The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Our Relations With the Unseen.

Mother Agnes Mason C.H.F.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 542-553

LADY CAMPBELL then introduced MOTHER AGNES MASON, C.H.F., who read her paper on

Our Relations With the Unseen.

The title given to this paper makes it, in one sense, to include the subjects of several other papers. For in music and art, in nature, in history, in literature, in human beings, we are seeking and dealing with the unseen. Art which is merely decorative, music which is a mere succession of pleasing sounds, are not in any full sense music and art at all. True art must tell a story; and this story is always a story of the unseen: music must speak to us of things unspeakable, beyond what words can express. So with nature. If our teaching leaves the primrose "a yellow primrose and nothing more" to our pupil, we shall have done him harm, for we shall have destroyed his reverent wondering. And who can teach history without teaching moral purpose and providence, or can teach our relations to our fellows and to ourselves without coming across the deepest questions concerning our unseen selves?

But there we may stop. We need not attempt to answer the questions which we cannot help raising, nor to verify the conceptions which we cannot help pointing out.

Upon me in this paper it is laid to attempt this: to exercise myself in matters that are far too high for me by trying to show how we may lead our children through and above these partial conceptions, to enter upon their birthright of direct relations with God, the hem of whose vesture we actually touch in beauty (for it is true there is no such thing as bare beauty), whose wisdom is seen in nature, reaching "from one end to the other, strongly and sweetly ordering all things," the "eternal power making for righteousness" through all the changes and chances of history, the love that binds us to our fellows in common creaturehood and brotherhood.

And may I first, because I cannot get on without it, very respectfully put in a restricted plea for the conception of education as a cultivation of faculties?

It is a true and great advance from this conception to that of education as a science of relations. We English people have always been atomistic in our philosophy and over-individualistic in our life; and the theory of education as the development of individuals has been only too congenial to our young people. No one can have been much amongst the more pagan young women of the last twenty years without seeing that many of them have felt it not only their right but really their duty to develop their own faculties regardless of and even at the expense of other people.

It is a truer philosophy to teach that we are, first of all, parts of creation, members one of another, only through these relations attaining to our proper selfhood: and, being truer, we may be confident that it will work better. If an English girl can be got to see, as boys at school are got to see for certain purposes, that she is a part of a whole, most of her faults will be cured, and the best brought out of her. But we must not go violently into reaction. The self-full young woman is in reaction against the repression which her mother and grandmother endured, brought up to be, as [Emmanuel] Kant would say, not an end in herself, but only a means to the ends of others. Not that I fear that we shall never induce anyone to believe himself, as [T.H.] Green's more advanced followers would seem to think men, nothing but a meeting place of relations. But at least we educators may lose what is practically useful in the old way of looking at things. A true development ought not to throw away what it has got past, but ought to take it up and retain it in its secondary place and for its proper purpose.

And it can never cease to be useful to think of our children's qualities and capacities with a view to strengthening the weak places of their minds as we do of their bodies; or, if they are good all round, to be on the watch, when the time comes, to foster their special gifts. In the teaching of art, we should be on the watch to teach what psychologists call disinterestedness; in the study of nature, reverence; in literature, judgment; in history and all social relations, all the moral qualities which belong to human relations. If we had no qualities, we could have no relations: that is the other side of the truth that without relations our qualities would be practically non-existent.

