Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Story of Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition

I am excited to share with you Nicole Handfield's story about the new book, Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition! As I mentioned earlier in this post, on July 7th Nicole presented this project at the Living Education Retreat which consisted of the book and the two high-quality prints (one 8 x 11 and one 18 x 20 with principle 20 written beneath it) by an Italian photographer. While the book may be small in stature, the ideas presented are Mason's mightiest.

Nicole and I sharing at the LER

The Story of Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition, edited by Nicole Handfield

The story of how this book on the Great Recognition came to be is inextricably linked to the Great Recognition itself. When Charlotte Mason explained that the Holy Spirit is our children's indefatigable teacher, who will teach them (and us) all things, this recognition turned my secular/spiritual dichotomy on its head, opening my eyes to the more intimate involvement of God in our lives than I had previously considered. And so, I can say in all honesty, the making of this book is really the work of the Holy Spirit, who put the silly-sounding idea of publishing a book into my head and then actually made it happen. I can say with full confidence that it wasn't me pushing the project because I am completely unqualified for such an endeavor and frankly didn't even know where to begin. And yet, every single piece literally fell into place, because God was orchestrating the whole thing. 

It all began about a year ago on a date night with my husband when he brought up the idea of taking a family vacation to Italy. He wanted to experience traditional Neopolitan wood-fired pizza, but I wanted to see for myself the fresco that Charlotte Mason described when she discussed the Great Recognition.

In the Cholmondeley biography of Charlotte Mason, I read how Charlotte had a reproduction of the frescoes hanging in a prominent place at the House of Education so that it could serve as a daily inspiration for the teachers in training. I really wanted to have something like that in my home, to remind me daily that the Holy Spirit is the real teacher in our homeschool. I thought you could find anything on the world wide web! However, when I tried to find an image online of the fresco, I could only find the ceiling vault and the wall fresco separately. Because of the shape of the inside of the Spanish Chapel, the dimensions of the frescoes are not the same and photoshopping the images together wouldn't produce a nice, frame-able image.

When I finally found myself in Florence looking at the fresco, I spent most of my time trying to get a great photograph of the two parts (wall and ceiling) in one shot. However, my camera was not able to overcome the limitations of the limited interior lighting and my inferior photography skills. So I did not get the beautiful photograph I wanted.

After we got home from Italy, I really felt that more Christian educators needed to hear this message. I wished that there was a book containing Charlotte Mason's discussion of the Great Recognition Required of Parents as well as John Ruskin's discussion of the fresco (which Charlotte read on her own trip to see the Florentine fresco). And it would be great if it could have photographs of the fresco as well. Of course, I still wanted a nice, frame-able shot of the fresco for my own wall at home.

I felt the Holy Spirit whisper that maybe I should make the book that didn't yet exist. I had plenty of reasons why I was not the person to take on this task. Besides the fullness of my plate in this season of mothering littles and literally knowing nothing about publishing a book, I wasn't even sure that I knew enough about Charlotte Mason and this concept to correctly describe it in a book.
I later attended the Grace to Build Retreat and found myself sitting next to Nancy Kelly at breakfast on the last day when I brought up my idea for this book. She said it was a great idea and told me she'd put me in contact with a publisher. And that was the beginning of this crazy project that involved the hiring of multiple professionals (including a professional photographer to get that beautiful image of the fresco) who put together this lovely book. I asked Art Middlekauff and Nancy Kelly to contribute chapters to the book as well, and I'm so pleased with their additional insights into this important foundation of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy.

I earnestly pray that this book is a blessing to all who read it and that we can all be inspired and encouraged by the living ideas it contains. 

Nicole Handfield

*The first printing of the book is sold out.  A second printing will be coming this fall. Riverbend Press  will be taking preorders for the art prints. The only other place to to get the books or prints will be this September at the Weekend of Living Ideas Retreat or this October at the Delightful Living Seminar or Grace to Build Retreat.

These two look rather sweet next to each other!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Conversazione 2016 - Our Three-Fold Cord (with audio)

Image used by permission from the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada
My Conversazione at the 2016 LER was based on an amazing document by Charlotte Mason. I have typed it in its entirety below for you to enjoy.  Also, here is my Prezi presentation, as well as the beautiful House of Education certificate (above) with which we did a modified picture study. Regarding Roman numeral II, a more detailed post will be coming with the new book Nicole Handfield edited, Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition, and the stunning new prints of the complete fresco that will soon be available. Also, I have posted the audio below. (First time I've embedded an audio here!)  Please note that there were quiet spots where we examined the certificate that have been eliminated. You will also hear Nicole tell a little bit about her book and how it came to be.

