Comments 9

On Time by Melanie Walker

The idea of time and the way it shapes my teaching and learning has been rolling around in my head for quite a while now. Aware of an internal rushing that I was always managing, I have longed to silence it. This sinister voice, ‘get going, seize the moment, multi-task’ seemed cloaked as a virtue, but somewhere deep down I could hear, though the signal was weak, that it was really a vice.

We live in two time zones. We’re all familiar with Greenwich Mean Time and it’s ticking clocks, blinking digital numerals, various chronometers and alarms. But there is also what older voices might have dubbed “real time.”

There are four clocks or timekeepers that mark real time:

The body’s clock that measures when I am hungry or satisfied, weary or energized, sad, lonely, or content.
The day’s clock which is marked by the movement of the sun and moon, from sunset to sunrise, to noon. The waxing and waning of the day.
The season’s clock with spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The church’s clock which measures time with the liturgical calendar. While it is a way to pay attention to movements in the soul, it does so by paying attention to the other clocks, especially the rhythm of a day (vespers, compline, matins, dawn…), and of the seasons (advent, epiphany, lent, easter…).

Our view of time flows into the other postures we hope to cultivate. By adding attention to our senses we find that we are now gazing, scenting, savoring, listening and stroking…not just seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching. Mindful presence adds so much more. No attending can be done in a hurry.

An Unhurried Education

From the inception of our school three years ago, I have been haunted by an idea I heard from Chip Denton of Trinity School, of an “unhurried education.” What an intriguing thought! Not knowing why, but in the true spirit of our impulsive response to being seized by an idea, we rushed out to put this quote under all of our clocks:

“He who is in a hurry delays the work of God.” (St. Vincent)

I think that each teacher knew it was an indictment rather than a description. There was something compelling about this thought and now, a few years in, we keep seeing ways that the mystery of this truth holds water and shapes our community of learners.

In paying more attention to GMT than to our other real time clocks, we have perhaps read the Scriptures words about time in a false way. Solomon had no watch on when he said that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. We feel that time is running from us, slipping away, and therefore read words like “redeem the time” and “teach us to number our days,” as a call to hurry up. We buy more elaborate calendars with bible verses on them while ignoring baby’s cries on our “Ezzo-esque” hyper-schedules. “Redeem the time” has come to mean “fill in every second of the day or you will miss opportunities,” often losing the gifts of the moment by either regretting how we missed the last one or dreading the oncoming one.

The idea of real time calls us to pay attention to each part of the day or year as it comes…in its own sweet time.

“Slow Movements”

Two organizations, also awake to the frenzied, chaotic pace of current living have added mindfulness to the areas of food production and travel. Carl Honore’, an Italian, conceived the idea of the Slow Food Movement one day while he was walking by the Spanish Steps in Rome, and saw the construction of a McDonalds across the street. (Frank and Pardis Stitt in my own community are part of this movement). Listen to some of their comments:

“Slow is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace; it’s about working, playing and living better by doing everything at the right speed.” (I can cook eggs in the microwave, but have you ever eaten them that way?)

“The Slow Food Movement was an organization that was founded to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interests in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

The Slow Travel Movement pays attention to the journey, not just the destination.

Antidotes for a Hurried Education


Not long after the school year began I remember sitting with a child, aware that the math concept was not attaching. I felt the inner angst, but knew that the habit needed in this scenario was not math propensity in the child, but an ability to wait in me.

Unhurried. Waiting. An ability to be inactive while expecting something.

The natural world waits with such grace. The quiet cocoon, the simple bud, the tiny seed…all beautiful in their silent, fallow forms. Each embody Job’s words, “waiting for my change to come.”

Jan Comenius was a Moravian Bishop who lived in an age of violence and exile. Born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1592, his own schooling was rigid, full of rote learning and harsh discipline. Writing about education and teaching filled his days. Themes including ‘a liberal education for all,’ an emphasis on atmosphere, the need for personal motivation in learning and direct experience were his directives. He wrote that Nature spoke to education in these ways:

1. Nature observes a suitable time.

2. Nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form.

3. Nature chooses a fit subject to act upon, or first submits one to a suitable treatment in order to make it fit.

4. Nature is not confused in its operations, but in its forward progress advances distinctly from one point to another.

5. In all the operations of nature, development is from within.

6. Nature, in its formative processes, begins with the universal and ends with the particular.

7. Nature makes no leaps, but proceeds step by step.

8. If nature commences anything, it does not leave off until the operation is completed.

9. Nature carefully avoids obstacles and things likely to cause hurt.[3]

One can only imagine how deeply Charlotte Mason was informed by Comenius! He was a champion of cultivating the inner landscape, and although he lived with many sufferings and deprivations in his lifetime, he was a man of expanded spirit and a gentle, compelling person. It was Comenius who said to “start with local, then branch out”, themes found in these slow, time-conscious movements.

