Thursday, January 23, 2014

Modesty Inside and Out

Modesty Inside and Out

“. . . and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.”
Isn’t this a lovely string of adjectives?

     It's Jane Austen’s description of 19-yr-old Anne Elliot of Persuasion

     In the setting of the story, however, Anne has reached her late twenties. She has supposedly lost the “bloom” of youth, and is likely past marrying age. If not youth, Anne has other fine qualities. Her inward beauty makes her exceptionally attractive to a certain honorable man who recognizes it, admires it, and loves her for it.  

     When we come across a young lady like Anne, who is refreshingly modest, we find that this quality exists only in a girl who is given to looking outside of herself. She is sensitive to the needs around her. Perhaps someone in her circle could use a word of cheer, a kind gesture of some gift of service, a few handpicked flowers, a handwritten note, or an hour of unhurried companionship.

     It is only in looking outside of herself that a girl can worship God. The beauty of nature does not escape her notice, either. Modest girls make the best daughters, the best sisters, the best wives, the best mothers, the best Christians, the best citizens.


     They are not full of themselves. Rather, they are un-self-conscious.*1

Little Children Are Not Self-conscious

     This is how little children are. They are not self-conscious. Unaware and unconcerned with what others think of them, they will emulate what they see around them because they are objective and curious to learn (by experience if they can) a great many “objects” outside of themselves.

The world is so full of a number of things
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
                                         R L Stevenson

My mother the flower girl, her mom in hat and gloves, dad sits in front, 1937
     Charlotte Mason says that parents can safeguard a child’s inborn lack of self-regard, by training. For instance, “Thoughtful parents are agreed that children’s meals should be so regularly pleasant and various that the child naturally eats with satisfaction and thinks little or nothing of what he is eating; that is, parents are careful that, in the matter of food, children shall not be self-regardful.”*2

     Just as it is good manners to talk about things at the table other than our plates of food, we needn’t call undue attention to our children’s clothing. Young children who give thanks and eat what is put before them are usually the same children who wear what is in the closet without comment.  

     The humble state of un-self-consciousness in childhood is the example given to us by our Lord Jesus when He said, “Unless you . . .become as little children you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” *3

     Miss Mason says that this humility is “a blessed state only now and then attained by us elders - but in which the children perpetually dwell, and in which it is the will of God that we should keep them.”*4

Modesty is Meek Not Weak
“Strength and honor are her clothing. . .” *5
     Do you like Anne of Persausion? I do. She has an open ear. Those around her come to confide in her. And she serves. This is “nicely symbolized by her piano playing. Instead of actually dancing, she plays the piano to enable others to dance." *6

     Breaking the code of society-etiquette her father is fiercely attached to, Anne associates with an old school friend. Mrs. Smith, once married to a wealthy man, was left little when he died, and is a poor widow suffering from rheumatism. In her friendship with Mrs. Smith, Anne sees a different sort of nobility – one of noble character. The friendship is a “gift of Heaven.” Anne does not look down her nose at Mrs. Smith, a woman who wears strength and kindness as her clothing. Mrs. Smith’s patient disposition and her ability to keep occupied “carried her out of herself.” The friendship opens Anne’s eyes, enabling her to have an “elastic” perspective of her own life and relationships.

     In the beginning of the book Anne is quiet (near silent). More and more she shows the courage of her opinion. “Her willingness to speak marks the final turning point in her love affair with Wentworth.” *7 

karen andreola - speaker
Karen at Wholehearted Mother Con, Beautiful Girlhood Club 1997

What Happened to “Ladylike?”

     Immodesty in young people is widespread. The thorough pre-occupation of self goes hand-in-hand with immodest clothing. Immodest girls seem to think boys are hormone-free. Revealing clothing creates an atmosphere of forced intimacy.

     Perhaps these girls have never had it explained to them that a man is designed by God to – in an atmosphere of intimacy – to take intoxicating pleasure in the roundness of the female form - in the woman he loves devotedly – his wife. Song of Solomon chapter seven will make a girl blush. But when read at the right time it has educational benefits.  
     The highest concern of some girls is up-to-the-minute fashion, to be competitively attractive, part of the in-crowd. With a real fear of appearing fat or dowdy they may choose an outfit that extends barely beyond the undergarments or one that is primarily spandex. My fingertips on the keyboard are poised to type a list of dos and don’ts (sigh). But I am stepping aside. I wish to be gracious, not over zealous. If the reader is a Christian she has the Holy Spirit. He is in the business of guiding every thoughtful and prayerful heart.

     As opinions go, I agree with Edith Head.

