In part 1 of this series, I quoted C.S. Lewis’ essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” which illustrated the different between looking AT something and looking ALONG it to its source. There is flexibility and discernment required here. In some sense, it is the difference between objective and subjective seeing, or the difference between analysis and philosophy.
To understand anything–any subject in the natural world–fully, we ask not only “What is it?” but “What can I infer from it?” and “Where did it come from?” and “What is its purpose?”
Of course, some subjects are more worthy of study than others. My friend Ruth Holleran writes about classical education from her own experiences as a teacher of homeschoolers (her own and others’). She has several times shared lessons gleaned from Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute.
“All meaningful endeavors are ultimately about developing character. Nothing matters more than gaining wisdom.”
If that is the case, then it matters very much that we choose the best subjects for our intense study, and that we look with perseverance and consistency. This is well-illustrated by an outstanding essay from G.K. Chesterton’s classic, Orthodoxy. My thanks to Kuyperian Commentary’s Marc Hays for this quote from chapter 7:
“This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make many rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless. The question therefore becomes this: How can we keep the artist discontented with his pictures while preventing him from being vitally discontented with his art?
As a writer and a Christian, I find these questions compelling. To what am I looking as a goal or ideal? Do I even have a clear and fixed ideal image of my finished product in mind? Do I have an ideal model for my own character? If I change my ideal as soon as I’m frustrated with my own failures, my progress will be (at best) merely change, and at worst, decline, decay, death.
This gem–which tied it all together for me–comes from another Marc Hays post. Here he is quoting George Grant, who is quoting another Inkling this time:
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The essence of education is repentance. It is recognizing that we don’t know what we ought to know. We don’t do what we aspire to do. We make up a thousand excuses as to why it is that we’re not all that we were called to be.”
To be a learner, to acquire knowledge, to deepen understanding, to gain wisdom, to build character, to achieve the goal…these will always require humility and honesty. I must be able to concede that 1) There IS an ideal; 2) I haven’t reached it yet; and 3) I may in fact be moving in the wrong direction and need to turn around (repent).
For Christians, all these ideas come together in the person of Jesus Christ. He is
- the subject of our most diligent study, both objective and subjective;
- our ideal, the goal toward which we aim;
- the cause of our repentance;
- and the means of our developing character.
Learning to look along the beam to its Source; recognizing the Giver by way of His gifts; pressing on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14); being changed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory (II Corinthians 3:18) . We may fall short, but let us not fall away.
Now we see dimly, as in a dusty mirror or through the haze of cataract. But one day we will see along the beam to where He’s waiting, and face to face, crystal clear, we will see His glory.
“Face to face…all of creation shall be face to face with the Light of the World. Face to face…every nation shall see Jesus face to face.” Terry Talbot