I say all this in the interests of one particular quality which I cannot do without--Faith. And by Faith I mean the power to lay hold of what we reasonably think true about unseen things. Faith is opposed, not to reason, but to sight. It is not a power of thinking propositions true on inadequate grounds, nor of thinking that unseen things exist when we have no good reason for thinking so. Faith comes in when reason has done its work, to lay hold on the results which reason has reached, and bring them into vital relation with itself. Two men will read or experiment together, and will come by reasoning to a conclusion shared by both: "This is true," or "This is most probably true." But there they part company. For lack of interest or energy or courage, the one, rightly or wrongly, wisely or unwisely, lets the matter drop with an otiose [casual; idle] assent. The other takes it up into his life, and goes on and discovers a new country or a new element or a new development in science or art. That is the man who has faith. Professor [Alexander] Bain goes so far as to identify belief with action. Belief is measured by action. And the action which is based on belief is always opposed by sight. "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage, for I am faint . . . . And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware to him. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way; thus Esau despised his birthright." There was no question between the two men about the intrinsic value of the birthright as compared with that of the mess of pottage: both understood that perfectly and equally. But the profit of the birthright was future and far off, unseen, and therefore, to Esau, shadowy, indefinite, and doubtful. Whilst here was this same red pottage before his eyes, ready to his hand, and no doubt whatever about the good it would do him. So he ate and drank and went his way, leaving the unseen future to take care of itself: he had what he wanted at the moment. While Jacob, poor creature though he was--perhaps just because he was so poor a creature and knew it--exercised just that one quality of divine discontent, of being able to lay hold on the unseen, to

"Stretch lame hands of faith and grope
And gather dust and chaff and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope,"

until out of weakness he was made strong and as a prince had power with God and prevailed; and the blessing of Abraham, the father of the faithful, descended upon him and his children, the children of Israel.

Indeed all evolution might be summed up in the words, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated." [Romans ix. 13] Esau is the creature, of whatever sort, which is content with its surroundings and itself. Jacob is the creature which goes out on adventure, not knowing whither it goes. Esau remains as he is, or degenerates. Jacob suffers, Jacob perishes by thousands, but what survives of him is of a higher kind, with new faculties, and finer and wider and more remote relations; in other language, correspondences more definite, coherent, and heterogeneous. Among plants, Esau is the butcher's broom, and Jacob the madonna lily: among birds, Esau is the shrike or the cuckoo, and Jacob the eagle. And so with human races. English boys go out, not knowing whither they go, only craving to set their foot where no white man's foot has come, to see unseen lands. And just as "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," so is their blood the seed of the British empire; so Englishmen gain that strange power of strong and kindly leadership which has enabled the race to spread itself over half the world.

And who is there of us that is past middle life who has not known Esau and Jacob among his acquaintances? Esau, at the beginning, the pleasantest of companions, taking things as they came and not worrying, enjoying each day and helping us to enjoy it with infectious good humour. Jacob just the contrary. But now that we and they are growing old, Esau is no longer so interesting a companion. His hunting days are over: and if he has taken up any new interests, it is only because he is driven to that dreariest of refuges--a pastime. While Jacob has worked through his selfishness and meannesses and weaknesses, and has entered into his large birthright of fellowship with God and man, and is living in peace and gentle kindliness towards his children and all mankind, full of ready interest in all our plans and works and hopes.

The man of faith is the man of growth. The exercise of faith is, in itself, the means of growth and advance; and it may be so even when the man's relations with the unseen are one-sided and partial because the *object of his faith is abstract and limited. He may be passionately devoted to abstract justice, or to the fourth dimension, or to some ideal not yet brought into existence for the good of some portion of mankind; and provided his object is large enough not to become a mere hobby and grind him down into a mere faddist, he may grow healthily and happily by virtue of his devotion; even though, by the nature of the case, his object, not being a concrete reality, cannot reciprocate his devotion. Plainly, even if our best unseen is no better than this, we cannot afford to leave it out in education.

* [We need hardly consider the case of a positively evil object of faith.]

But supposing that instead of a non-existent ideal which he makes for himself, we can point him to the most real of all concrete living realities, the God who made him. If God is, then, beyond question, our relations with God must, even in this life, infinitely outweigh in importance all our other relations. Our happiness, Mr. Spencer truly tells us, lies in our adaptation to our surroundings. The business of our life, then, he says, must be to adapt ourselves to them. And though this last is not true of all our surroundings--for we adapt nature to ourselves, choosing our habitat, building and furnishing our house, planting our garden, making railways and telegraphs and airships for our convenience--yet it is partly true of our social surroundings, where our relations are those of give and take, and it must be wholly true of God. We cannot bend God to our own purposes: He does not change; the adaptation has to be all on our side. We have no choice but to learn His ways in order to obey them. And whereas we can at pleasure withdraw ourselves from other surroundings, and at death shall be withdrawn from them whether we will or no, we cannot, either here or hereafter, withdraw ourselves from God, in Whom, whether we recognise it or not, we live and move and have our being. We can leave out many other relations from our life, we cannot leave out our relations with God; the attempt to do it is like the ostrich hiding her head in the bush.

