Evening on Calais Beach

IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder–everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

–by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I’ve been missing the gentleness of life lately. When is the last time I had a really gentle thought? When have the conversations in our house been quiet and peaceful, completely lacking in sarcasm or discontent? Why don’t I have these moments of calm, holy times quiet as a Nun, when the gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea? We went to a small beach today, just to do something different. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand, but I was uptight because one of them waded too far and got water in her rain boots, and my son laid around on the merry-go-round, clearly not enjoying himself.

If the second part of the poem is correct (and I don’t think the theology is quite right), then my lack of feeling gentle does not mean God’s gentleness is far from me. It seems as if I constantly have to be reminded that God doesn’t leave me alone. He’s there, even when I don’t think He is. Well, then. I go through these ungentle stages of life. But the higher reality is always there, always gentle, always brooding o’er my present time.

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The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

— from “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry, 1971

“The forest is mostly dark…” I can’t agree enough. This quote is from stanza III of a longer poem in which the speaker writes about his life of love with his wife. Here I find beauty at the gentleness of married love. When is the last time I’ve read anything about gentleness and marriage? I don’t know. It might have been in a Christian marriage book, in a section written to the husband, telling him to be gentle with his wife. But does anyone assume marriage is gentle in itself? Passionate, confusing, difficult, long-suffering… but usually not gentle. In this part of the poem, I think we get several aspects: the gentle beauty, the blessings, the courage needed, and the sense of uncharted territory. Because every marriage is different, right? That’s why those marriage books just don’t work. They are good tries, but I think Wendell Berry is more honest than most Christian living authors. Here we find that the dark mysteries of marriage, rather than being the inconsistencies that pull people apart, are more blessed than the obvious, well-lit truths about marriage. I can say that my husband and I have dark, mysterious inconsistencies; we are creatures of opposites. I need to be brave enough to keep on going into that forest of marriage day after day.

The Gentleness of Charlotte Mason

Last night I met with a group of homeschool mothers who shared some of what they learned at a recent Charlotte Mason national conference. Without writing two-and-a-half hours worth of encouragement and wisdom, I’d like to share some general ideas that kept coming back.

— Respect the person. Each person is different. Persons are more important than things.
— Nature study is key. During it we recognize the awe and wonder of God. God gave us nature as a place to go for peace and relaxation. We develop a habit of attention. Nature study changes attitudes of disengaged students.
— Atmosphere of the home is an important part of education. The atmosphere emanates from me. I need to model peace. Keep cutting back on things until there is peace in the home.
— Education is a life. I am not the supreme educator. Trust the Holy Spirit to work in my children. I am the children’s mother before I am their teacher.

I hope this short list of ideas resonates with you. It helps me to be less apprehensive about the coming school year, to set my priorities, and it also encourages me to go ahead and plan things, always knowing my plans will be bent out of shape in a lovely, living way.

Watching Father Work

Watching Father Work, Albert Neuhuys (1895-1968)
Watching Father Work, Albert Neuhuys (1895-1968)

I’ve been thinking about gentleness and parenting lately. With three little ones, I often find myself speaking sharply, acting quickly and without much grace, doing my best to not let anyone get away with anything. Because one moment of craziness quickly escalates into mayhem. At least, that’s my excuse. But when I stop and think about things from one of my children’s point of view, well, then I see need for improvement in myself.

So how do I go about my daily work (like the father in this painting) while showing great amounts of love, patience and grace to each of my children? This is probably something I need to pray about. Pray my heart inside out, and let the Holy Spirit turn it around.