The Great Divorce, the Will, and Easter

God often arranges things in our lives so that an idea that is true, beautiful, and important to him will not be missed by his (sometimes) less-than-observant children. I was challenged over Spring Break by the deacon at my church to read a work of theology as a practice for Lent in preparation for Easter. By coincidence, I found myself at the largest used bookstore in the world, Powell's Books, while visiting my older brother over the break in Portland, Oregon. After combing the shelves (and practicing self-control by not buying out their entire section of European history), I landed upon C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. It is a brief but powerful book about the choice humans make between Heaven and Hell. I recommend it to all of you--the beauty and simplicity of his allegory, the power of his prose, and his insight into life and God are profound. It is an excellent and worthy read. Lewis's premise throughout the book is that every human is afforded a choice between heaven and hell, and, like Dante, he, the author, is sent to observe the souls in Heaven and Hell. The decision to be made is, in essence, to live for the self, or to live for God. He says, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened." 

In addition to challenging my walk with God and my approach to life, this quote struck me as very similar to Charlotte Mason's discussion of the Will in Book 2 of Ourselves, which we are currently reading in 8th grade Citizenship. She speaks of the Will as the key to being truly human, and that to Will is to choose something outside of the self, such as Willing to work hard at our jobs to honor God and provide for our families, rather than for the sake of personal acclaim, greed, or fear. According to Ms. Mason, the Will is neither moral nor immoral (it can be used for good or ill), but to fail to engage the Will is to be slave to our interior desires and the exterior influence of culture. Indeed, we were created to live as free by engaging our Will to choose a purpose greater than ourselves. After reading The Great Divorce, I think C.S. Lewis would say that there is nothing so important and joy-filled in life as our desire and resolution to engage our Will to live for God's purpose rather than our own. 

As I sat and thought through this idea of the Will, Heaven, and the joy-filled life, I thought about Easter, and I thought about Jesus. Who better to illustrate the Will in action? Who better to show us the joy and the promise of submission to the will of the Father, no matter how painful it may be? In the garden, Jesus came to the ultimate crisis of Will--the same crisis that Lewis wrote about in The Great Divorce--to live for the Father or for himself. On one hand lay the cross, the weight of the world, suffering, death, and loneliness; on the other lay a way out, and an avoidance of unimaginable pain and loss. Jesus, says in Luke 22 (which we also happen to be reading in Junior High), "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." The boundless joy that resulted from his heartache and his decision to engage his Will was, is now, and will be forevermore. 

This idea, that submission to the Father's will is heavenly, and leads to living a joy-filled life as it was meant to be lived, is one that has demanded a rethinking of my priorities, my desires, and my purpose. Moreover, it has given me words and thoughts to pray as I ask the Holy Spirit to help me be a good husband, father, teacher, and man. It also comforts me that God has grace for me when I struggle to engage my Will, or when I make a poor decision to live selfishly. Perhaps God has grabbed a hold of your mind and heart with a similar idea lately. If not, I urge you to stop, look around you, think, and pray, because God's voice is everywhere. He speaks through avenues as diverse as our work, our vacations, through the words of a man and woman who lived in a previous century, and from a man who rose again 2000 years ago, who still lives today.

This is our first post by Principal Andrew Hayes.  Andrew and his family will be relocating from Denver, Colorado to Boerne, Texas this summer to lead Ambleside School of Boerne.

Why I Asked My Students to Stop Taking Notes

This article is by Deal W. Hudson, professor of Philosophy at Mercer University


Their note-taking was getting in the way of learning. It was a substitute, a way of satisfying the requirement to attend class, but without being actually present to the class or to me, for that matter

Suddenly I realized I was the only one in class who was "into it," the other thirty souls were dutifully scribbling down what I said or whatever wisdom I could elicit from the students who dared to catch my eye.  Then I saw what was going on - a light went off in my head - my students were being dutiful, taking pages of notes, not sleeping, not staring out of the window, or at each other, just hearing words and writing them down. 

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Something was wrong, I could feel it. In my classroom at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia, there were no empty seats, no backward baseball caps to irritate me, or tobacco chewing jocks spitting in styrofoam cups in the last row.  The assignment was to read and discuss a chapter from the great Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.  Who can't get into the story of a man who is about to be put to death with a rope crushing his head?

Suddenly, I realized I was the only one in class who was "into it," the other thirty souls were dutifully scribbling down what I said or whatever wisdom I could elicit from the students who dared to catch my eye.  Then I saw what was going on - a light came on in my head - my students were being dutiful, taking pages of notes, not sleeping, not staring out the window or at each other, just hearing words and writing them down.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

The Journey of Founding Ambleside

Along the way, many have wondered about the why and how of founding this school.  I only have my side to tell, but I'm glad to share it.  It's a joy to share because this journey proclaims God's sovereignty, goodness and provision.  Telling you of my work merely shares the divine truth that He is faithful.