But why should we wish to leave them out? Surely our relations with God, if we understand them aright, are the only thing worth living for, and the only thing that can make any and every life beautiful and happy and good. If we Christians are right, God is love: God is wise love, righteous just love, merciful long-suffering love, beautiful discriminating delicate love, almighty love; and this love is continually going out to all His creatures and especially to us men who are His children, made after His likeness. We have but to accept His love and to return it in our little measure, putting ourselves into His Hands in trustful obedience, and then nothing else in the world matters. If we are unjustly judged by men, He is our Righteous Judge; if we are perplexed about ourselves, He sees and knows us clearly and perfectly; if our outward surroundings are sordid, He is our Beauty; if we are weak, He is our Strength; in loneliness He is with us, in death He is our stay and confidence. And all our other joys are enhanced a hundredfold because they come from His hand and we can pass through them to Him whom we love.

This is not romance, nor is it an experience of exceptional souls; it is the common everyday experience of plain commonplace souls when once their eyes are opened and they have laid hold on God; or rather, when God has laid hold on them and they have responded. The whole world is transfigured for them. They have eternal life, not as a hope in the future, but here and now, because they know God.

And if you asked them what reasons they have for the beliefs which have so changed their life, they would most likely say that they do not need any reasons, they do not believe or take on trust, they know. What was once a matter of reasonable belief they have now made proof of, have found by experience that it is true. They know that God is with them, just as they know that their human friends are with them. "I think the thing I marvel at most," wrote Archbishop [Edward White] Benson in his diary on his 58th birthday, "is the thinness of the partition by which He and He only keeps me from falling under so many ghostly temptations, and propensities so terrible. The falls are sad enough and bad enough, and the character they reveal to me painful indeed. But the grace which keeps me from falling once inch further, irrevocably, and is not worn out by my παροξυσμοι′ [paroxysms, seizures] in this wilderness, is simply more visibly alive and active in my most certain experiences, more prompt, more steady, than I have any experience of among material things and persons. Everything material is simply feeble; and everything personal is shadowy as compared with this personality under whose shadow I am allowed to dwell. . . . . He is on my right hand, and I know it." That is only an uncommonly clear account of a common experience.

Nor must we think of our relations with God only or even chiefly as making our lives happy and peaceful: communion with God makes a man first of all good; not good because he is happy and peaceful, but happy and peaceful because he is good. As to a child it makes all the difference in the world if its father and mother, to whom it looks up, and its other companions, are good; as it consciously and unconsciously takes its tone from them, so is it with a man who is much with God our Father. He tends to become like his "Great Companion," the object of his worship and his deepest love.

And we know how our moral judgment is formed and influenced by the judgments of our companions: so much so that quite different codes of morality are current in different countries and sections of society.

What is to keep our boys straight when they leave home and country? What is to keep their moral judgment true and give them the strength to act on it? It will largely be their love for home. "What would so-and-so say?" That is a form into which our cogitations commonly throw themselves in cases of conscience, "so-and-so" being better informed and wise than we are. It is a very useful form, helping us to correct our personal and individual bias. "What would so-and-so do?" is less useful, because no two people ought to do exactly the same: but it is no less common, if we may judge from the stir made by the American story called, What would Jesus do? [from In His Steps by Charles Sheldon] But to ask, "What would Jesus--or what would God have me to do?"--that is indeed a question which enlightens and braces our conscience. To try to see things as God sees them, that is to try to see them truly. And God is there, and God does actually know all about this difficulty, and knows what we ought to do in it, and is watching to see what we do. And moreover, God is able and willing, if we will open our mind to it, to give us wisdom to know what to do and strength to do it. And this relation never changes: all through the changes and chances of our life, whether alone or in company, in whatever sort of surroundings and influences, we acknowledge God, the righteous Judge, to be (as indeed He is) our ever-present witness. And there can be no discipline so purifying, so strengthening, to our moral judgment, as the habit of submitting all our difficulties to the judgment of God the All-Father.

