Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Essential is Invisible: Notes from the L'Harmas Retreat, October 2016

"What is a rite?" asked the little prince. "Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all." ~~ Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince
My autumn rite for the last four years has been to attend the L'Harmas Retreat, a Charlotte Mason-inspired weekend held in Kingsville, Ontario. It is created by the combined vision and work of a local C.M. learning community and a team of parents/educators/inspirers from several far-flung places. This year's insect mascot, if you can't guess from these photos, was the ladybug.
Kingsville is near Point Pelee, on the shores of Lake Erie. Because I went early this year, there was more time to explore. I found out that you can pick up small seashells on the beach there; at Lake Huron, a place I know better, we just find pebbles. Every place is a little bit different.
What made this event different from any of the others? Among other things, the chance to spend work and play time with a few special ladybug friends, who moved various mountains to be able to get there. And even more fluttered in for the retreat on Friday and Saturday. New friends are good. Old friends are good too.
An "harmas" is an old French term for ground that looks fallow, worthless, unworkable; but upon close inspection is rich with life. The L'Harmas retreat began with small, seemingly insignificant ideas and objects: a piece of paper and a ruler; a collection of needlework made by a grandmother; a simple song; thoughts on going to sleep. We were encouraged to look (or listen) again, and we saw a folded box, a wartime treasure, a child's growing trust in a parent who sang to her. We allowed the ideas to grow, and imagined more boxes of other sizes; a Beethoven symphony; a greenhouse full of plant and insect life working in harmony. 
One thread that came up several times was the idea that a "Charlotte Mason education" encompasses the physical aspects of our lives, the  intellectual or emotional aspects, and also the spiritual aspects. Many times more than one of those is at work at the same time, for instance during a paper-folding exercise that develops not only mathematical sense and manual dexterity, but encourages habits of character such as patience, attention, and accuracy.  When discussing those parts of our  personhood, or as Mason and John Bunyan called them, the Mansoul, we may find it convenient to separate the strands, and focus, for example, on how a child's intellectual needs can best be met through living books and narration. But in practice, just as we offer whole and living food at meals, we don't need to be as aware of those categories. We read or we sing or we look at the patch of ground, and our needs are met simultaneously and most enjoyably. Analysis, necessary at certain times, gives way to synthetic thinking, whole-person learning. As Louisa Thomsen Brits says about the Danish word hygge, "‘Hygge  is a way of acknowledging the sacred in the secular, of giving something ordinary a special context, spirit and warmth, and taking time to make it extraordinary.'" 
We were allowed to see some of the work that comes out of the busy minds and hands of the local C.M. learning community, through their insect paintings and the gifts they made for retreat guests. There was a reminder of the global community through a display of soaps and oils crafted in Indonesia. My own part in this ladybugs' picnic was to talk about the patch of ground where I do most of my own exploring and cultivating, and to invite others to come and join in that experience as well. 
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."  "It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .""Yes, that is so," said the fox."But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince."Yes, that is so," said the fox."Then it has done you no good at all!""It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields."
(Thank you to the friends who kindly offered me a place in their vehicle when it was time to "fly away home.")


Dawn said...

L'Harmas sounds like such a special time. Thank you for sharing your reflections, Mama Squirrel. I enjoyed this post very much. In particular, I enjoyed learning the origina of the word harmas!!

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm so glad you were able to go.

Amanda said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. A wonderful post.