I learned of Ambleside Schools and Charlotte Mason in the Fall of 2005.  My first encounter was with Ambleside Fredericksburg's website where I devoured page after page of philosophy and inspiration.  As I continued to read and learn, the truths of Charlotte Mason's philosophy shifted my whole view of parenting and education, and I longed to provide this 'Living Education' for my own children.  In 2010, my husband and I prayerfully made the decision to make the commute and send our two oldest daughters to Ambleside Fredericksburg.  I had the privilege of teaching the second grade class that year.  Stepping into it, I felt that I was doing something wonderful for my girls, never knowing how it would impact me personally.  After a year of tremendous growth along with long commutes and a disorderly home, we felt the need to bring our lives back together in Boerne.  I did my best to homeschool my children, applying what I had learned, but my heart still longed to have them at Ambleside.  It just felt too far away.  That is, until God opened my eyes to see more of the reason why he had placed this love for Ambleside on my heart.

In September of 2012, I was on vacation with my husband.  As a mother of four in a modest sized home, quiet is rare.  But on that trip, I enjoyed a morning of quiet reflection where I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, "Gather people and see what I will do."  I responded with, "okay, I can do that."  One baby step at a time... I advertised a Charlotte Mason Study Series in our community and held it at the Public Library.  As I arrived early for the very first meeting, I had no idea what to expect.  For all I knew, I could be sitting across the table from my husband for the full hour.  To my utter surprise, stranger after stranger walked through those library doors to learn with me about this inspiring way of educating.  Already, God was providing "exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine."  That phrase would echo through my mind many times in the year to come.

On the evening of the first study series, my dear friends - Robert and Mindy Harlan came up to me and expressed deep interest in helping to start an Ambleside School.  Little did they know, I would be relentless in keeping their eagerness alive.  A few weeks later, the four of us sat down with the St. Cyr's at Ambleside Fredericksburg and discussed the idea of an Ambleside in Boerne.  Before we headed home that day, we had agreed to pursue this grand idea.

Through weekly, lengthy board meetings, we prayed together, discussed budgets and marketing campaigns, potential locations and future dreams.  We planned informational meetings to gauge the interest in the community.  And, we continued to put one foot in front of the other.  By the time May came around, we had 11 committed students and no location.  And yet, we made the decision to commit to a Fall start.  That decision was hard-wrought, but the peace that each of us felt afterwards was divinely exhilarating.

As May and June sped by, we hired teachers and picked up a few more students, but still had no location for our school.  Trusting in God's faithful provision, we carried on.  In the month of July, I sent an email to Father Don at St. John's Anglican.  I knew that their space was small and that there were no classrooms, but if we could only put up a few dividers in the Parish Hall, we could have our first year of school.  When we met with Father Don and his wife Ruth, it was different from any other potential location meeting.  They were familiar with Charlotte Mason's philosophy and joyful about the prospect of hosting us.  Eagerly, they met with other church members to share the idea.  Meetings were held and finally a vote that overwhelmingly supported the partnership of Ambleside School and St. John's Anglican Church.  Again, it was a perfectly providential union and our hearts were singing His praises.

This realization of a location launched a fast and furious scramble to create dividers, purchase curriculum and furniture, get insurance and move in.  The days were long and full, but as we gazed out the arched windows of St. Johns upon the woods and hills where our students would play, the blessing of it all became abundantly clear.

The first day of school arrived and the four of us crowded in the office area, listening to our 18 students and 3 teachers with tears of joy in our eyes.  Many have marveled at our commitment and hard work, but that really isn't what it's about.  It was and continues to be a privilege to be used by God to impact the lives of these dear children and their families.  God used this journey to reveal more of his glory to each of us.  May the glory continue to be His alone.

The Efficiency of Narration

At Ambleside, the primary way in which our students assimilate new information is through narration.  Charlotte Mason taught that narration is an art in which, "the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words." (Home Education)  After each reading at Ambleside, we close our books and 'tell back' or narrate.  I have been witness to the fact that any child can narrate well and with ease once they have had a bit of practice.

Often, people will remark, "Do you really narrate everything?  Doesn't that take up too much time?"  Yes, it is time consuming, but I've recently been struck by the thought that narration is a far more efficient tool than most for guaranteeing comprehension and assimilation.  Take, for example, the 'comprehension work sheet' given after each chapter in many classes.  This tool is often used in more traditional schools to measure whether a child has been paying attention and has understood what was read.  This too takes time.  Narration covers this, as one child narrates, each pays attention and fills in details.  The teacher knows in a matter of minutes whether they gave their attention and comprehended the reading.

Let us also consider the teacher who makes such careful efforts to teach children concepts such as hero/heroine, plot, climax, resolution, etc - each of these is comprehended so naturally by children who have the habit of attention and are skilled in narration.  The above vocabulary words can be grasped in a single lesson by the child who can recall author's language, order and details with ease.

With the hours we spend strengthening vocabulary for standardized tests, we could have been narrating well-written books full of beautiful language that is studied as part of the lesson, and is repeated in narration.

When we empower our students with the skill of narrating well, we give them much more than assimilation alone.  We magnify their power of attention, multiply their vocabulary and greatly increase their joy in learning.  Narration is not only more efficient than other methods, I believe it is essential to genuine learning.