We can never fully realise the Brotherhood of Man except we realise the Fatherhood of God, on which it is based. Our duty towards God comes first, and out of it springs our duty towards our neighbour. The love of God and the love of man are two sides of one thing.

I think that in our present paper we need hardly touch on our relations with God in the next world. They certainly will not be the worse there from having been developed here. The fact that such communion with the Eternal is possible here goes a long way to suggest its continuance after death. And if we did not believe in that continuance, out fellowship here would be shorn of its fair proportions. "This God is our God for ever and ever." And "God is not the God of the dead but of the living." But, granted this continuance, it is the Love of God which makes our lives here and now worth living.

Surely, then, the one thing which of all others we must needs teach our children is the truth and the practice of their relations with God.

But how are we to teach them? That is no doubt the difficulty for some of us. And it is indeed the part of education from which anyone may well shrink. We ought to shrink in it, because it is so high and so delicate. Yet we ought not to shrink from it, so as to refuse it. And for us church people it is made comparatively easy, because the matter of our teaching is given to us, and in part the manner, and it all is of such a character that it can only be a joy to see our children learn it.

If we are asked what the unseen is in itself--in its own nature--we say It, or rather He is Love. That is the cardinal dogma of Christianity. If we are asked, in what relation does this Love stand towards us, we say, He is our Father. If we are asked how our Father, Who is Love, has shewed His loving relations towards us His children, and to each of us in particular, we say, "I believe in God the Father who hath made me and all the world, in God the Son who hath redeemed me and all mankind, in God the Holy Ghost who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God." If then we are asked how on our part we are to correspond with these relations of God to us, we again have the answer put into our mouths: "My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship Him, to give Him thanks, to put my whole trust in Him, to call upon Him, to honour His holy name and His word, and to serve Him truly all the days of my life."

It is, I think, beside the scope of this paper to do more than indicate these broad lines of our relations with God, as we church people understand them. I need only say that they are filled in for us in the Prayer-book, teaching us, e.g., the Sacraments and other means of grace through which God "sanctifieth" us, and how we are "to worship Him and give Him thanks." It is all simple and plain enough to understand for practical purposes: and it can be put in the language of everyday personal life without any philosophy or learning. God loves the child and cares for it as its father and mother love it and care for it; and God in like manner desires the child's love and obedience. And to fill out these general truths with particulars, we have the Gospel stories, vivid, picturesque, beautiful and fascinating beyond all other literature. In those stories we see what God is, because we see what Jesus Christ is, and Jesus Christ is God. And in those same stories we see what God would have us men be, for Jesus Christ is Man and our Brother. Children are ready and apt to worship heroes, and Jesus Christ naturally becomes their hero.

Not that it is difficult to teach theology to little children. I think most teachers would agree that, up to the age of ten or eleven, children are wonderfully quick to understand great truths. When they are a little older, their minds begin to be taken up with their own doings, and they become worldly. Earlier, the unseen is as real to them as the seen. It is no difficulty to them that they cannot see God.

And surely we ought to teach it as definitely as possible, remembering that our relations with God depend on what God is and what we are, and that these relations are by far the most important thing in our life. If we are careful and reverent we need not be afraid of impairing the child's special religious instincts; children can carry on their own life, hidden from us, only taking in from our teaching what they can really assimilate. When we teach them the piano, we teach them theory with absolute definiteness, and we spend hours and hours in seeing that their position is right and their fingers moved in exactly the right way. If they turn out good pianists, their touch will have, not less, but more individual character from having been carefully grounded in the way common to all. So with art. The half-taught musician, the self-taught artist, are amateurs; and bitterly they rue it. And if it be objected that these are arts and definite in character, so is it again with metaphysics, which to most people's minds is not only vast and vague, but studied methodically and with the extremest accuracy and definiteness the conceptions and methods of the great meta-physicians, and you must have practised expressing yourself quite accurately on most difficult subjects. So mutatis mutandis, in the great matters of the theory and practice of the religious life. We should be definite, certainly, in affirmation rather than negation. We are much more likely to be right in what we positively believe and affirm than in what we deny. Our various beliefs are, generally speaking, not so much erroneous as partial. And the positive relations which we wish to develop are nourished, not by barren negatives, but by what St. Peter calls "the sincere milk of the Word." But, with this caution, the more definite and careful we can be in teaching both theology, which is the theory of that life, and the duty to God which is the practice of it, the more definite, coherent, and heterogeneous can become the child's correspondences with God: in other words, the stronger, fuller, readier, more delicate and truer may be his relations, and the more intimately personal and special.

