The Art of Everything:
Come to Your Senses
Back in the early days of my stint as a home schooling mom, someone recommended to me the series written by Charlotte Mason for home educators. I dutifully began reading the first volume and got about a third of the way through before an ill fated encounter with a bumble bee hive took all the wind out of my sails. I had great visions of nature walks in which my three “students” would draw beautiful pictures and write memorable accounts of the various specimens of creation we would encounter. (AND, I could also count it as PE, could I not?) After that day I herded them home while brushing the bees off their backs and yelling, “Run! Run!” none of us were all that eager to leave the house. It didn’t help that it was summer in Texas and it was hot. As has often been my experience, life got in the way, and the books sat on my shelf for many years before I passed them on to someone else. All I can say for sure about my homeschooling efforts is that my children are functioning members of society, and none of them (as yet) has expressed resentment towards me for what I see as being a minimally successful effort at educating them.
There is one portion of what little Charlotte Mason I read that has stuck with me through the years. While I didn’t really emphasize it as a teacher, it has lately been resurrected in my own life. This is the practice of observation. Ms. Mason encourages an exercise in which you are given a limited amount of time to look at your surroundings, and then you must turn your back and list everything you can remember seeing. I haven’t done this exercise, although I have toyed with the idea of trying it. However, I have begun to develop in myself a habit of noticing my surroundings.
Right now I can look out the window and see the breeze blowing through the leaves of the various plants. I have just noticed how differently the wind affects the large elephant ear leaf as opposed to the leaves on the oak tree. And the weeds that need to be pulled from my garden blow in a different way altogether. I’ve also noticed that my peace lily across the room from me has flowers on it that have stayed green, instead of being white, like they were before I moved it away from the widow, where direct sunlight was making it wilt (or was it the air from the vent in the ceiling blowing too directly on it?).
I have a friend who always posts pictures of the sky on his facebook page. My mom and sister always notice the clouds. Because of these people expressing their observations, I notice the sky. And when I do, I see how it is different from the last time I saw it.
I spent a week on the beach in January, and was struck by the changes in color of the water and the sky from one day to the next. In fact, we were on a peninsula that was narrow enough that if you stood in the middle, you could see the bay on one side, and the ocean on the other. On more than one day there was a marked difference in the level of cloud coverage and wind from one side of the land to the other. Along with the pleasing effect observing the changing landscape has on one’s mood, there is the added effect of showing us just how amazing is our Creator.
My beach companion mentioned to me that nature is full of beautiful gifts from God. He did not have to make it so varied and beautiful, but He did – at least in part for the benefit of His children. I actually think He couldn’t have done any differently. Creation is a reflection of His nature. It takes everything from the vast sky and ocean and mountain to the intricate detail of DNA and atoms and things unseen by naked eyes to encompass who He is. What I think is remarkable is that He, then, created us with multiple senses that allow us to appreciate this world in a variety of ways.
I believe there is much to be learned about God through observation of the things He has created. Psalm 19:1 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. Romans 1 tells us that God’s invisible attributes are understood by the things that are made. Psalm 8 describes the humbling effect of looking at the night sky and the works of God’s creation. “What is man, that you are mindful of him?”
There is another home schooling experience that has managed to stay at the forefront of my mind. (I actually think I learned more from teaching my kids that they did). In a science book, there was a one page blurb about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Apparently he was one who made a habit of being out in nature with the eyes of an observer. He believed that much could be learned about God through observation of His creation, and he regularly used examples from his time outdoors in his sermons. I mentioned this to a pastor friend who mentors pastoral interns. He told me he requires the interns under his tutelage to work in his garden. His goal is to help them develop the discipline of seeing the spiritual implications of nature (and also perhaps to get rid of some weeds).
Sometimes being artistic is as simple as appreciating the art. Creating art is good, but wouldn’t it be somewhat less good if there was no one around to notice its beauty? I want to be mindful to notice the beauty that has been gifted to me by my Father. I want to notice more about the grass than whether it needs to be cut. I want to smell the flowers and the ocean air and the sweetness of baby skin. I want to see the yellowness of the yolk in my breakfast egg, the way a raindrop makes its way down the window pain, and the skittering of a sand piper skirting the flow of water on the beach as he searches for food. I want to hear the deep tones of the bass cello, the tinkling of a wind chime, the wind through the trees, the giggles of a child. I want to feel the roughness of a carpenter’s calloused hand, the heat of the sun coming through my window, the softness of my pillow as I lay me down to sleep. There is a lot said about using our gifts of talents to the glory of God. But I wonder, shouldn’t we use our gifts of senses to His glory as well?
What sense do you have today?