     Who is Edith Head? She was a costume designer for Paramount Pictures who won 8 Academy Awards - a favorite among leading female stars of the 1940 and 50s, such as Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Loretta Young. Not all the film stars she designed for, and the characters they played, were modest women. But Edith Head’s personal opinion was:

“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”

karen andreola
Karen fixing hair, Sunday morn, 1986, Grandma's House, NJ
Painfully Self-conscious

     I sat in the dentist chair. The hygienist was young, a natural blond, and cheerful. Her uniform was cheerful, too. Its pastels, cartoon characters and orange flowers seemed to match her personality. While she clipped the bib around my neck we shared some small talk. She probably asked me what I do. And I probably mentioned writing for home educators because our talk hopped onto the subject. 
     “I attended Catholic school until 8th grade,” she volunteered. Afterwards she entered the mega-size high school in the area.
     “How did that go?” I asked. It was the last thing I could say before I was required to hold my mouth ajar. 
     Deftly selecting a metal tool she said, “My biggest difficulty was trying to decide, each morning, what to wear.”
     “Uh,” I vocalized but could say no more. But I understood far more than my “uh,” let on. I surmised that the transition from her schooldays in uniform to freedom-of-choice was a sore trial. Why?

     How does a girl blend-in without compromising her modesty? Clothes-choice can be deeply emotionally trying to the coming-of-age Christian person. Peers impose the fashion status quo. Everything one does in the fish bowl of a government school is conspicuous. Nothing escapes notice. Any deviation from the status quo  – especially one that takes a step toward modesty - can all-too-easily be made the subject of a joke, condescension, ridicule or gossip. 

Blissfully Unaware

     This trial of self-consciousness is something we lived without. In our little home school I was able to keep my children un-self-conscious a little longer. On second thought, it was a lot longer than children today. In the rural Maine church most of their friends were home educated for high school and had siblings. Therefore their peers were of mixed ages. And most of them, thankfully, were modest inside and out. They were blissfully ignorant of the domineering pull of immodest fashion in the sub-culture of the teen-age world. *8
     I know the circumstance is different in large metropolitan churches. I see it sadly. It is one reason I have written this post.

     The writer seeks to:

Model modesty,
Make strength and honor her clothing,
Have the courage of her opinion (like Anne Elliot),
Look outside of herself to the needs and feelings of others,
Bloom beauty of character.   

"There should be as little merit in loving a woman for her beauty, as a man for his prosperity, both being subject to change." Alexander Pope

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Sisters, Yolanda & Sophia, TN 1989
End Notes
*1 Philippians 4:12
*2 Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 284
*3  Mathew 18:3
*4 Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 284
*5 Proverbs 31:25
*6 and *7, Peter J. Leithart, Miniatures and Morals – the Christian Novels of Jane Austen, Canon     Press, page 182
*8 I Timothy 2: 9-10
Bible verses are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason
January 1st, 1842
January 16th, 1923

     Charlotte Mason is my heroine. I stitched her name into an historic sampler a while ago and had it framed.

Charlotte Mason sampler
      As much as I’ve put pen to paper about her work, words faintly describe my admiration for her accomplishments - and her modesty. Have you noticed how little she talks about herself in her writings? Rather, the founder boasts of her findings for the children's sake. She was a Christian not merely by church association (the Anglican Church) but by her commitment to live for Christ. 

     Here is a photograph of my desk in the attic where I write to you. I made it tidy for the picture. On another wall (not shown) is an old bookshelf (painted pink for a young daughter) and the sewing machine - where I enjoyed making a pink cushion for a chair. The oil painting portrait of Charlotte Mason, commissioned for the cover of my purple book,  keeps me company.    

Charlotte Mason protrait

Idealism at Work
     At Charlotte Mason's memorial service a gentleman who gave the prayers and addresses said, “She was . . . the living example . . . that it is character that matters. She had a shrewd, saving north-country common sense which kept her idealism from ever becoming an unpractical fact.”*1 Reaching for ideals we labor to put into practice those things that inspire us. Instead of being frozen in our tracks - fretting about feeling inferior to the huge task before us, we get busy making mistakes. Consequently, by and by, we learn to do things better. A superior education is the result as we meet with success in odd hours. Out of love and duty we quietly seek to advance His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” How grateful this imperfect Christian is to know that when we yield to the Holy Spirit, the Divine Educator, He works in us and through us.

