Here we are at the end. The tenth method is: Deny the Transcendent and the subtitle is: Fix Above the Heads of All Men the Lowest Ceiling of All. The root of this is probably that, if this world is truly all there is, there’s not much worth imagining, so let’s get on with the orders of the day, shall we?
I thought I’d end my participation in this club with a few of my favorite quotes from this final chapter.
For in those days I had no idea that many of the greatest books are like a forest, and that the best way to get to know them is to wander right into the middle and get lost.
I was sitting last week upon my couch with a copy of The Illiad upon my lap. I pondered how to read it. As a teen, I read it because I found it interesting. As an adult, I found myself wondering if there were a “right” way to read it. Do I need a tutor? A guide? A book about books? While I am sure all of those things are helpful in their own way, I found myself emboldened by Esolen. Perhaps, I could just wander around the book and find my way okay, and know the territory better for having done it myself.
But the words that fixed their wonder in my mind were those first three: “In the beginning.”
Here was a time before any I could remember. Here was something older than my dog or my house, or even my mother and father. Here was not “once upon a time” or “a long, long time ago” but “in the beginning,” meaning that every other story came not in the beginning but some time later, like my dog, my house, my mother and father, and me.
I think learning the creation story this way is at once humbling and inspiring. Charlotte Mason inspired me to read my children the bare Scripture, with no lectures attached. She trusted the Word of God, I think. In addition to this, I find that Scripture sans preaching has its place–it is populating the imaginations of these little people. Doctrine will come in time, to be sure. But I love for them to hear the Story plain and simple first.
But do not think that my imagination was stirred primarily by the excitement of these stories. I have no objection to children reading stories–but that is not exactly the point. If a man named Bill is about to do something stupid and is suddenly rebuked by his dog, that may make a pretty good story for a little child. But these were not simply fooleries for children. They were stories rooted in the heart of our being human. Balaam was rebuked by the Lord, in the form of the miraculous speech from the beast, because in his willingness to disobey what he knew was the right, Balaam was behaving more stupidily than a beast, and was setting himself on the road to a dreadful death which the dumb animal could see and he could not. In other words, you couldn’t read a line without being aware of those first lines, “In the beginning,” because these stories were always finally about the works of that mysterious Father who made all.
Scripture holds a special place, even in regard to the imagination, no?
Esolen quotes Milton praying that God will open the eyes of his soul, that he might grasp Truth, and one of the more “religious” verses of the song America, and then declares:
It is not, as inattentive people will say, that such sentiments as these tend to divide people and make government impossible. It is that they tend first to make young men and women sufficiently independent to scorn the passing fashions, desiring to see what Milton saw. Then, when such people sing the words of the song that used simply to be called “America,” they unite around that call for a freedom born in obedience and virtue. Such people govern themselves. They do not make government impossible. They make despotism impossible.
Our work is nothing less that the propagation of freedom, but I do not mean this in the political sense, though it does have political ramifications.
In talking about ancient paintings, Esolen writes:
The painting bears the style of his hand, yet he does not at all mean to express himself in it; rather it allows him to pass beyond himself, to the animals he knows in part, and to the mysterious forces that govern his life and the life of his people, forces that he hardly knows at all.
In other words, man’s imagination, when it is not corrupt, yearns for the holy–to behold its beauty from a distance, to be possessed by it. All the greatest art of the past, pagan and Christian, testifies to this desire.
I want to remember this. I have been pondering the concept of self-forgetfulness as an antidote to pride, something I plan to write about in the near future. We have corrupted art, I think, by turning all of it into self-expression, as if there were nothing greater than self worth expressing. I have observed enough children now to think that they really are born serious and inquisitive–and joyful, of course–but we ruin them by cultivating pettiness. Sure, they are little sinners, but we (as a culture) make them less than what they should be rather than helping them to be more.
There are more wonderful thoughts, but these were my favorites–except for a couple I could hardly quote, seeing as it’d require me to type more than a page!
If I can pinpoint one lasting effect I think this book will have upon me personally, I have to say it is not in regard to my children at all. It is in regard to me. I made a resolution this year to add literature back into my course of study. I was doing this because Andrew Kern (I think it was Kern) suggested literature is the best–possibly only appropriate–course of study for a teacher. I used to love great literature, but when I grew up, I began to devour nonfiction. I think that perhaps too much nonfiction is, over time, wearing away at my own imagination.
My children have wonderful imaginations. I’d like to recapture mine enough to join them on their adventures. Or, at the very least, not dampen their spirits any!
Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
-Read more book club entries via Cindy’s blog
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