Encouraging text messages from across the country, winsome commonplace entries on Facebook, decorative chalkboard memes, and old-school snail mail notes are just a few of the ways my friends have used quotes from the newly reprinted edition of The Cloud of Witness to bind us together despite the distances between us. Imagine reading the same verses and meditating on the same themes with others walking this same path of implementing a relational education.
It makes sense that Charlotte Mason would select this particular book to give her graduates as the format and content embody one of the most influential ideas of her philosophy, that of The Great Recognition. The Great Recognition was Mason’s name for common grace as it relates to education and life. In 1893 she stood gazing at a fresco in Florence, Italy – The Descent of the Holy Spirit. She writes:
But the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring 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 recognised whence his inspiration came. All of these seven figures are those of persons whom we should roughly class as pagans, and whom we might be lightly inclined to consider as outside the pale of the divine inspiration. It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith. (Vol. 2, p. 271)
And because of this understanding of common grace – this idea that all people, whether Christian or not, have the capacity for truth, beauty, and goodness (albeit not a full understanding) – she could enjoy and glean from this book that quotes from the pagans Plato and Marcus Aurelius to Christians such as Ruskin and MacDonald. John Calvin puts it this way, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it: for it has come from God.”
The Cloud of Witness has a particular theme for the week and then each day begins with a verse from the Bible followed by inspiring bits of poetry and prose from dozens of luminaries. In this way we can understand and enjoy truth from so many different sources while continuing to place the Bible as the supreme source. Just as Mason recognized that all truth is God’s truth through her Great Recognition, we also begin to grasp the concept and suddenly our world expands exponentially and we find beauty and goodness where we might not have looked as our room (world) gets bigger and bigger. The Cloud of Witness was found on her bookshelf at the end of her life. A fitting, handwritten quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest was found inside the front cover that reads,” I wonder how many goodly
creatures are here, how beauteous mankind is.”
I wonder if Mason could have foreseen how this little-big book of sayings and Scripture that she presented to graduates in order to keep them as one at least meditatively would affect a group of educators in the 21st century using text messaging, social media and other means. Blest be the tie that binds!
The Cloud of Witness is now available from Riverbend Press.
Nancy Kelly writes about her experiences living and teaching the Charlotte Mason philosophy and method at her blog, Sage Parnassus.
© 2015 by Nancy Kelly