We Grow When Fed
     I fervently hope that my reader will take time for Mother Culture this year. One way is to feed her mind. This equips her for guiding her children. In the earliest years of my motherhood I was an eager, but slow, learner. The “slow” was leftover from my less-than-empowering youth. Nevertheless, I poured through articles and books. I read in fifteen-minute-snatches while my energetic children played in the afternoon. I read beside the sandbox or beside the puddle pool (where my pages and I survived splashes). I read on the edge of the hot drive while tricycles wheeled happily around in circles. I read on rainy days while children played inside the living-room tent (a blanket supported by kitchen chairs.) Does this give you any ideas?
     Fifteen minutes of reading now and again will do a mother a power of good. It takes two-to-three minutes to read a blog post. Perhaps in today’s on-line world fifteen minutes with a well-written book would be considered luxurious lingering, and not the quick “snatch” it once was.  

Harmony of Lifestyle
     Eventually I began to call the collection of Miss Mason's principles “The Gentle Art of Learning™.” They harmonize so well with the background of sane living that it becomes difficult to tell the two apart. The living books, narration, early hours, short lessons, the way of habit and reason, the picture study, music appreciation, nature study, love of God and service to others, etc., are pearls of great value. Parents reading about Miss Mason for the first time are struck with the sensibleness of it all. Their letters to me confirmed this. “This is what I’ve always thought education should be but haven’t been able to put into words.”

Not a Fad
     In these modern times we can glean from the same principles Miss Mason advocated in the 19th century because they are not a fad. They are fundamental, simple and straightforward. “Lifestyle” wasn’t a word in Miss Mason’s day. But the concept of a lifestyle of learning was what she strove to bring to our notice. And although we may say, “of course, this is the way to do it, this is what we want for our children,” little pearls of great value can be left undefined. On this blog and in my books I point out the pearls.

The Lake District of England
     Every once in awhile I am privy to someone, who with light-hearted anticipation, plans a trip to England’s Lake District - where Miss Mason lived and taught for a good part of her life. I am asked what to see. To the surprise of my questioner I respond curtly but politely. “I’ve never been. It’s Dean who’s been. In the 1980s he visited the (then) Charlotte Mason College,” I say. 

     I had the opportunity once. In the 1990s I was sent a formal invitation to take part in a reunion of PNEU teachers, the few remaining teachers who were trained decades prior at Miss Mason’s House of Education in Ambleside. It was a big deal to me. I felt honored. But I was exhausted from our recent household move, and not having the courage to hop on a jet plane by myself, to travel so far from my family, I gracefully declined. It is doubtful that I’ll ever get to the Lake District in my lifetime.

     That’s why some months ago, when asked by email, “What shall I see?” my closing remark surprised me. “Miss Mason is buried at St. Mary’s. If you visit her grave would you place a flower on it for me?” My eyes were wet with tears the instant I clicked “send” and caught up with what my fingers had so boldly requested. But I didn’t amend it. And, Lynnda (a friend from Maine who taught her four children K-12 treasuring a wide variety of living books) wrote back to say she would.

Mission Accomplished
     A few months passed. I heard from Lynnda again. With her email she attached these photographs her daughter had taken. I felt my heart move and thanked her most sincerely. And when I asked if I could share parts of her letters she said, “Certainly.”

"Dear Karen,
     . . . Our first view of St. Mary’s Parish Church in Ambleside was from a narrow, twisting lane that dropped steeply from the high fells overlooking Ambleside. I spotted the church steeple from this bird’s-eye view. It reminded me of looking down on Camden [Maine] from Mt. Battie.
     After a stop at a florist to select a flower, we proceeded to the churchyard. I was afraid it might take us quite a while to find Charlotte Mason’s grave since there are a considerable number of stones. Evidently there have been many people seeking out Miss Mason’s grave because there was a discreet sign pointing us to the right direction. I was curious to learn when the sign had been placed there, but no one I asked knew the answer.

     I was very pleased to be able to fulfill your request of laying a flower on Charlotte Mason’s grave. You’ll notice that the flower was red. I thought it a fitting choice since red seems to be a favorite of yours.

     The tag I attached to the stem was a last-minute thought, otherwise I would not have torn a page from my journal and written the first thing that came to mind. I wanted anyone who saw the flower to know it was from you, as you’ve done so much to bring Miss Mason’s teachings to light and make them accessible for so many grateful homeschoolers. I still remember how I devoured A Charlotte Mason Companion. It was such an encouragement for me to know that what I had been doing by gut feeling with my children was practiced by others, and that I wasn’t alone in what I felt education should be. Even if I had never met you, I’d feel like you were a cherished book friend. . .

      The Lake District is as picturesque as I could have imagined. I particularly enjoyed visiting Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top and seeing the places she painted in her little books. I do hope you’ll be able to make a visit there someday. . .”  Love Lynnda

End Notes
*1 Parents’ National Educational Union, In Memoriam – Charlotte M. Mason, page 223.
Photographs at St Mary’s are used with permission.

Thank you Lynnda for helping me honor Charlotte Mason today.

Happy New Year to all, 
Karen Andreola