Our Three-Fold Cord was a leaflet presented to students graduating from her House of Education. Essex Cholmondeley (Chum-lee) states, "Perhaps the most life-giving ideas that the students received were the three which form 'The Threefold Cord,' a short leaflet given to each student on leaving college." (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 156)

What were these "life-giving ideas"? Well, that's what I set out to explain in the talk.  I think you will enjoy reading the document for yourself and exploring these life-giving ideas.







We read in the Purgatorio, Canto I., how Virgil was directed to prepare Dante for his difficult ascent:

“Go, then, and see thou gird this one about

With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,

So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

This little island round about its base,

Below there, yonder where the billow beats it,

Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze;

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,

Or that doth indurate, can there have life,

Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Then came we down upon the desert shore.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

There he begirt me as the other pleased;

O marvellous! For even as he culled

The humble plant, such it sprang up again

Suddenly there where he uprooted it.”  (Longfellow’s Translation).

Here we get the idea of the yielding rush incapable alike of selfassertion and of receiving the wounds and scars of mortification. The waves that beat upon the desert shores are the waves of our badge, and remind us of the “waves of this troublesome world.” We look for the scriptural origins of Dante’s thought – how St. Peter says, in his First Epistle, “Yea, all of you, gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another;” and we recollect that St. Peter had seen the pattern of the Divine Humility girding Himself for lowest service on the last night of His human life. Let us read the Divine Law about humility (St. Luke xxii., 24-29); together with the saying of William Law, “There never was nor ever will be but one humility in the whole world, and that is the one humility of Christ.” In St. Matthew xviii., 1-7, we read how or Lord Himself recognizes the little children as also “humble” 9because of His own indwelling); perhaps the offence against children, of which such terrible condemnation is spoken, is to offend against their humility in such a way as to make them lose this Chirst-like quality. Consider what humility is; it is not relative but absolute; it does not mean that we shall think small things of ourselves compared with this one and that, but that we shall have eyes so steadfastly fixed upon our Master, our duty, our sphere of service, that we shall have no moment left in which to think of ourselves at all – a most blessed way to escape all wounds, and wrongs, and injuries, and bitter mortifications. We consider that the Rush is our most appropriate badge, because, though humility is binding upon every Christian person, it is most especially so upon those who are called to feed His lambs, the lambs whom He has Himself declared to be “humble,” like unto Him. 

            We see, too, how well our motto- “For the children’s sake”-a chance phrase in a letter from our Lady Visitor-expresses the sentiment of our Badge. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself,” said our Master.


            Mr. Ruskin has done a great service to modern thought in interpreting for us the harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy recorded upon one quarter of what he calls the “Vaulted Book,”* i.e., the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, in Florence.

            “The descent of the Holy Ghost is on the left hand (of the roof) as you enter. The Madonna and Disciples are gathered in an upper chamber: underneath are the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc., who hear them speak in their own tongues. Three dogs are in the foreground – their mythic purpose, to mark the share of the lower animals in the gentleness given by the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ .    .    .    .    .    . On this and the opposite side of the Chapel are represented by Simon Memmi’s hand, the teaching power of the Spirit of God and the saving poser of the Christ of God in the world, according to the understanding of Florence in his time.

            “We will take the side of intellect first. Beneath the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit in the point of the arch beneath are the three Evangelical Virtues.  Without these, says Florence, you can have no science. Without Love, Faith, and Hope – no intelligence. Under these are the four Cardinal Virtues .    .    .    .    .Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude. Under these are the great Prophets and Apostles.    .    .    .    . Under the line of Prophets, as powers summoned by their voices are the mythic figures of the seven theological or spiritual and the seven geological or natural sciences; and under the feet of each of them the figure of its Captain-teacher to the world

Our immediate concern is with the seven mythic figures representing the natural sciences, and with the figure of the Captain-teacher of each. First we have Grammar, a gracious figure teaching three Florentine children; and, beneath, Priscian. Next, Rhetoric, strong, calm, and cool; and below the figure of Cicero with a quiet beautiful face. Next, Logic, with perfect pose of figure and lovely face; and beneath her, Aristotle-intense keenness of search in his half closed eyes. Next, Music, with head inclined in intent listening to the sweet and solemn strains she is producing from her antique instrument; and underneath, Tubal Cain, not Jubal, as the inventor of harmony-perhaps the most marvelous record that Art has produced of the impact of a great idea upon the soul of a man but semi-civilised. Astronomy succeeds, with majestic brow and upraised hand, and below her, Zoroaster, exceedingly beautiful-“the delicate Persian head made softer still by the elaborately wreathed silken hair.” Next Geometry, looking down, considering some practical problem, and her carpenter’s square in her hand, and below her, Euclid. And lastly Arithmetic, holding two fingers up in the act of calculating, and under her, Pythagoras wrapped in the science of number.

