Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Masterly inactivity

What would one think if one were to happen upon a scene such as this:

A girl is lying on a couch, doing nothing. It is evening, around sunset. She remains in the same spot for some time. Is she lazy? Or sullen? Has she no evening chores to do? No one to care for, nothing to accomplish that is more worthwhile than wasting an evening in slothful lounging?


What would one think if one were, while reading, to happen upon a passage such as this:

"Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking at the fire, and thinking. It was her favorite way of spending the hour of dusk; no one disturbed her, and she used to lie there on Beth's little red pillow, planning stories, dreaming dreams, or thinking tender thoughts of the sister who never seemed far away." -- Little Women

Charlotte Mason used a phrase of her time -- "masterly inactivity" -- to refer to the time that must be allowed children (or young adults, as Jo was in the above passage ... or old adults, such as I ....) to simply be. To think, to ponder, to make connections between life, faith, literature, and sunsets.

How far we have wandered, in our "I'm so proud of how busy we are" world, from the idea that masterly inactivity is of intrinsic value. When we lose the time needed to think and ponder, we lose connections. We lose sunsets. And we forget that life cannot and should not always be managed, scheduled and controlled. We forget to dream dreams and before we know it, tender thoughts are forgotten, because we find we have been too rushed to allow ourselves the luxury of them.

If you can, plan to spend some unplanned time soon ... a quiet twilight, time on the couch, a fire, and tender thoughts.


  1. "Masterly inactivity" - what a wonderful reminder to slow down. I loved the passage about Jo. This is a great post. Thanks!

  2. Sounds great! Want to throw a babysitter my way so I can have a "quiet moment"? ;-)

  3. Thank you, Sophia. It's a reminder to myself as well ... I preach most loudly what *I* need to hear! :-)

    Amy, I'd *love* to throw a babysitter your way. :-) Yes, it's true that in a mother's life, masterly inactivity doesn't just happen. But, we can try to make it happen for our children, and *with* them. It's just of a slightly different quality than Jo's time on the couch. ;-)

  4. What a lovely post, Karen!
    I love it!

    I'm enjoying your references to "Little Women". I caught a lot of these while reading "Little Men", but wasn't blogging at the time.
    : )

  5. What a beautiful post Karen! I think you summarized it so wonderfully for me. I have to remember not to interrupt those quiet times when my children are having them.

  6. Karen,

    Great post! I really enjoy your thoughts and what a great reminder to modern culture.

  7. Karen,
    Thanks for the reminder that we all need some quiet time. We have been fairly t.v.-less this lenten season, with the exception of my 14 year old. She and my dh are the only ones who didn't give up tv. If I see her slumped on the couch watching a program, I get very irritated. I need to give her the space she needs, even if it is just to chill out in front of the tv.

    The other children find wonderful things to fill their time, and I am very careful to not pull them away from things if I can possibly help it. My eldest son, almost 11, can find something interesting to do all day long if need be. As soon as I say, "time for math!" he's out to get some nature study in!! LOL

    For me, nursing the baby has provided me the time I need for that quiet moment. I always long for those days once the baby is weaned.

    Great post!

  8. Thanks so much, for all your kind comments.