Every morning, my little homeschool partakes in a ritual shared with thousands of homeschoolers: Morning Time. We gather in the living room with books and notebooks and half-eaten breakfast to start the new day with the very old.
We begin by singing the Doxology and read from the Bible and sing a hymn. Then we’ll read Plutarch or folk tales or Shakespeare. We look at art and listen to composers and sing folk songs. We read from Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves, and marvel at her timeless wisdom and her prescience. And we memorize. We plant the words of scripture and Shakespeare and poets in our minds and in our hearts. We revel in the old.
This past week, especially, I’ve been struck by how those things that last have lasted for a reason. Every day, something that we’ve read or sung or recited has brought me comfort and insight into our very precedented times. (There is nothing new under the sun, not plague nor violence, not corruption nor revolt. We are not special snowflakes, we are merely humans who refuse to learn.)
Some of the things that have brought both comfort and conviction, and these just from the last week.
From Shakespeare, whose brilliance is unmatched. Oh hey! I’ve seen this a LOT this week:
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue on his outward parts.
How many cowards whose hearts are all as false
As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars,
Who inward searched, have livers white as milk!
And these assume but valor’s excrement
To render them redoubted.Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene 2
But the greatest, sweetest, most generous kindnesses perhaps that of which we take least thought; I mean kindness in construction. There are always two ways of understanding other people’s words, acts, and motives; and human nature is so contradictory that both ways may be equally right; the difference is in the construction we put upon other people’s thoughts. If we think kindly of another’s thoughts––think, for example, that an ungentle action or word may arise from a little clumsiness and not from lack of kindness of heart––we shall probably be right and be no more than fair to the person concerned. But, supposing we are wrong, our kind construction will have a double effect. It will, quicker than any reproof, convict our neighbour of his unkindness, and it will stir up in him the pleasant feelings for which we have already given him credit. Of all the causes of unhappiness, perhaps few bring about more distress in the world than the habit, which even good people allow themselves in, of putting an ungentle construction upon the ways and words of the people they live with. This habit has another bad effect, especially upon young people, who are greatly influenced by the opinion of their fellows. They think So-and-so will laugh at them for doing a certain obliging action, so they refrain from following the good impulses of a good heart. Kindness which is simple thinks none of these things, nor does it put evil constructions upon the thoughts that others may think in the given circumstances. “Be ye kind one to another” is not an easy precept, but––
“All worldly joys go less
To the one joy of doing kindnesses.”
I’ve been struggling with this section as we see frankly evil acts take place. How can their motives be anything other than wicked? And I marvel at how much dissension in our communities and nation has occurred because we assume the absolute worst in others (and the absolute best in ourselves.)
And finally (but not finally, because there is wisdom in every bit of treasure from the past), “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins offers such hope and comfort.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
With 24/7 news and doom scrolling and social media bringing every far-flung catastrophe and sin to our immediate attention, we are in a constant state of panic. The Now and the Next and the What Might Happen are screaming at us to do something. Which most of us can’t do anything. (Except pray, and that’s always a good idea.) I’m not arguing that we should not be informed, although I do think we should not be Very Online and plugged in every waking moment. For every hour we spend fretting about the Now, we should spend two steeped in the things that have lasted and will last past this frantic, fretful season. Find wisdom and perspective to be able to look at the chaos with a steady, peaceful mind.
Andrew Peterson is not old, but he has an old soul–in part because of what he sings here.