Proportion and Rhythm

A richer view of time will help us live more proportionally- to work, live, and play at the “right speed”. Charlotte Mason said “we allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and the spiritual life of children, but teach them to that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” This idea allows us to see the value of every dimension of life and pay attention to each. We can become full participants in life, instead of amputating sections of our being to make up more time.

The Rule of St. Benedict survives to this day primarily because its adherents find a view of life there that helps them live in proper proportion. Prayer, community, work, rest, food are all attended to in a rhythm that attends to each without neglecting the others. He was able to keep the dialectic between silence and community, leisure and work, being and doing, resting and waking, listening and responding. A large part of that was knowing that each has it due season, but also that each must be set aside to attend to others arenas. There is a time to take my work up, but there is also a time to set it down. “That’s enough for today.”

Hospitality, Openness, Lack of self consciousness

The ultimate hope is not so much seizing the day or enjoying the moment, as being present in the day and in the moment. This is the way to hospitality- to becoming open to others (people and ideas). This rhythm fosters the ability to say of any interruption, any suffering, “who knows what God has brought me in this child, this event, this thought, this moment?”, and to then give it my full attention.

The work of giving time to each person, idea or moment yields the fruit of increasing humility, a lack of self-consciousness, which Charlotte Mason says is the distinct “goal” of a life of abundance. How freeing to be so present to you that I forget myself? Then you are not burdened by pride or fear, and neither am I.

Listen to Jean Louis Servan-Schreiber in The Art of Time: “It is in our early years that we are most profoundly, naturally and intimately involved with time. Never again will we be as open as the child for whom everything is new and who can dream, and be surprised and forget everything else to benefit from the moment. Without the burden of a past, without a care for the future we live our childhood happily in the present, before our memories and our projects gnaw it down from both ends. The fundamental experience of the present, of the fullness of the moment, the intensity of feeling (joy/pain, pleasure/suffering) here and now is not that difficult to acquire since it is with the reach of every child. What is harder is to not forget it.” He is simply talking about recapturing what was once natural to us, a child-like view of the world.


So, in thinking about life ( i.e. education), perhaps I might pay more attention to time. The life of the soul and the life of community are deeply connected to waiting and to a steady, restful, yet attentive pace. My lesson plan says that we should be at a certain point, but what are all these young faces telling me? Why am I still working when the sun has gone down hours ago? Was it back in the fall when I last had coffee with my colleague? What do I learn from the long, bright days of summer and the shorter, darker days of winter? Does this season of the year call me to pay attention to ideas that I have neglected? What is my eight year old saying about my calendar, especially now that it has merged with my cell phone? Shall we take time this week to think about time?

Here is one final thought from Pierre Teillhard de Chardin:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are all, quiet naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

So, tell me dear comrade, what thoughts do you have about all of this?

This entry was posted in: Time


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. I’m reading this way with sleep coming way too heavily upon me to say anything other than that this is something I will ponder. I’ve been heading this direction *in theory*, but putting it into practice is another matter altogether. With one child it was easy to take the day slowly, to move gently from one subject to another, to take time to bask in the events and thoughts of the day. Now, with a fuller house, more children to home educate, and increasing pressure (some self inflicted) to be busier, how does “stop” or even “slow down” come about. How do we battle those voices that tell us to do more? I am definately going to return to this post, re-read it, and mull it over, as well as refer many special friends to it. But the most important thing I will do is to find at least one way to observe “real time”. I’ll write again when I have something more solid than that!
    Thanks for a thought-provoking, relevant article.

  2. thebuckatmindspring says

    Excellent post !

    Robert Ferrar Capon wrote in The Supper of the Lamb
    to look at an onion for an hour. Sounds sort of like
    nature study! “If an hour can be spent on one onion,
    think how much regarding it took that old Russian
    who looked at onions and church spires long enough to
    come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral.” His book slowed me
    down to think more deeply about the feasting at my kitchen table!

