Chapter 6: Parents as Inspirers - Primal ideas derived from parents
This is the fourth and final chapter dealing with the role parents as inspirers. To review:
Chapter 3: Parents as Inspirers - Children must be born again into the Life of Intelligence
Chapter 4: Parents as Inspirers - The Life of the Mind grows upon Ideas
Chapter 5: Parents as Inspirers - The Things of the Spirit
Mason states throughout these chapters that the highest role of parents is as revealers of God to their children. In the previous chapter, Mason outlined some of the things we shouldn't be doing as parents, especially in regard to fortifying them against doubt. (Review of what not to do: leave them to time and chance, or fortify them with proofs and evidences in such a way that their faith and the truth rests on these. What we need to do instead is give them both a hold of vital truth and an outlook on current thought, so they are equipped to navigate the doubts when they arise.)
"To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is, no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world." (pg. 50)
This is our chief work, our most momentous work, our highest function as parents. Parents are the primary agents of God's work in the world.
We do this work through the instrumentality of ideas. (Mason is big on the power of the idea, almost as a living thing. When she says that "education is a life," she means primarily the life of ideas. It is ideas which set the course for thought and action.) Knowing this, we must be careful both in our choice of ideas (the what), and the conveyance of ideas (the how).
As an example, she takes a popular idea of her day - that the Bible should be read to children first as a human book, to be read as history, poetry, hero stories, etc., and then slowly move up from this human take to a divine understanding. She thinks this is a mistake however, and that the Bible should be presented from the beginning as divine and therefore authoritative.
Next she goes on to talk about the limits of reason and the importance of primary ideas. Basically, if children get the wrong primal idea about something from the start, they will go on and follow that idea to its "reasonable" and "logical" conclusion. Mason then gives an excursus on how just this thing happened with the crucifixion of Jesus. It was perfectly "reasonable" for the Jews to put Jesus to death, given their system of thought, and the ideas that they had grown up with as children. The error did not come in to play in the crucifixion, rather, the error lay in the primal idea that religion was to serve the nation. This shows how "reason," once it seizes upon an idea, will carry that on to its inevitable and "logical" conclusion. The crucifixion was perfectly "reasonable," and indeed seemed "right" to the Jews, given the ideas that fed into that action.
"The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary outcome of ideas imbibed from their cradles by the persecuting Jews. So of every persecution; none is born of the occasion and the hour, but comes out of the habit of thought of a lifetime." (pg. 54)
All this to say, that it is of vital importance to get the primal ideas right in the first place! (And though she doesn't refer again to the earlier "current" approach to Scripture, we can infer that she rejects it on this basis. If Scripture really is divine and authoritative, it should be presented that way from the start.)
And where do these primal ideas mainly come from? Why, parents of course! (Only in our day and age, that may not be largely the case. Which is a whole other discussion.)
"It is the primal impulse to habits of thought which children must owe to their parents; and, as a man's thought and action Godward is 'The very pulse of the machine,' the introduction of such primal ideas as shall impel the soul to God is the first duty and highest privilege of parents." (pg. 54)
There is great power in these ideas that are formed from the cradle, where they actually become part of the atmosphere of the child's early life. Parents are educating their children in the ways of God right from the start with atmosphere, discipline of habit, and the life of ideas.
Mason then goes on to talk about some of first approaches to God in a child's life. She talks about the importance of:
1. Regular morning and evening prayer. "Nothing could be more suitable and more beautiful than these morning and evening approaches to God, the little children brought to him by their mothers." (pg. 55)
2. Parents praying out loud in front of children throughout the day. Mason thinks more can be done by a mother communing out loud with God, "so that the children might grow up in the sense of the presence of God" which would lead to "glad and natural living in the recognized presence of God." (pg. 55)
3. Outspoken gratitude. In particular, voicing our thanksgiving is a powerful practice that children will pick up from parents. If we speak out our joys and gratitude, children will too.
4. Using endearing terms in prayer. Mason believes children should use familiar, endearing language in their prayers, so that we don't put up a barrier between them and God. She suggests using "Dear God" as an address. "Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them." (pg. 57) Knowing God intimately as a loving Father will protect them against many temptations of "infidelity."
5. The "Shout of a King." By this she means children growing up with a sense of God as King in their midst. Even in her time, she laments the loss of this concept in modern civilization. (How much more is this true in our day.) I would classify this as one of the "primal ideas" that Mason talks about. From this idea flows a host of other ideas and attitudes -
"There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child's. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey. ... [A] king, a leader, implies warfare, a foe, victory - possible defeat and disgrace. And this is the conception of life which cannot too soon be brought before children." (pg. 57)
She then goes on to talk about how children know what it means to be in this fight of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, Christ vs. the devil. Children have a keen sense of their sin and their need. Their little hearts need healing as much as ours. In light of this, "they should live in the instant healing, in the dear Name, of the Saviour of the World." (pg. 59)
A few things stand out to me in this chapter. Namely,
1) the parents' role in cultivating an ongoing atmosphere of the presence of God in the home,
2) and the importance of the primal idea of the "shout of the king."
The first presupposes that the mother is practicing the presence of God herself, and then opens this reality to invite her children in with her. These things are "caught" just as much as "taught." The presence of God is THE foundational atmosphere and underlying reality for all Christian education.
The second is definitely an unusual concept in our day and age. I'm sure the language would make many, even Christians, uncomfortable. It is inspiring to me though. I've experienced this in my own life. I'd like to be more intentional somehow about this in our home. I know part of it is atmosphere, and atmosphere comes from the primal idea. So this is probably something I need to contemplate more in my own life, and it will ooze out from there.