I hardly slept last night.
When Robbo and Barnabas returned last night from their Mandala Fellowship Retreat, they came brimming with stories to tell. This 48 hour whirlwind sample of Leigh Bortin’s Mandala Fellowship captured both son and husband. Barnabas is sure this is what he wants to do next year, in spite of having in hand his acceptance from Covenant College.
Leigh Bortin’s brainchild covers the last four steps of the Seven Liberal Arts. Her first program, Classical Conversations, provides a K-12 curriculum in the Trivium—grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric—but most colleges don’t go on to complete the classical Liberal Arts. The Quadrivium is Arithmetic, Geometry, Harmony (Music) and Astronomy. Leigh’s idea is to assemble a cohort of students fewer than 24 to study with herself and two mentors the art of mathematics, to explore the beautiful mathematical order which exists throughout all studies. Arithmetic and Geometry are the studies of numbers and shapes; Music Theory and Astronomy are numbers and shapes in motion.
The first Mandala runs from this June to May. It includes two weeks in Europe in the context of Art history. The students live on their own in villas by a lake, shopping and learning to cook, taking on the responsibilities of an adult. They learn to put others before themselves, and serve in the community in work and teaching projects.
Yes, but …why? When Barnabas began to talk, we knew he was born to communicate, and when he took a pen in hand we saw his natural gift for proportion and elegance in creative writing. What does all this math have to do with his future career? Well, if the concepts of mathematics underlie all man’s endeavors, even the fine arts, then my son’s mind and conscience will be formed and strengthened by this immersion. He will gain a high view of the world, a broader vision. There is plenty of clever writing in this culture that reveals an empty mind. This year of study will root him in the sense that truly all things cohere, that through Christ and in Him and to Him are all things. Later, when he engages with the great literature of Western Civilization, this study of the order and proportion, balance and movement of the world will be the bedrock of his thought.
But more than that, here he will have what he has missed for so long in our quiet backwater of Vermont: daily meaningful relationships with other fine minds, in person. This team of students will become family. The mentors will become lifelong friends. A year with Leigh Bortins, who sees more than the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave, will leave her imprint on him forever, and to mark him may very well be to mark another generation.
But you know what God has done?! He took my failure to give Barnabas a first class education, especially in math, and He has redeemed it. It is the focus on creative math and music theory, both things I should have taught well but did not, that hooked me and inspired me to shoo them along to this retreat. My failure led to this marvelous opportunity. Astounding thought.