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Mother Culture, Restful Learning, and the Rest that a Mother Needs

Lifelong Learning

I am a firm believer that a mother must never cease learning at any point in her life. She is to remain a student in every season and at every turn. More so, if she wishes to educated her children in the home. John Angell James makes a point when he writes in Female Piety,

Mothers then should be thoroughly acquainted with the work that is allotted to them. I speak not of the physical training of the children, that is not my department; nor primarily of their intellectual culture—but of their social, moral, and spiritual education. A mother’s object and duty, are the formation of character. She has not merely to communicate knowledge—but habits. Her especial department is to cultivate the heart—and to regulate the life. Her aim must be not only what her children are to know, but what they are to be and do. She is to look at them as the future members of society, and heads of families of their own—but above all as probationers for eternity! This, I repeat, must be taken up as her primary work—the formation of character for both worlds!

Mother Culture

The mother is to be a well of godly and virtuous wisdom from whom children learn character and culture. If she is to be a prime example of character formation, she must exhibit a habit of learning and resting in her own day to day living. Likewise, British educator Charlotte Mason and her practitioners see this as important endeavor:

The only way to do it is to be so strongly impressed with the necessity for growing herself that she herself makes it a real object in life… Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say “I cannot.” Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we “cannot” get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for “Mother Culture?”–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or “remember.”

The Parent’s Review, Volume 3, no. 2, 1892/93, pgs. 92-95 (emphases added)

The objective of “mother culture” is to set a time for rest, along with personal enrichment, in order to create a home environment of that same spirit and/or discipline.

The habit of reading is so easily lost; not so much, perhaps, the power of enjoying books as the actual power of reading at all. It is incredible how, after not being able to use the eyes for a time, the habit of reading fast has to be painfully regained. The power to read fast is much to be desired, and the people who read every word are left sadly behind by the people who read from full stop to full stop at a glance. This power is what our children are gaining at school, and this power is what we are losing when we refuse to give a little time out of our lives to “Mother Culture.” It is worth anything to get and to keep even that; and to do it, it is not a bit necessary to read “stiff” books.

The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.

emphases added

Karen Andreola, who wrote an entire book on this theme explains that, “Mother Culture® is a way-of-life, the skillful art of how a mother looks after the ways of her household. With a thinking-love she creates a culture in the home all her own. A mother does a lot of taking care, so she needs to take care of herself, too. Much depends on how she manages her life.”

Scholé

A similar idea of bridging of resting and learning can also be summed up in the idea of scholé, embraced by many classical educators. Mystie, one of the Scholé Sisters, has written a good bit of what it means over here. In fact, Sarah Mackenzie beautifully summarizes “restful learning” in her book Teaching from Rest,

Restful learning is not throwing all care to the wind, eschewing worthy goals such as mastery of the math facts, the ability to read hard books, or cultivating the art of writing persuasively and well. Remember the account of creation—six days the Lord labored before He rested on the Sabbath. Rest, then, is not the absence of work or toil. It is the absence of anxiety or frenzy.

This won’t look the same for all of us, but the one common thread is that to imitate delight in our lives is to mindfully engage in truth, goodness, and beauty as a regular part of life. If we long to cultivate scholé in our homes and in our children, then we must cultivate it in ourselves as well.

emphases added

I think that Mackenzie brings out an important point about the Sabbath here. But now that Jesus has came, lived, died and is now resurrected, the order has now been reversed. We rest (on the Lord’s Day), and then we work (for the rest of the week).

Sabbath Rest

The true object of mother culture or scholé could easily be sidelined because of our propensity to sin. It could very well become a pursuit of academic advancement or personal enrichment without the Godward focus on true Christian rest.

There is a time to enjoy all the good things that God has given, the reading of good books and the endless learning of things. But if these good gifts are enjoyed by denigrating the Giver—the source and substance of all the true, good, and the beautiful—then we are perverting these gifts in pursuit of our glory, instead of His. Oftentimes we forfeit true rest because we do not faithfully follow God’s commands to Sabbath obedience. If we fail in our obedience of God’s call to rest, then we find that every thing else will be out of place. We will realize that there is no proper ordering of our loves.

Our confession rightly summarizes this practice,

This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations;a but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.b

Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8; a. Exod 20:816:2325-2629-3031:15-17Isa 58:13Neh 13:15-22. • b. Isa 58:13Mat 12:1-13.

The Puritans regard the Lord’s Day as the “market day for the soul” because when we set aside the whole day for worship and restful gladness by enjoying the means of grace that God has ordained, we trust that the Spirit will empower us to be and to do God’s will in our homes and communities for the rest of the week.

If God is the summum bonum, the all-surpassing good, the worship of Him is our true fulfillment. Just as Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”

The Lord’s Day puts the “ordo” in ordo amoris.

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