I will love what I do, and I will pray daily for God's grace to help me love those things which I need to love and do not. He will answer my prayer abundantly, in his own way and in his own time. I know this; I have lived this; but that is another story.
Loving what I do matters greatly because my children are born persons--brilliant, caring, needing, broken persons with the amazing ability to detect my hypocrisy long before I even know I'm being a hypocrite. Likewise, they also know when I am being a faithful guide, philosopher, and friend. We are ignorant fools if we think this love does not matter.
At the beginning of the third and final day of the LER, we heard from a panel of teens educated for most of their schooling with Charlotte Mason's educational philosophies and methods. What a privilege it was to hear them speak. They spoke about things their parents had done well and about things they had not done well. Some spoke about being a part of the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (The Hive) learning community, and it was in this context I realized how much loving what I do matters--because it matters to our children.
One teen shared of learning from other teachers in the community--
"The moms teaching what they really love and what they are good at."
This is what mattered to him. And it is what matters to my children and the children in my community. Three years ago, the plate I brought to the feast was pretty empty. I had no love for anything beautiful; I was not good at anything that would even begin to remotely constitute a Charlotte Mason education. But by God's grace, I am not where I was, and as I look to the future, I'm not where I will be.
Then, I heard from a mom who loves what she does. Kristen Spittle led us in an immersion on Economics, a subject she taught for the teens in The Hive, a subject which, for the children's sake, she loved. I don't think she loved economics or had a background in it before she began teaching the subject for the community. I think she was a humble servant, stepping outside her comfort zone and choosing to invest herself deeply in a subject because she loved the teens in her community. As a result, it fed her soul, too.
Miss Mason, more than a century ago, shared this wisdom with the graduates from the House of Education, the teacher training school at Ambleside.
It is astonishing how little fire will kindle a torch, and this is a thought to encourage us in depressed moments if we were not all too healthy minded to have any such moments! But, please remember that enthusiasm is a fire that throws out lights and heat at a cost of constant waste of fuel. Do not for a moment suppose that you can warm yourselves and others for months together upon the original stock you brought from Ambleside [or the LER]. Every day new “thoughts that burn” must be supplied or the fire will go out and present the dreariest of all spectacles, a desolate hearth. Where shall we get new ideas? … Read, not only in The Book, which one cannot read without many life-giving thoughts, but almost any good book, poetry, biography, history, essays, good novels,--all will supply our need. … Never be without a really good book in hand. If you find yourself sinking to a dull commonplace level, with nothing particular to say, the reason is probably that you are not reading and, therefore, not thinking.
…[I] will offer just one other little word of counsel--study. I know that all good teachers have some study each day in preparing for the next day’s work, but, besides this, study some two or three subjects, definitely on your own account. Do not think this a selfish thing to do, because the advantage does not end with yourself. Every hour of definite study enriches your mind and increases your power, so that, the more you study in your spare time, the more there is in you to bestow upon your pupils.1
Have you ever thrown a stone into the water and watched the circles about it spread? As a matter of fact, they spread to the very shores of the pond or lake or sea into which you have thrown the stone; more, they affect the land on the further side. But those distant circles become so faint that they are imperceptible, while those nearest the point where you have thrown in the stone are clearly marked. So it is with our Love. It is as if, in the first place, our home were the stone thrown in to move our being; and from that central point the circle of our love widens until it embraces all men.2
This quote came from Joy Shannon's workshop An Outward Focus. She shared with us how a Mason education should not draw our eyes inward to self but rather to an outward focus on others. This drives me to carefully consider those things which I'm choosing to love. Do my choices, my priorities, and my use of time reflect a love of self which keeps me from serving others? Am I greedily building a pile of useless stones, saying, "Mine."? Or, am I in faith taking each and every one--my life, the lives of my children, my home--and tossing them into the water, saying, "Your will be done."?
It is not just Miss Mason who calls us to this outward focus, is it?
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Almost a quarter of a century ago I wrote poetry, and then, for over two decades, there was nothing. It was just this last year, during a random nature study, that a few short lines wriggled their way forth from my mind and my hand, a little spark looking for its home.
It was during Art Middlekauff's plenary, A Dangerous Adventure, the spark was fanned to flame. It is not for me to share the details of Art's plenary. It was raw, emotional, beautiful. He left with each of us a part of himself--his story, which only he has the privilege to share. I have but one quote written in my notes. "I did not want art...I wanted Christ." For the rest of the session, my pen and paper forgotten, I could do nothing more than cling to his words and listen. And at the end, I wanted to write poetry. But perhaps it was stronger than that. I needed to write poetry; I had to write poetry. The words were there and would not give me rest until they were ink on paper.
I do not claim to be a good poet; I know I am not. But that is not the point, is it, in a Charlotte Mason education? We are encouraged simply to live. Below, I share the poem I wrote in the days following the LER.
The Dead Among Us
My eyes scanned the horizon
where tree met sky.
Beauty--deep, rich greens and blues
entwined in dance.
The soft laughter of the leaves,
the play of sun.
What could possibly compare?
Life. This was life.
But in the midst stood a tree,
bare, broken, dead,
Like a burn, an ugly scar.
It had to go.
An invasion of beauty,
Stripped of leaves, in places bark;
I could fix this.
To the shed for the old ax,
heavy and cold.
I returned to the dead tree
and said goodbye.
Axe in hand...but a whisper
stayed the swing.
"Don't take the dead among us.
It is beauty."
It is jarring, unsightly.
"It is wisdom.
It has been here for decades,
"It has a story to tell
of joy and pain,
No other tree can unfold,
if you listen.
"Its time will come; it will fall;
it will decay.
Your ignorance of beauty
hides how quickly."
I let my ax drop aside.
My empty hand,
My hesitant hand, reached out
and touched the gnarl.
All stopped for a long moment.
A choice to make.
Was there beauty in the blood?
The wind, sky, sun, leaves returned.
The tree still there,
But in its place stood beauty
where death once was.
2 Mason, Charlotte. Ourselves, Book 1, pp.81-82