    Also Phyllis Tickle’s writings about the Divine Hours
    and The Shaping of a Life include this slowing down
    to real time.

    A good recitation for all is On Time by John Milton to
    say to yourself when the day pushes into a frenzy:

    Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
    Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
    Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets’ pace;
    And glut thyself with what thy womb devours,
    Which is no more than what is false and vain,
    And merely mortal dross;
    So little is our loss,
    So little is thy gain. ….

    And Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace :
    from A Native Hill:

    “Perhaps it is to prepare to hear someday the music
    of the spheres that I am always turning my ears to the music of the streams. There is indeed a music in the streams, but it not for the hurried. It has to be loitered
    by and imagined.”


  3. From Sandy Rusby-Bell

    This summer I’ve been taking a group of about 25 children on Nature Walks. This is a new experience for many of them and I’ve been frustrated as the children rush to get through the hike. Sadly, when a child stops to notice something or ask a question they are often hurried along by the other adults on the walk with us. I keep trying to gently ask what it is we are trying to get to. The entire point of these hikes is the journey. As I’ve pondered how I can slow everyone down I’ve started to wonder how much of my life is spent the same way; rushing, rushing, rushing to get somewhere when the real joy is in the journey.

    Melanie, this post is so very deep. I will be coming back to it again and again. Thank you.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. It is very timely and relevant to me and has spoken to me on many levels. God bless you for presenting a truth that is so desperately needed in my life.

  5. melaniebwalker says

    This is my first time to blog and I think i like it! It offers a ‘comfort of kinship’ for those of us who love charlotte mason and these life giving themes. I am grateful for and enlivened by the ongoing conversation that childlightusa fostors.

    It is ironic that we rush children when their pace is most likely given to inform us.

    Bonnie, thank you for these lovely quotes. They are beautiful and remind me that poets are the champions of a evenly paced life, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be fun to create an anthology of time related poetry? It could be a ‘party favor’ at the next conference!

    I found a fascinating article online about the concept of time in narnia…http://www.narniafans.com/?id=236


  6. lauriebestvater says

    Thank you! Thank you for taking the time to prepare slow “mind food.” I have been very nourished this morning. As I prepare to launch another student into the world of university applications, I need to remember that the hectic pace and unnatural assessments are simply that; the fast food menu of education. We must stay the course and find others along the way who can help us stay true to Mason’s Great Recognition…everything has it’s perfect time through the Holy Spirit.

    I think I am starting to understand why our blog is not the way we might have expected….our authors and our responders are making works of slow food! What did we expect?? These entries can not be consumed on the run, and the resulting growth is not easily shared in a reply box, but life, discipline, and atmosphere are a sure result. I would like to publish these posts…such treasures and wisdom. I am grateful to each of you who are building this beautiful community.

  7. Melanie,
    I am the world’s worst user of time because I try to do too much, but it is too much ‘in the flesh.’ That is, I try to do too much in my own strength. I was raised on a farm by depression era parents and ‘minding the time’ was preached constantly. My father died when I was young and my mother raised us on a very small social security check and on wages we could earn doing farm labor. While I was taught to trust God, there was always a sense of ‘using one’s time well.’ We can enjoy time so much more when we realise that knowing Him gives us rest. Rather than try to do so much for Him or for ourselves–taking care of the relationship first frees us to enjoy the time. Why is it so hard to get this relationship thing down?

  8. thebuckatmindspring says


    I’ve started collecting quotes and poems!
    Great idea!


  9. recnepsrefinnej says


    Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to write this piece. I struggle terribly with trying to do too much and am trying to learn to listen to my inner clock for a clue on when to stop. I think when we get into the habit of multi-tasking, our minds become accustomed to the hectic lifestyle (though our bodies often protest). Then, when we do have a moment to relax, there is no rest because our minds are going over our to-do lists to make sure there isn’t something that needs our attention. I also think this is a tool of the enemy, because we forget how to be still and know that God is God. And when we forget that, stress and anxiety are sure to follow.

    As a red flag to parents, I have also seen this play out in children. Some of my students never have dinner at home. They eat and do homework in the car on the way between school, art class, swimming, and karate. Many times they don’t get in until passed the time they should be in bed. When doing activities like nature study, you can see the angst rising in them because they hate to be still and take time with anything. (Did I hear someone say ADHD?:) Then, the parents come to me and ask if their child needs medication so he can focus?! Let us be mindful of the habits of mind we can help (or hinder) in our children when scheduling extra-curricular activities.


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