To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I’ve endeavoured to follow Charlotte Mason’s principles in my homeschool and my own education, I have found Emerson’s words to ring true. I’m learning to have attentive eyes. Eyes that for many years saw dimly; eyes that are now slowly opening wider to the world around, aligning my heart and imagination to the beauty and goodness of my Creator.
The Attentive Eye: Habits of Attention and Observation
The habit of attention is one of the key tenets learnt in a Charlotte Mason education:
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is, to quote words of weight, ‘within the reach of every one, and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline’; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. (Vol. 1, p. 146)
The habit of observation is almost synonymous to the habit of attention. In laying down the groundwork for understanding science, Charlotte put emphasis on this habit by reminding us to let the children, consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.
In reading her volumes and practicing her methods, we realise how integral attention and observation are to the child’s education. A trained eye is necessary if the child is to embody what they have learned. These of habits of attention and observation are formed in a number of ways:
- In the insistence of a single reading
- When practicing narration
- In using living books, where the attention is captured using knowledge communicated in well-chosen language
- By having short alternating lessons done in allotted times
- By not allowing dawdling over any lesson
- By engaging in nature studies
My children have amazed me as they have learnt to pay attention through all these practices. I am jealous for what they have — I desire to have it too!
In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater eloquently brings to our consideration the connection between the habits of attention and observation and the revelation of ‘knowing glory’. She refers to Charlotte Mason’s Meditation on John 1:14:
Perhaps this is one of the secrets of life — to know ‘glory’ when we see it. Moses prayed, ‘I beseech Thee show me Thy glory,’ and the answer was, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before thee,’ and for three and thirty years all the goodness of God, which is His glory, passed up and down in the eyes of men. (Scale How Meditations, p. 49)
Laurie opens our eyes to the fact that through Charlotte Mason’s simple method of being a keeper of notebooks and journals, our observations awaken us to encounters of glory in the world around us. Through this one practice of attending we learn to mindfully step away from distraction and the busy-ness of life –deliberately taking the time to look out for the manifest Goodness of God. Knowing glory is a possible secret to life! If we have attentive eyes and hearts, God’s Glory is everywhere for us to see.
Children: Trailing Clouds of Glory
‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Except ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ ‘And He called a little child, and set him in the midst.’ Here is the Divine estimate of the child’s estate. It is worth while for parents to ponder every utterance in the Gospels about these children …
“Trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.” (Vol. 1, p. 12)
As a mother I need to constantly remind myself of this.
The baby that is teething and causing sleepless nights, the toddler who throws tantrums when you forget he doesn’t like his bread cut diagonally, the ten year old who seems to always forget to put her clothes in the wash basket — they’re all trailing clouds of glory.
Parenthood is sanctifying.
He Reveals His Glory in Nature
As the northern hemisphere looks forward to the glories of summer, here in Southern Africa, we are revelling in the last blossoming show of beauty before our mild winter comes and turns the landscape into beautiful hues of brown and gold. The Poinsettias wave the summer goodbye, the Pretoria Aloes are ablaze and the Wild Himalayan Cherry blossoms are a reminder of the changing season and a promise of a future spring.
In paying attention to the beauty that surrounds me, I learn to praise like the Psalmist.
[T]he duty of praise is not for occasional or rare seasons; it waits at our doors every day … the great Artificer, like every loving craftsman, delights in the recognition by others of the beauty, perfection, and fitness of the work He turns out. It is so good to know this of our God; it draws Him near to us with the cords of a man. The Psalmist knew that “the merciful and gracious Lord hath so done His marvellous works that they ought to be had in remembrance.” He was never weary of telling how, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork,” how, “He feedeth the young ravens when they call upon Him,” how, “all the trees of the wood do clap their hands.” (Vol. 4, p. 195)
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
His Glory seen in the Mirror of His Word
… but whenever a person turns [in repentance and faith] to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]. And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)
I desire to behold, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord. I wish to ponder and treasure the Word of God in my heart.
In my devotional time I have been learning to exercise the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, Divine Reading. It is teaching me to read the scriptures attentively (Lectio), to think and meditate on them deeply (Meditatio), to pray those scriptures (Oratio) and lastly to contemplate and ruminate upon them (Contemplatio) so that they are embodied in my life — life begetting life!
I’m slowing down and listening. Learning to exchange the image of mortal man for the glory of immortal God.
His Glory in my Neighbour
In her fourth volume Charlotte calls to our attention that there are,
…beautiful qualities in the poorest nature to call forth our reverence. There is seldom a daily paper but reveals the unsuspected glory in some human soul. (p. 146)
In The Weight of Glory C. S. Lewis reminds us:
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat [truly hideth] — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
Lord humble my heart and fill me with your love; help me to see the glory in those around me, I pray.
Created for His Glory
I’m learning to mindfully step away from the busy-ness of life as I practice a divine reading of the scriptures. All other distractions loose their power to steal my peace and joy when I’m arrested by his Glory.
I praise Him in awe because of the Glory shining through His creation. I’m watching out for the ‘trailing clouds of glory’ on the faces of my children and making the choice to love the ‘possible gods and goddesses’ in my community.
The scriptures say that we were created for His Glory, to let our light (His light) shine among men and in turn to give glory to our Father in heaven.
We beseech Thee Lord, may our eyes be unveiled, and may we see thy Glory!