New Year’s Day (excerpt from Honest, Simple Souls)

I am not advising any Spartan regimen. It is not permitted to us to inflict hardness in order that the children may learn to endure. Our care is simply to direct their consciousness from their own sensations…At the same time, though the child himself be taught to disregard them, his sensations should be carefully watched by his elders, for they must consider and act upon the danger signals which the child himself must be taught to disregard. But it is usually possible to attend to a child’s sensations without letting him know they have been observed.

Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, pp. 287-288

We are assured here that what may sound harsh is actually a reminder that parents need to keep their eyes open for their children’s needs, without noticeably interfering. In one sense it requires an impossible amount of wisdom and discernment; but it can also be a simple outgrowth of our own will to live without self-obsession and self-importance. It is a form of “masterly inactivity,” that also teaches children to quietly, respectfully, and non-intrusively care in the same way for the needs of others.

And why? The point of not complaining is to allow us to see God’s glory, and we can’t do it if we’re focused on our own circumstances. Classical headmaster Danny Breed once wrote that, “Every lesson is going to go somewhere, and it is going to make much of something” (Circe Institute blog, February 1, 2016). That something, in Charlotte Mason’s words, is meant to be something, or Someone, outside of ourselves. It is not just how we live, but why we live.

In the spirit of the season

Do our New Year’s resolutions allow us to live without excessive self-regard (while still understanding our value as Personsouls)? Do they help us to hear God’s call and see His glory?

Although it is still Christmastide, many people (due to time realities) may be putting away their trees and decorations. Consider keeping out any star-themed ornaments, dishes, etc., for use on Twelfth Night and Epiphany.

Honest, Simple Souls: An Advent Meditation with Charlotte Mason is available for purchase on Amazon.com (or your own country’s version).

Christmas Thoughts from Charlotte Mason

(An excerpt from Honest, Simple Souls)

Christmas Eve: That Which We Cannot Understand

The final three chapters are titled Thanksgiving, Praise, and Faith in God. They carry one overall message: that we may consider ourselves to be smallandunimportantselves, without great talents or special knowledge; but as human beings, Personsouls, we share both the opportunity and the duty to know, love, and serve our heavenly Father.

There are poets to whom it is given to utter some vital word, painters who present us with “The Light of the World,” or, like the Russian painter, Ivan Kramskoi, with a vision of Christ seated in the wilderness. Such as these praise God, we know, but they are few and far between.

So, too, do honest, simple souls who bear affliction willingly, or who live their appointed lives with the sense that they are appointed. All of these ways of giving praise we recognise and bow before; but the duty would seem to pass us by as incompetent persons. We are not angels, we carry no harps. But the duty of praise is not for occasional or rare seasons; it waits at our doors every day. (pp. 194-195)

Where we err is in supposing that mystery is confined to our religion, that everything else is obvious and open to our understanding. Whereas the great things of life, birth, death, hope, love, patriotism, why a leaf is green, and why a bird is clothed in feathers—all such things as these are mysteries; and it is only as we can receive that which we cannot understand, and can discern the truth of that which we cannot prove, and can distinguish between a luminous mystery and a bewildering superstition, that we are able to live the full life for which we were made. (pp. 200-201)

In the spirit of the season

This assurance is not the cool conclusion of a successful argument. It is rather the seizing at last of Something which we have ever felt near us and enticing us: the unspeakably simple because completely inclusive solution of all the puzzles of life.

(Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism)

Do whatever creates beauty, wisdom, and love in your life and the lives of others today. Seize the assurance of the Something which we know to be near us; the Person who came as the Unspeakably Simple, to offer us God’s “completely inclusive solution.”

A new book for Advent

Just published at Amazon: An Advent-themed 24-day tour through Charlotte Mason’s book Ourselves Book II. There are also readings for the twelve days of Christmas, drawing on her essay “The Eternal Child” which ends the book Parents and Children.

The title Honest, Simple Souls is taken from the chapter “Praise,” near the end of Ourselves.

So, too, do honest, simple souls who bear affliction willingly, or who live their appointed lives with the sense that they are appointed. All of these ways of giving praise we recognise and bow before; but the duty would seem to pass us by as incompetent persons. We are not angels, we carry no harps. But the duty of praise is not for occasional or rare seasons; it waits at our doors every day. (pp. 194-195)

Let’s open the door to praise, both in this rare season and beyond.

Studying the less honourable (The Plutarch Project Volume Nine)

Why study Alcibiades?

Even scholars who have studied Alcibiades for years are still trying to decide if his accomplishments outweigh his mistakes and faults.For Plutarch, there are two “telling details” about Alcibiades: the sight of him flouncing along the street in a purple robe; and the extra-soft bed that he had fitted out on his warship. Neither of these examples, in Plutarch’s opinion, showed the right kind of dignity, resolve or courage for a virtuous leader. In the case of Alcibiades, his double-dealing and lack of personal restraint (including his involvement with the wife of a Spartan king) eventually led to a horrible death.

So why study Alcibiades, particularly in our context of character and citizenship studies? Do we read it only as a negative example of what not to do? Do we admire his intelligence, if not his ethics?

I would like to suggest at least two reasons. First, when we look at Alcibiades himself, we learn something about the qualities necessary for leadership, and see how those qualities were or weren’t apparent in his life. What mistakes did he make? How did he become powerful, and how did he abuse that power?

Second, we can consider the role that citizens play in civil affairs. How can we choose our leaders carefully? What basis do we have for following someone or turning against him? How do we react if we think our leaders have done wrong? There is much to consider here about crowd behaviour and the effects of propaganda.

A Dividing Line.—Both Shakespeare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will…To make even a suggestive list would be to range over all history and literature. Let me say again, however, that here is a line of study which should make our reading profitable, as making us intimate with persons, and the more able for life. (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves)

(From The Plutarch Project Volume Nine, now available on Amazon.com)