleeps through closed eyelids

as through the prison wall of things of objects

of faces of landscapes

It’s when you slice bread

when you pour out some tea

It comes from a broom from a shopping bag

from peeling new potatoes

from a drop of blood from the prick of a needle

when making panties for a child

or sewing a button on a husband’s burial shirt

It comes of toil out of care

out of the immense fatigue in the evening

out of tear wiped away

out of a prayer broken off in mid-word by sleep

It’s not from the grand

but from the tiny thing

that it grows enormous

as if Someone was building Eternity

as a swallow its nest

out of clumps of moments

Serenity of a Madonna

I’m sick. " ‘I cannot go to school today,’ said little Peggy Ann McKay. I have the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash and purple bumps."1 It comes to my mind. This silly poem I committed to memory ions ago for a high school english class. Not quite Shakespeare, but it works. Anyway, I’m sick. And it’s a no wonder. To kick off the new school year, everyone of my children have come down with terrible colds. Passing it from the eldest to the youngest. I thought I’d made it unscathed. But alas, the sore throat, fever and congestion settled in yesterday afternoon-ugh! While the cold virus is much to blame, I fear I am a guilty accomplice. Lately, I’ve been working too much. The start of a new school year brings extra work. New schedules, new books to order, new co-op, new book study…not to mention keeping up with house duties, family, and friends. I could see it coming. The sickness. I sensed within myself how things were becoming unbalanced. I was throwing everything into work, which meant neglecting other things. Oh, I still made time to bring dinner to a friend, check in on my parents and chat with a neighbor. But on the whole, I let all the ‘to-do’s’ rule the roost. And I’ve been left wanting, needing…the serenity of a Madonna?

"The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents."2

I don’t know about you, but I could use a dose of that. We, as mothers, as teachers, have to give ourselves the permission to do these things and choose to do these things. For if we do not our efforts in our work, and in our schooling will be left wanting. Everyone suffers. Beautiful schedules become check-lists, listening to narrations becomes daunting and going outside is put off for another day. The look of a Madonna? I’m pretty sure it’s more like a deer in headlights these days.

It’s funny how sickness makes you slow down, stop even. You have to take a day for yourself, but it would be much better to take it without the lozenges and mounds of kleenex. It would be better to include those days, those moments during our day to allow the look of the Madonna to penetrate us, calm us, influence our hearts. How so?

My walls are not adorned with Madonnas from the Masters, maybe they should be. I do however have the choice to make space to be in relationship with the one who is the source of that serenity. For me, the act of prayer and space for contemplation is one of the most vital practices that keeps me centered. Over the past several years I’ve been intrigued by the discipline of praying the hours much like the ancients. I’m not perfect at it, but I have found that when I put it into practice regularly, I gain perspective. It "pries me out of myself and stretches me beyond myself so that I can come someday, perhaps, to be my best self."3 It isn’t coincidental that when I fall out of the regular practice of prayer and meditation I am not at my best self. I begin a downward spiral that doesn’t leave room for poetry, art and lovely nature walks. "…without prayer, the energy for the rest of life runs down."4

Why is this so? The thing about prayer is that it "… is the filter through which we view our worlds. Prayer provokes us to see the life around us in fresh, new ways."5 It breathes new life that opens us up to receive the present beauty. It opens us up to see the hawk soar overhead, to hear the rustle of the aspen, to feel the breeze across our face, to smell the burning early autumn leaves. And then…then you feel it. The peace that comes from being fully present, fully human. The peaceful serenity of a Madonna.