[Mutatis mutandis: "things having been changed that have to be changed" - Merriam-Webster]

They are developed, broadly speaking, first by the teaching of theology, and then, by the practice of obedience and prayer. Obedience to God is the action which springs directly from faith, and in its turn produces faith; and we ought to see to it that our children form a habit of doing right, not to obey or please us only, but because their conscience tells them that it is their duty towards God. And prayer is, in its essence, communion with God, the going straight to God, speaking to Him as to a father or mother, expecting Him to hear and attend and accept the prayer, and to care for His worshipper and supply his needs as He best knows them. And by prayer and obedience, broadly speaking, those relations are kept open which are really a communion between the soul and God--an intercourse or holy commercium in which God's part always comes first. "We love because He first loved us." Our part is to keep laying ourselves open, by putting away sin and by acts of prayer, to the entrance of the love which is always pressing for access to our hearts, as the vine sends its life-giving sap into the branches. Channels that are opened in our earliest childhood can hardly be permanently stopped up: and even if our children, when they grow up, forget God and let these relations drop, they will be ready to open again when need comes. The more so if we have taught them prayers, such as the Psalms, to say by heart. Those will come back to them in their need.

I am speaking of instruction, not of influence. That is because instruction is the only thing which we can do. Influence comes from what we are; and I cannot deal with that. But we ought continually to remind ourselves that influence and example are far more powerful than precept. When a gentleman once went to a person who was noted for his power of prayer, and asked to be taught to pray, the man of God knelt down and put his hands together in silence, and the gentleman went away well satisfied with his lesson.

One last caution. Even in religion we may have our messes of pottage, the particular means of grace which we have got hold of and made our own and are familiar with; our own particular church, our favourite preacher, our covenanted hours for devotion which we enjoy. Masters of the spiritual life have this in their minds when they tell us that we must go from God to God, that we must be ready to leave God for God. That is, our life from beginning to end is to be a life of obedience grounded on faith, a life of faith shown in obedience, a life of evergrowing and deepening love manifested in self-sacrifice.

I have spoken of the beliefs and methods of church people because those are what I know most about; and I have kept as far as possible from mention of doctrines or forms of worship peculiar to the Church. The same principles, if they are true for us, will apply, mutatis mutandis, to the teaching of other beliefs. But I dare not attempt in any way to show how, lest I should, in my ignorance, misrepresent those other beliefs.

If we have no belief in any eternal unity which lies behind things temporal, to which we can pass through those things, finding it both in them and beyond them, then we must do our best to give our children a strong interest in large ideals and high abstractions.

Lastly, if we find an Esau among our own children, we must not be miserable over him. Esau was "hated" only in comparison with the love with which Jacob was loved. The Esau of Genesis lived just the sort of life that he wanted to live, not bad, nor unhappy; and his family for many generations the same. It may be that our Esaus are content with themselves just because they really are quite wholesome and sound as far as they go; and if at any time some fierce temptation should assail them, then our early teaching may come to mind; they may remember the God of Jacob and turn to Him and be saved.


LADY CAMPBELL said that she felt the audience would agree that the paper dealt with such high subjects that on the whole it was best to go home and think it over and not spoil the impression by any discussion.

In the afternoon MR. KEARTON'S lecture to children on "Wild Nature's Ways" was listened to by an audience of over 400 with the greatest joy and delight.

At 4.30 p.m. a Council Meeting was held.

Typed by happi, Oct. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Oct 2020