Work: Partakers of His Resurrection

Work: Partakers of His Resurrection

Editor’s Note: Essex Cholmondeley (1892–1985) is mostly remembered today as the biographer of Charlotte Mason. She also wrote the impactful booklet Parents Are Peacemakers, revived in recent years by Nancy Kelly. Cholmondeley’s association with the PNEU began in 1911 when Helen Wix, a graduate of the House of Education, became the governess of Essex’s younger sisters.[1] Cholmondeley followed Wix’s footsteps and graduated from the House of Education in 1919.[2]

As the years went on, Cholmondeley’s involvement in the PNEU deepened:

After her training as a student by Miss Mason, Miss Cholmondeley had some years of experience with a resident class of girls of all ages up to eighteen, working in the Parents’ Union School. In 1923 she was appointed Secretary to the Parents’ Union School, and after five years’ work she had a year’s holiday before coming back to the House of Education as Vice-Principal in 1930.[3]

After Ellen Parish’s resignation in 1934, Cholmondeley served as principal of the House of Education from 1935–1938.[4] After that, according to Jack Beckman, “she maintained her voluminous volunteer work serving on the Ambleside Council, the Ambleside Old Students’ Association, speaking at PNEU conferences, and writing the biography of Charlotte Mason published in 1960.”[5]

Margaret Coombs observes that Cholmondeley was “serious and spiritual,” and that she “probably understood Miss Mason’s quest for holiness better than anyone.”[6] It would not be surprising, then, for Cholmondeley to notice nuances of Mason’s thinking that others might have missed. In a startling passage in Ourselves, Mason referred to Thomas Carlyle as “the apostle of work,” and then quoted him as saying, “The latest gospel in this world is, Know thy work and do it.”[7]

Why did Mason call this the “latest” gospel and not an ancient one? Did she perhaps have in mind the ancient distinction between worker and free man, a distinction once maintained even in the realm of education, when the servile arts were distinguished from the liberal arts? Mason does not say. But we do know that her faithful pupil, Essex Cholmondeley, grasped this message. In 1926, she expounded on it briefly in an article in The Parents’ Review, tying this gospel to nothing less than the Resurrection of the Son of God.

By Essex Cholmondeley.
The Parents’ Review, 1926, pp. 217-218

Can the nature of our human work share in this resurrection where, in Christ, all shall be made alive?

The universal activity commonly expressed by the humble word “work” is the effort of mind to give form and vehicle to ideas and principles. To some people work is a duty, to some a joy, to some an experiment nearly akin to romance, to others it is a dreary repetition of meaningless movements. To many people work can be all this, much more, or much less. Whatever the feeling of the worker, work is an inevitable activity. Though shunned, it stands in the narrow place where there is room to turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, though avoided or delayed during a lifetime, it waits, a flaming sword of deeds undone, at the gateway to another life.

There is no work that is not travail of the mind to make itself manifest. It is the careful loving eye for work which gives a man understanding of the worker. Who should know the mind of a bird but he who observes its nest-building and its tireless pursuit of food for its young? Who should understand the mind of a dog but he who can see the devotion which it brings to its bird-carrying or its sheep-guiding? It is true that much toil is borne by men and creatures who are but the tools of other minds. They work blindly and doubtless the faithfulness of their toil will be rewarded in the day when creation becomes diversity in perfect unity. One clear glance of vision in eternity will crown them. Their works follow after them.

Work is mind in manifestation. To share a work is to share a mind. Here is the highest experience of fellowship. To share a blessing, a pain, an adventure, are priceless opportunities of companionship, but to work together in the same mind gives the experience of eternal fellowship. This is the fellowship of which Christ speaks when He says to the worker, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” A fuller opportunity of fellowship in work, ruling “over many things,” was the reward in eternity.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” says St. Paul. “Lord, how is this possible; how can we know Thy mind?” we think. The answer comes: “He that believeth on me, the works I do shall he do also,” by working the works of Christ, keeping His words, going about doing good in many a humble toil. Here is a resurrection of dead work. How wide is the Christian outlook! To the Christian, life is no longer divided into work and rest, but into Christ and non-Christ. Who then shall say where work is or is not? To know Christ, to labour—in toil, in love, in suffering, in joy, in grief, in the contemplation of beauty, in every relationship of heart and soul, to make His mind manifest in and through all, is the Christian life. Is this “work”? In the highest sense it is—the supreme work of humanity of which every detail of labour can be an important part. Blessed are they who find it and who humbly endeavour, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, to say with Christ, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”

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Endnotes for the Editor’s Note

[1] Coombs, M. (2015). Charlotte Mason: Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence, p. 10.

[2] L’Umile Pianta, January 1921, p. 10.

[3] The Parents’ Review, vol. 46, p. 128.

[4] The Parents’ Review, vol. 54 p. 330.

[5] Beckman, J. (2003). Lessons to Learn — Charlotte Mason’s House of Education and Resistance to Taxonomic Drift (1892-1960), p. 215.

[6] Coombs, p. 10.

[7] Ourselves, Book II, pp. 17–18.

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