October 22, 2009

On Leisure, Learning, and Large Rooms

Little did I know when I turned a page and came upon this passage well over a decade ago that my children's lives would be immeasurably changed by it:
Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.–– We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”  (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pp. 170-1; emphasis mine.)
Mason's writings are humbling to me because of the way scripture flows so naturally and organically into her ideas and phrasings.  In the quote above, she pays homage to Psalm 31, and in so doing she loads it with a layer of meaning that we'll miss if we're in too big a hurry (or if we never read the KJV!):

"I will rejoice and be glad in Thy mercy:
for Thou hast considered my trouble;
Thou hast known my soul in adversities;
and hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy:
Thou hast set my feet in a large room."

David exults here in a God of magnanimity -- a God who not only delivers him out of the darkness of adversity, but goes far beyond mere rescue to establish David in a space of remarkable expanse and liberality.  God gave David exactly what he needed, and then far more.

Mason, then, by alluding to this Psalm, is drawing upon David's exultation of God's abundant nature, to assist her in giving Him glory for what that large room represents in the context of her own life:  education.  This is fitting, because education is also a deliverance.  And this deliverance, like David's, is not limited to merely being rescued from the grip of darkness, because with all that God has provided for us to learn and know, education can and should be a transcendent deliverance into a large room -- a magnanimously appointed life of the mind.  

In an earlier post, I echoed a borrowed thought that education is a form of repentance.  We all view education as a necessity, but do we apprehend that it was necessitated by the Fall?  Before sin entered into the world, man strolled in the garden with the Fount of all wisdom and knowledge.  The curse that demotes us from our created state of ease to a life of toiling for our food and livelihood, fighting diseases, and suffering pain and heartache, is the same curse that distanced us from wisdom, that causes us to suffer from ignorance, nonsense, and foolishness.  Education is to ignorance what aspirin is to pain -- both are equally weapons of our warfare against the effects of the Fall.

Mason, by asking 'how large is the room in which he finds his feet set' as a means of measuring the viability of an education, is clearly drawing God into the matter, for clearly God is the one who 'sets our feet.'  And the greatest gift God gives to His people other than salvation is knowledge.  When the Psalmist sang, "The Lord is my light and my salvation," he was proclaiming that both were vital to his welfare.  In fact, we need knowledge from God to even know about our salvation!

Which brings me to Leisure: The Basis of Culture, which I am reading with the Ordo Amoris book group.  (My thoughts on an earlier chapter are here.)  Author Josef Pieper points out that our word for school comes from the Greek word schola.  No surprise there.  The shocker is this: schola, it turns out, is the Greek word for leisure

(What?  School = leisure?  On what planet?  Yeah, I can almost hear you out there.)

It is important here to clarify that leisure does not equal laziness in Pieper's context.  Nor does it mean pursuing mindless, passive amusements.  It means, to my mind, ceasing from anxiety and from merely utilitarian preoccupations so that one can contemplate higher things.  Leisure encompasses those pursuits without which we cannot be fully human.

Why have we not acknowledged by now that the human mind, by its nature, does not learn in a state of anxiety?  (Irony alert:  Maybe we can't learn that because the implications make us more anxious?) We all know this from our own experience, do we not?  So we should be willing to at least consider the converse -- that our minds are actually wired to learn, to receive knowledge, in a state of leisure. 

Here's where it gets interesting:  Pieper expands on the connection between leisure (a state of non-work) and the commandment for sabbath rest.  He muses that it is in this state of sabbath leisure that the body of Christ convenes in worship and becomes the bodily visible bride.  This state of worship-leisure, then, is incarnational in nature:  the bride of Christ becomes visible not in a state of exertion and work, but rather in a state of leisure.  This is a beautiful thing to think about.

And it occurs to me that this state of worship-leisure also means that we bring no work, not even the spirit of work, before the Lord in His house... because He has finished the work.  It is only because of this that we can come before Him in a state of sabbath rest.

Sabbath rest means coming before the Lord in stillness, in a turning away from exertion and anxiety, so we can consecrate a space in time "to rejoice and be glad in Thy mercy."  It makes sense to me, in this context, that worship is the only true source of leisure -- for if we do not cast our cares upon Him, if we do not trust in His finished work, we can never be truly at rest.  Worship is indeed what allows us to have leisure in our souls, for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying fellowship with God.

Which brings us full circle... 

Worship, Pieper contends, is the basis of all leisure.

And leisure = schola.


Can we concur, then, that worship is the basis for... school?

And can we then concur that school, to be based in worship, should happen in the absence of anxiety and fear, and in an atmosphere of rest and delight?

(I warn you that if you think about this very much it might change how you go about things as early as tomorrow morning.)

Would you say your education happened in an atmosphere defined more by leisure, or by hurry, stress and anxiety?  

What would your children say about their educational atmosphere?

"For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."


Addendum:  While I was battling cancer, that passage from Psalm 31 was written across my bathroom mirror in big letters for over a year, and I chanted it aloud to the Lord every day for many months.  It was immensely calming -- every day, without fail, these words restored me from a spirit of fear to a peaceful, sound mind.  In fact, I can truly say that in these words, I found leisure for my soul in a very anxious time.  


Laura A said...

Loved every word of this! Thanks!

Unknown said...

Beautiful, Lynn. Also a wonderful reminder for me today as I have to face a few giants this morning. Off to read all of Psalm 31.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It is timely in soooo many ways.

Brandy Vencel said...

Lynn, This post was a feast

Thank you.

Javamom said...

Leisure, my friend, and not rushed anxiety. Thank the Lord. and thanks to Charlotte Mason and other great minds that were added to my own feast table over the last 2 1/2 decades.

amy in peru said...

I love the way you prompted me to think here... mind expansion... large room living. ahhh.

One thing I'd love to contribute and perhaps discuss: I think that before the fall, there was work (man gains much pleasure through work), in that Adam was to tend the garden. However, pre-fall he was able to learn freely (leisure) from God without hindrance. He worked, but he also walked with God. There was no barrier between him and the Source of all wisdom. The difference after the fall, and I think you point this out nicely, is that the work became toil, difficult labor. Man now has to spend the majority of his time working, by the sweat of brow to earn a living and support his family. That sickness was also introduced, as well as other consequences made it so that there were many difficult and even painful distractions to the previous state of leisure. All as a result of the fall and of the now dreadful sin nature. So, as those consequences were introduced, it became not leisurely to learn or to even exist. Now it is a battle to be able to free our minds from the stress of responsibilities that occupy most of our time in order to truly be able to enjoy at least a partial or imperfect state of leisure despite these bodies of death and world of sin. Of course all this makes us truly look forward to the eternal rest with glorified bodies which I think will be a perfected version of that original leisure then reinstated. I look forward to a new world where we will continue to learn and give glory to God forever!
Please tell me if this makes sense, or if there are any holes in my thinking!!

amy in peru

I absolutely thrilled at the thought of this discussion, and I am full willing to learn... :)