Literature, Liturgy, Language, and Leisure
- Monday, September 28, 2009
Intentionally connecting ourselves to the history of the Church universal requires a humility that recognizes how myopic our grasp of truth can be when we view it only through our own cultural lens. Books such as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, or Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans connect us to the broader expression of Christ through the limitless diversity of his Body. In this way, our own faith is enlarged, stretched, and enriched.
As we move through our days keeping Scripture in our minds and hearts, reading aloud to our children from classic and historic works, reciting poetry together, and giving an ear to the rich historical traditions of the Church, we find that our days are vibrant and full. Within this nurturing environment our children can feel free to ask questions, discuss ideas, and respond to the work at hand. This is now our opportunity to draw them out through the skill of narration. This begins when the child is in the tenderest years while reading simple Bible stories, picture books, and fairy tales. We ask the child to tell the story back to us, modeling to him the development of language. We must be careful not to instruct the child at this point, as each individual will respond differently to a work of art. We may need to clarify something he didn't grasp the first time, but this time of listening is what Mason refers to as "masterly inactivity"—that is, the importance of being quiet and allowing the child's expression to come through untainted by preaching/teaching.4 In Mason's paradigm, because children are responding to the best literature, the Scriptures, and the beauty of well-crafted works of literary art, their responses over years of practice will reflect these sublime influences. Narration is the most efficient way to get the reluctant writer to begin organizing his thoughts at the youngest age so that the discipline of writing becomes a natural outflow of a mind accustomed to and comfortable with the process of expression.
It was Seneca, the first-century Roman philosopher, who said, "Leisure without literature is death and burial alive." How often have we as mothers heard, "Mom, I'm bored to death!" If Seneca is right, then the child's lament is not far from the truth.
As people of the Word, we know that the Sabbath rest is an important element of the well-balanced life. As humans we must rest, and we must rest regularly to renew, refresh, and restore our bodies, minds, and spirits. But how can we rest creatively so that our recreation is just that—a re-creation of healthy bodies and minds? I think Seneca's admonition is well taken in this point. By using leisure creatively, we don't merely vegetate, but rather we meditate, cogitate, and rejuvenate. Leisure affords us the opportunity to do so. At creation, when God had finished his work, he rested and observed. His leisure was not passive, but he saw "what he had made, and behold, it was very good." This is the cogitating—thinking deeply and carefully about something. Meditation carries this further as we then ponder the works of God—his wisdom and beauty—and search out the treasures of his knowledge. Through these exercises we find rejuvenation for the joyful return to our tasks at hand.
Play is the child's definition of leisure, and Charlotte Mason "recommended four to six hours outdoors each day" for growing children.5 Of course, this is not always possible in places of severe weather, but where climate allows, why shouldn't children spend significant hours outdoors? Running, hopping, skipping, jumping, climbing, and dancing will all make for happy, well-rounded children. When weather doesn't permit, then children must be given blankets and chairs for tent making, costume dress-ups, and sack lunches to take on imaginary expeditions in basements or attics or under the kitchen table.
For children the enjoyment of leisure time is critical to their mental, physical, and emotional health. In our hectic, driven-to-achieve society, our children are often over-scheduled, pushed, and harassed so that they have little free time to just be. Just being is essential to the whole child, for in being they find the time to allow their imaginations to take wing and design fantasy worlds of adventure and fun. It is the development of imagination that allows the child to vicariously identify with others, which is the first step to empathy—one of the most critical developmental traits of the moral individual.
Literature, liturgy, language, and leisure are all effective tools we've been given as people of faith to build lives of purpose, vision, and joy. Let's use them joyfully today.
Rea Berg has homeschooled for nearly twenty-five years and loves organic gardening, travel to historic sites, nineteenth-century literature, and dance. Rea has a B.A. in English from Simmons College and a graduate degree in children's literature. She has written numerous guides for studying history through literature and has brought back into print many classic children's works. With her husband, she owns Beautiful Feet Books (http://www.bfbooks.com/) and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2009. Used with permission. Visit them at www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com.
1. Tileston, Mary Wilder. Joy and Strength for the Pilgrim's Day. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1901, page 39.
2. Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer. For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for the Home and School. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984, page 82.
3. Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer. For the Family's Sake: The Value of Home in Everyone's Life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1999, pages 87-88.
4. Ibid., page 38.
5. Ibid., page 207.
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