The Florentine mind of the middle ages believed not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct out-pouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognized whence his inspiration came.

And what subjects are under the direction of this Divine Teacher? The child’s faith and hope and charity-that we already knew; his temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude-that we might have guessed; his grammar, rhetoric, logic, music astronomy, geometry, arithmetic-this we might have forgotten, if these Florentine teachers had not reminded us; his practical skill in the use of tools and instruments, from a knife and fork to a microscope, and in the sensible management of all the affairs of life-these also come from the Lord, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. His God doth instruct him and doth teach him. Recognising that “his God” doth co-operate with us in the act of giving knowledge to a child, we approach the work of teaching with simplicity, sincerity and reverence.


            Students are usually anxious to correct their own impressions by some words from the artist as to the meaning of his work. The following is the reply of H. Wilson, Esq., the artist who designed the beautiful certificate. (Mrs. Dallas Yorke’s generous gift to the House of Education), to the numerous students who have asked for an explanation of the design: -

“The subject is, of course, that of Education. The stream figures the stream of knowledge, the river of mental life flowing from beneath the foundations of the temple of the spirit in the middle distance.  The temple is circular, symbolizing completeness and enduringness: above its altar is a lamp typifying the sun, the source of physical life; the dome symbolizes the heavens, and round the frieze are signs of the Zodiac. Behind the temple rugged mountains thrust their peaks into the sky, the top of the tallest passes beyond the picture to suggest that the highest peak is the unattainable – the ideal, and moreover, that the ends of knowledge are hidden – that while we may grasp a few threads, the end of the skein is beyond our reach. In the foreground Psyche clothed with knowledge and winged is seated. She is just embracing one of a group of children, to suggest that love is the inspiring and all-important agency in Education, only at its touch does the birth of the soul begin. This inspiring, inspiriting, inbreathing of the conscious soul is shadowed forth by the butterflies hovering round the children’s heads. The figures themselves are seated on a little eminence; beneath it is a little beach on which the children are playing, some with shells, others with insects, with plants and flowers, or with animals, to suggest that in play each child follows its own natural bent, and gives not only a clue to its character, but valuable indices of the right way of treating and educing the best side of that character. The border shows the tree of knowledge, with children playing in the branches; above, in the initial letter, is seated the mistress instructing her pupils; below are shown the roots of the tree knowledge among the rocks, with flowers growing everywhere; on the left are the battlements of the city which endures.”

The chief danger, in designing such a certificate, is to keep down a natural tendency to allegorize to excess, and to make, instead, as much as possible of the opportunity for a piece of pleasant decoration. In the contriving of this the various ideas summarized above arose, and I attempted to give them fitting expression.     H.W.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Origin of the Motto - "For the Children's Sake"

prairie wildflowers at Lakeside Labs
Another Living Education Retreat has come and gone...sort of.  This one was different for many reasons - different location (West Okoboji, Iowa), different attendees (at least 1/3 first-timers), different speakers (we try to mix things up), and a palpable spiritual movement - particularly with the men.  I spoke of the role of retreats in our lives at the Morning Meditation.  Here is an excerpt -
"But retreats also take us off that road, at least for a little while. So a retreat is holy, it is 'set apart,' sanctified. Sometimes it is set apart because we have work to do, a wrestle with the holy that we have long postponed.  Jacob, whose biblical story so often parallels our own, barrels through life, grasping for ever advantage and side-stepping God at every turn. Until  that night when, all alone and trapped into retreat at the River Jabbok, he wrestles with an angel until daybreak. Bless me, he says, and he is blessed, through the mark of that blessing is a scar, a limp. Jacob will return to his journey, but he will never walk the same again." - Gary Schmidt
Reading Beuchner at the Morning  Meditations under the oak canopy
During the opening Conversazione, I shared a wonderful document, Our Three-fold Cord, which I will post here later this week.  In it, I found the origin of the motto "For the Children's Sake"! At once, it is insignificant ("a chance phrase") and more significant than just about anything else.

