I am sitting at a table before a soot-stained fireplace at a wee wood-shingled library in coastal Rhode Island. Just coming off my final practicum for Classical Conversations, I am resting with friends in their tiny cottage two miles away in Jerusalem. My husband and two of our teens make up the party of eight. We lounge by the ocean; we eat; we sing. Tomorrow the Hollerans head home after four days of rest.
Each practicum at which I spoke came in a different color. Two of my groups had many veteran classical homeschoolers, while two others had lots of babies and mothers new to Classical Conversations. In any case, when licensed tutors went for their training in the afternoon, the remaining attendees had lots of questions about how homeschooling would work in their situation. We had good times, talking about both the vision and the details. Throughout all of it we explored rest, beauty, and poetry.
Sarah MacKenzie’s Teaching from Rest formed the backbone of my message. Throughout the standard practicum offering of lessons on the Trivium and on how to apply it to History, I wove the message that we need to teach from a place of rest. We can and must rest in the grace of God. How we need to hear this! Over the three days of sessions I watched as faces softened from anxiety into peace.
Another message I felt strongly about was our need for beauty. As often as I could, as attendees came off break they were greeted with lovely music, a painting, and a poem. (Have you ever heard O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen? I discovered it this spring and I am a bit miffed I missed it during my career as a music teacher. Seven minutes of hauntingly beautiful music that will reverberate for weeks. $.99 on Amazon.) We used an article by Sarah MacKenzie in CiRCE Institute’s free CiRCE Magazine 2016, “The Flower We Have Not Yet Found: Beauty as a Gateway to God” for exercises in writing and in practice with the highlighting system. Very few of us can afford the time for a creative hobby, so we talked more about how we can grace ordinary days: playing classical music, lighting a candle for meals and study hours, putting garden flowers on the table.
I inflicted poetry on the group at regular intervals, noticing a common reaction of discomfort. I learned to precede the reading with definitions of key words, such as ‘lanyard’ and the thin plastic strips I grew up calling ‘gimp’ so they could enjoy Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard”. But not even the help I gave them was enough to dispel the tension around poetry. Not until the afternoon session on Day 3 when I led my few remaining attendees into an activity with Socratic Circles did we crack the mystery of poetry.
This past week I gave the first group of parents “Introduction to Poetry” and asked only, “What do you notice?” The five slightly nervous “volunteers” discovered that as they spoke of what they individually noticed, the group developed a sense of the meaning. One would offer an observation that would lead to a second persons’ insight and a third person’s thoughtful question.
Not only that, but I saw them get excited. I know more than one expressed how frustrating poetry has been to them but if, as this poem suggests, the reader is meant to enjoy the music of the poetry rather than labor in analysis, from now on they will feel more relaxed about exploring on their own. I know for myself that as I read poetry I become more comfortable with it, accepting that I like some and not others, that to me some poetry works like sun through crystal, while other poems are like a dark solid rock.
Through all, there is the message of grace. Grace teaches us to trade in our anxiety for rest in God; grace urges us to make Beauty a guest in our home; grace welcomes us to explore poetry like tasting a little of every dish at the potluck.
My summer as practicum speaker taught me I am unavoidably a veteran homeschooler who cannot escape the task of encouraging young mothers. They want assurance that classical education will enrich their souls and that of their children, and I say emphatically, “Yes! Yes, it will!”