"The real act is the thought." ~~ Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason begins Chapter X with a summary of The Will, and we badly need one after several very packed chapters.
1. The Will acts upon ideas.
2. Ideas are presented to the mind in many ways--by books, talk, and spiritual influences.
3. "To let ourselves be moved by a mere suggestion is an allowance and not of will."
4. "An act of will is not the act of a single power of Mansoul, but an impulse that gathers force from Reason, Conscience, Affection."
5. "Having come to a head by degrees, its operations also are regular and successive, going through the stages of intention, purpose, resolution."
6. "When we are called upon for acts of will about small matters, such as going here or there, buying this or that, we simply fall back upon the principles or the opinions which Will has slowly accumulated for our guidance."
7. "We know that what we do or say matters less than what we will; for the Will is the man, and it is out of many acts of willing that our character, our personality, comes forth."Remember this thought from Day 11?
"Last weekend we were driving through a nearby town that was built on a flood-prone river. "The houses up on the hill are the ones to own," someone commented. "The ones down by the river...well, you take your chances." So does building our spiritual house on a hill keep us immune from floods and temptations? It probably can't hurt! But nothing (nobody) is immune to attack, and in Chapter XVIII, "Temptation," Charlotte Mason acknowledges that there are forces outside of ourselves that search out our weak spots, and try to prevent us from keeping what she calls a trusty spirit."Anybody who's made resolutions that last less than a week knows how that works. If there are cookies tied up with string in a box on the shelf, Frog and Toad are going to climb up and eat them. We say that we know ourselves too well, that we've tried to get ourselves into shape, and that we're just being honest when we say that our bad character traits are just who we are. It would be nice to live on the hill, out of the reach of floods, but we know how close our own house is to the river.
Now follow closely here, because a Charlotte Mason "Wow, I Never Thought of That" idea is about to unfold.
Situation: you have a bad temper. Usual way of dealing with it: you work on your temper, but you keep losing your temper, and worrying about how you lost your temper, and think about how you're not going to lose it next time. You wear a string around your finger or write little reminders to yourself. But then somebody pushes your buttons, and you blow up, and you're very sorry, and you're sure that next time you'll be able to handle things better, but then off you go again. Is there a better way?
"The place to keep watch at, is, not the way of our particular sin, but that very narrow way, that little portal, where ideas present themselves for examination. Our falls are invariably due to the sudden presentation of ideas opposed to those which judgment and conscience, the porters at the gate, have already accepted. These foreign ideas get in with a rush. We know how that just man, Othello, was instantly submerged by the idea of jealousy which Iago cunningly presented. We know of a thousand times in our own lives when some lawless idea has forced an entrance, secured Reason as its advocate, thrown a sop to Conscience, and carried us headlong into some vain or violent course." (pp. 166-167)(Side note: did you notice how Mason snuck in that bit of Shakespeare? Remember how the first few chapters were packed so full of literary allusions, reminding us that Story is a prime way to educate the Conscience? This is just another example.)
The problem is that, once a idea, moral or intellectual, has gotten inside, "neither Reason nor Conscience can be depended upon." The job of Reason and Conscience is to keep unworthy ideas out. Reason and Conscience are both the interrogators and the muscle at the door. Charlotte Mason calls them "the two janitors" (p. 167). But once those "bad boys" are inside, all bets are off.
Take a pro-active lesson from real-life high-security measures. Think airports. Think top security at the White House. Use your bank of cameras to zoom in on anyone driving up. Scrutinize them. Ask questions. Do they have their Principle Passports with them, or are those fake I.D. cards? It's not that we want to keep every idea out, just that we want to examine each one closely.
"We are all aware, more or less, that our moral Armageddon is to be fought against an army of insurgent ideas; but, perhaps, we are not all aware of the simple and effectual weapon put into our hands." (p. 168)And do we fight them in the doorway through sheer willpower, after they're already halfway in? That's the hard way, and (as we know) it can be spectacularly unsuccessful. Here is the most radical piece of advice: if we see them coming in the distance, and our alarms are squawking "Intruder! Intruder!," we stop looking out the window at them. They lose our attention. We move on to more interesting arrivals. This is a win-win Way of the Will decision, for us, and for everybody around us (except for those offering the sorry-not-interested ideas).
When Christmas is a trigger
"Whenever life becomes so strenuous that we are off guard, then is our hour of danger. Ideas that make for vanity, petulance, or what not, assault us, and our safety lies in an ejaculation of prayer,––'O God, make speed to save us! O Lord, make haste to help us!' and then, quick as thought, we must turn our eyes away from the aggravating circumstance and think of something diverting or interesting.––the weather, and the fitting garments for it, are always at hand!" (p. 168)A friend of AmblesideOnline recently wrote that people who are prone to depression during the holidays, and whose bad feelings can be quite justified by their particular set of circumstances, must nevertheless try to abstain from "scratching that sore place," if only for the sake of their loved ones. It's not that we don't face our emotions, or that we're being dishonest about grief. It's more that we see the flood coming, we acknowledge its presence out there, but we choose to act, for this moment, on a different idea. And determine to keep a trusty spirit.
(Think about it, anyway!)