Image used by permission from the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada

You can see the motto framing the badge.  There is more information about the other aspects of badge readily available and in Our Three-fold Cord.  But the source of the motto and why Mason chose it is as follows:

“We see, too, how well our motto – “For the children’s sake” – a chance phrase in a letter from our Lady Visitor – expresses the sentiment of our Badge. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself,” said our Master. John 17:19.  - Charlotte Mason, Our Three-fold Cord

Take a moment to think about that.  In keeping with the badge's theme of humility, we see Mason taking a lovely little phrase and tying the humility and sacrifice of Christ to our roles with his "lambs". Have you considered this?

I am thankful for all who helped, attended, and prayed for the retreat this year.  I hope we are all changed.


*now the challenge to is find out who "our Lady Visitor" was!

some of the men at lunch

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Mother's Diary - Notebook for the Attentive Mother

"I would earnestly exhort all young mothers to keep a journal in which the gradual progress and unfolding of their children's minds may be noted down. Even if they have no general views in so doing, they will derive much benefit from it; their ideas will become more collected, their plans more determined, and they will acquire a habit of thoroughly examining and endeavouring to understand whatever occurs to excite their attention."
-from "A Mother's Diary", Parents' Review, contributed by Miss Beale

Charlotte Mason advocated the use of a wonderful journal known as a "Mother's Diary" in order to keep track of a child's growth.  As I continued to look into this living notebook, layers of thought and possibility began to unfold.  This was not about keeping up with a baby book, photo album, or scrapbook. This was about chronicling a child's growth in such a way that the parent is drawn into the life of their child and can clearly choose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in that child's development.

"I would have it a true journal, in which an account should be kept of every successive step made by the child; where every vicissitude in its health, whether mental or physical, should be registered, and where the measure of the child, in every meaning of the word, as taken at different periods of his age, should be noted down. Words, ideas, knowledge, feelings- everything in short which is either naturally unfolded in the mind, or acquired by education, should be here recorded; together with the first appearance of every endowment, and every defect, the original source of which would thus be open to our consideration."

The idea for this Mother's Diary is to have a special, designated book in which to record when your child shows development physically, mentally, or spiritually.  As Mason knew, taking the time to record your observations by writing them down is a life-giving activity, a "form of vitality". Each book should be the record of one child and entries could be daily, weekly, or monthly.

I introduced this new notebook during my workshop at the CMI conference, "Parenting the Young Child: Best Practices from Charlotte Mason for a Life of Wonder".  Keeping this particular notebook is one of the many important things mothers (and fathers, too!) can actively due to help facilitate the child's development before the child reaches school age (6).  Keeping one of these diaries for the child's next years of life (6-12) would also be important.

I wanted to design a keepsake journal that would reflect the importance of what is housed within.  This lovely version of the Mother's Diary has the look and feel of a book from an earlier time but with a fresh color and exquisite custom artwork on the cover.  It is a pleasure to use and a convenient size with the feel of traditional book cloth - a delight to pull down off the shelf and write in on a regular basis.  Many skilled hands were involved in the production of this version of the Mother's Diary from the custom drawn artwork by Cynthia Oswald, to the traditional hand-sewn construction and special care that went in to each individually stamped cover.

The diary begins with a dedication page repeating the beautiful hand-drawn artwork from the cover. Following that are two quotes from Charlotte Mason about the use of the Mother's Diary. Next is a letter from me that outlines how you might use the diary and finally a reverent prayer that was found in an old Parents' Review article.  The prayer will help you focus when you sit down to write about your child and remind you to offer to God this holy work of raising children.

"As we cannot describe a child without relating his history, such a journal would be enlivened by the little incidents of each day, and the joys and sorrows peculiar to his age; nor would it be long before the task of keeping it would become to the mother the most interesting of employments."
"The most interesting of employments" - I love that.  If this is a journal that you think would be worthwhile to keep, if you love paying attention to each precious step of progress your child makes, if you don't want to forget or lose the dates or memories - then I encourage you to start a Mother's Diary.

Admiration, Hope and Love,

Available at Riverbend Press.

Further reading:

A Mother's Diary, Part I
A Mother's Diary, Part II
Extracts From a Father's Diary