Charlotte Mason’s method of reading entire texts of primary sources passage by passage over time and retelling them so that they are digested and assimilated brings to mind the ancient practice of holy reading known as lectio divina. Both narration and lectio divina are means by which persons are nourished by the living Word of God deep within themselves, resulting in growth, change and flourishing life granted by the Holy Spirit.
Lectio Divina –literally, sacred reading, is the practice of reading the Holy Scripture in a meditative way. It requires a different frame of mind than that which one enters into by studying the books of the Bible academically. The stance is more one of receptivity than actively searching out information or moral directives. It is more akin to savoring a delicious meal course by course than hurriedly consuming nourishing food for its nutritional benefits.
In his book Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina (1995), Michael Casey explains that when we meet God through the Scriptures in this way, a sacred space is made, both literally and figuratively, in which to listen and be changed by what we read. Some may seek a space in which to be alone, others might light a candle, and still others may assume a posture that helps them better attend to the reading. The pace of the reading is slow and prayerful, allowing the words and the concepts to inform the innermost parts of the heart and soul. Initially, short periods of time guarantee attention and broaden into longer sessions. Passages can be recollected orally or in writing or copied word for word into a journal. Lectio is what the monastics practice in the daily office and in the liturgy of corporate worship … the Scripture read with reverence, with ceremony, with the expectation that the hearers are ready to receive it and be changed by it.
Charlotte Mason’s poetic work The Savior of the World is the result of her own lectio divina reading of the gospels. This work is a treasury of all the ideas and events of the gospel records as taken in by Miss Mason through a lifetime of reading and rereading. One can also see the unique assimilation of these ideas and the tremendous effect they had on her heart, her spirit, and her mind. This amazing work is being made available online at the Angelfire website.
In his unpublished dissertation titled Education for the Kingdom: An Exploration of the Religious Foundation of Charlotte Mason’s Educational Philosophy, Benjamin Bernier explains that Mason believed meditation to be the means by which one comes to know God. Knowledge of God, for Mason, was the ultimate goal of education, the kind of knowledge to which we all aspire in whatever sort of learning it is we are engaging. Bernier points out that it is no surprise then, that the practice of meditation appears in Mason’s teaching methods as narration, especially when one considers her belief that all knowledge is spiritual in nature and proceeds from God to man by way of the Holy Spirit. Consider her words:
We forget that it is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,’––whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread (Vol. 6 p. 125).
In the recollection and recasting of Holy Scripture and other living texts, we must give our attention to the initial reading, forsaking all distractions and marshaling the powers of mind by an act of the will. Attending so carefully to the text as to be able to recall it piece by piece after reading it is the way to open ourselves to a particular encounter with the Other. But we must be content for our effort to stop here. It is the Holy Spirit who then brings those ideas from the text that are a fit to each individual to nourish them and grow them in the particular ways they need to be nourished and grown. These needs may not be specifically known to us, and the nourishment and growth that takes place are secret, under-the-ground processes to which we do not have access and that take place without our supervision. Indeed, they may be adversely affected by our “helpful” intervention. It may be that the only way in which to be nourished by ideas and grow from them , the only way to access the “words that proceed out of the mouth of God”, is to engage in some form of meditation or narration of living texts so that they work is kept secret and guided only by the Holy Spirit who truly knows are deepest needs and how to meet them through God’s Word. Rushing through an entire work to meet a deadline, being tested on obscure facts found in a passage, or working “concentration schemes” (Mason, Vol. 6, p. 116) based on these texts may fulfill requirements for assignments, earn students “A’s”on tests, and give the appearance of being very knowledgeable, but leave the actual person unchanged.
Looking into the ancient practice of holy reading reminds us that Charlotte Mason’s method of narration is founded upon her belief that the ultimate source of all knowledge—that which leads to salvation and that which generally informs as to what is wise and prudent in this life—is God, and that the way to truly know anything is to partake of living words by attending, retelling, and meditating upon them. It is in this way that God, who knows us best and loves us perfectly, re-forms us to the image of Christ.
© 2010 Lisa Cadora