Jesus gave us a model for living a connected life. He said,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
Our family spent over twenty years living abroad because of the development work my husband does. Our first assignment, as a newly married couple, was in the picturesque Sibiu, Romania. We arrived there a year after their communist president Nicolae Ceaușescu was ousted and executed. Hardships were aplenty and it was there that we learnt the importance of community and what it meant to belong. We cherish those memories dearly.
They had a lifestyle of connection.
Our landlady taught me that Gogoși (donuts) were not to be made in a mixing bowl but in a bucket, for neighbours were to be fed too! At harvest time we received cherries, in crates, to be distributed to those around us. When wine-making season arrived, it was a village affair, big and little people eagerly stomping on home-grown grapes. We learnt to have an open-house, open-kitchen policy, it was how everyone lived. Generously investing in relationships.
We did eventually have to leave though; the work assignment was done and a new contract had to be signed. Our hearts were uprooted and we yearned for another extended family to love.
For the first ten years I missed Zimbabwe, my native home, terribly. There were moments when my greatest desire was to dig my hands in ‘home soil’ and I wept with longing. I thank God that we were able to visit it occasionally. Eventually the pain eased but we always looked forward to the day when we could settle again, to be a part of a community where our family could make long-term connections.
We did finally have the opportunity to settle back in my homeland. We’ve been back for over five years but the wanderlust, in my older children especially, has been strong. They struggle with being ‘third-culture’ kids: they never had the chance to put firm roots into any one place.
We’ve prayerfully processed what this means for our family and have tried to develop a sense of belonging to a community and culture. It is a slow process.
Wired to Connect
In her TED talk about ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, Brene Brown says that,
… connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about.
We are ‘neurobiologically wired’ to connect and it’s the reason we are here.
I thank God for a classical, Charlotte Mason education. It’s been a journey of connecting, of learning to know and be known: learning to belong.
The days have gone by when the education befitting either a gentleman or an artisan was our aim. Now we must deal with a child of man … as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships, — to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know. (Vol. 6, p. 157)
Here we have our educational rights: to know that we are sons and daughters of the almighty Father and that we are connected to family, city, church, nation, neighbouring nation, the world and universe.
First things first …
The Knowledge of the Father
In devising a curriculum for our children, we read that,
… the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making. (Vol 6, p. 158)
This is intimate knowledge with Father God. Not just to know of or about Him, but to know Him personally and to be known by Him. As we abide with our Lord and He abides in us, we learn to make that knowledge of Him of the utmost importance in the education of our children.
And as we learn to commune with Him that relationship impacts ourselves, our families, our neighbours our nation and the world.
Ourselves: We belong to the King
When our children are young we being to lay down the rails of habit for a self-controlled and ordered way of life (Education is a Discipline). A trained life that is not focused on how good their external conduct looks, their performance, but on the internal relationships with God, oneself, others and the world.
Charlotte Mason wrote a whole volume for the children (and might I add that parents and teachers would benefit from it too): Ourselves, Improving Character and Conscience. She wrote it to make “an appeal to the young to make the most of themselves, because of the vast possibilities that are in them and of the law of God which constrains them”.
Learning to know themselves and their relationship with their King. Learning what it means to have ‘ordered affections’: Ordo Amoris.
Each has his own distinct job to do to keep Mansoul running smoothly. If every one does his own work, and if they all work together, then the Kingdom of Mansoul is happy and prosperous … Assistants of the Body, or what we call appetites. Then come the Managers of the Revenue, also called Desires. Then the Managers of the Treasury, also called the Affections. Then the Foreign Secretary, or the Intellect, and his co-workers, My Lord Chief Explorer (the imagination), and My Lord President of The Arts (the beauty sense). Then is the Lord Attorney-General, that is, the Reason. Then the Lords of the House of Heart, which are the Lord Chief Justice (the conscience), and the Prime Minister (the will). There are various other Officers of State … but these are the main ones … Above and beyond all of these is the King. Mansoul is a kingdom, after all.” (Vol. 4, p. 10)
We are not left to ourselves; we have a King who governs us, whose power upholds us, and whom we glorify by every little effort of ours not to enter into temptation. (Vol. 4, p. 119)
… there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting an effect as the atmosphere of home. And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves — literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them. There is no pretence here or possibility of evasion; we may deceive ourselves: in the long run, we never deceive our children. The spirit of home lives, and, what is more, [home atmosphere], is accentuated in them. Atmosphere is much more than teaching, and infinitely more than talk.’ (‘The Atmosphere of Home’ by M. F. Jerrold)
In expanding on Charlotte Mason’s principle ‘Education is an Atmosphere’, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote that the atmosphere within the family comes first, whatever abnormalities it may face.
We aim toward an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, within the stability of honouring God’s law .. the child gains a deep acceptance, individual value, and a place for creativity while experiencing satisfying relationships.
In the family the child will learn to make space in her bedroom when Granny comes over for the weekend; to help prepare a meal for a family friend who has just had a baby or to take extra care not to be noisy because Papa has had a hard day and needs some quiet.
When we utilise this principle, we are teaching the children that they belong, they are learning to connect with those around them.
My family belongs to a wonderful little community where we are blessed by weekly meetings consisting of hymns, folksongs, poetry, art, handicrafts, tales and Shakespeare. We’ve prayed together, broken bread; danced on the lawn, waving banners in worship; shared awe, attention, joyful and sad moments; we’ve learned to belong.
Our children have formed strong bonds that go beyond our weekly gathering. It’s lovely to hear young voices shouting ‘bye’ as they drive off to sleepovers or movie nights with friends; to listen to the giggles over dogberryisms in our readings of Shakespeare and to watch them run of to play with the frisbee when we are done.
And the moms? We have monthly book study meetings that ‘mostly’ go as planned. We have had many evenings where we just needed to put the books aside and listen to heavy hearts or just giggle the evenings away with silliness. Chocolate, wine and good food have become a necessary part of these times together. We cherish these ‘girl’ nights out.
To know and be known! Giving purpose and meaning to our lives.
In my next post I’ll be looking at how we are learning to belong to a nation, the nature around us and the world at large.
Do you long to belong to a community? Dawn Duran has written some insightful posts here.
And don’t forget about the Growing Vibrant Charlotte Mason Communities live online event coming up at the end of the month!