Food for the Soul

“As Chesterton saw, it is the search for truth that keeps us sane, because it always brings us back to reality. And why is reality so important? It is what we are made for. Reality is the food of the soul.” Stratford Caldecott

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance includes a moment from his youth when he didn’t understand the difference between intelligence and knowledge” (59). A classmate had shown off his multiplication skills. Vance had yet to realize the concept even existed.

He felt stupid. In response to his sense of failure, Vance’s grandfather devoted time once a week to drilling the youngster in mathematical concepts. Papaw showed patience when Vance got frustrated. Papaw crowned success with ice cream. The lessons stuck.

But Papaw wasn’t the only one to enrich Vance’s mind. His mother introduced him to the library and encouraged reading in the home. His father introduced him to faith.

Papaw was a rock of stability for the boy. Mom? A sea of dysfunction. Dad? Absent in his early years. But what they gave was enough. Small meals of wonder.

Growing up in a community that did not value learning, Vance “received a different message at home” (60). Today, he’s a graduate of Yale Law School, a best-selling author, and a US senator from Ohio.

Some messages are brief but resonate all our lives.

Today, kids receive a message adults convey implicitly. This message has worked its way down from parents, teachers, and other adults to the next generation and the next.

The message is that the main purpose of education, at its conclusion, is the ability to engage in a particular kind of employment. And once that employment is attained, aside from any related training, education has come to an end.

Sound education translates into more earned dollars than unsound education does. High school graduation produces more dollars than dropping out. Often but not always, a college degree produces more money than just a high school diploma.

But earning money is not the be all and end all of learning.
Classical education in Europe during the Renaissance was founded in the idea that learning the truth about various subjects, math, music, history, literature, and science, would lead a student to the truth about God. The subjects were the basis for the primary topic–theology.

Knowing the truth about God would lead to a purpose beyond oneself.

Such learning would not end. It certainly wouldn’t end when the student left school behind and entered the marketplace. It enriched and captivated the mind and spirit throughout life.

Education gave birth to the idea of a Renaissance man–someone who had mastered various subjects, not just six ways to make widgets. Learning wasn’t a means to a job. It was a means to a life. It showed the way to wonder. It was food for the soul.

But western culture rejected truth and modern education has shut God out. Now one’s purpose is to find one’s self. Now purpose is found within self not beyond ourselves.
Such an education makes the world small. It makes a life small. It reduces us to what we do and fails to recognize who we are–who God made us to be.

But small voices still carry wonder in them. Voices in a wilderness, to be sure–voices to convey big purposes beyond self.

Voices that point to flowers, treetops, stars. That teach children math and show them books. That open a world of opportunity.

Voices of sanity and reality. Voices to feed the soul.

The world is filled with soul hungry people. But small voices can speak a resonating language of bread.

If you own wonder, share your bread.

You never know how far someone might go on a small meal.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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24 Replies to “Food for the Soul”

  1. As a lifelong educator and a firm believer in lifelong learning, I agree with much of what you share. The area we now call the United States was populated by many different countries–the melting pot they called us. Pioneers and settlers, usually not of the wealthy class, were taught they had to make it on their own by hard work. This emphasis led to the worth of a person being based on what they accomplished. We weren’t judged on who our parents were and our passed down wealth as much as we were judged by what we became. The public schools perpetuated this aspect of the “Amercian Dream.” Work hard, get a good education, and you can be somebody. Now many of us (including me) were driven by the desire to succeed and be the best we could in whatever career we chose. Education shouldn’t be given the reward or all the blame for this mindset. Society looks up to those who are successful and puts down those who aren’t. There is much that needs to be reformed in our educational system, but it will take support of parents, politicians, and those people who don’t have children (but still want to criticize), and financial support to revamp our schools so that children are encouraged to be lifelong learners instead of products on an assemble line. Sorry to run on so, but this is a matter very close to my heart. Thank you for bringing attention to the multiple issues facing our educational system.

    1. So true, Katherine. Redefining success might be a good place to start. Success doesn’t have to be making lots of money. It can be helping children to grow well. Thanks and God bless!

  2. Beautiful! As you say, “The world is filled with soul hungry people. But small voices can speak a resonating language of bread.” Influence is powerful

    1. Influence is powerful and sometimes comes from unexpected places. A disabled or otherwise challenged person’s life can speak more loudly than someone with a PhD. Thanks, Jessica. God bless!

  3. You’re way ahead on this issue, and your words are always a blessing each week. This is why I taught my children at home, and why I gradually moved us into a classical curriculum. I wanted my kids to learn how to think, and all of them do as full grown adults, always learning.

    1. Thanks for shaping your little ones for today, Melinda. I’m teaching sixth graders a version of The Odyssey. I tell them I’m teaching them how to learn. Thanks and God bless!

  4. I believe we lost a great deal as a society when we moved away from liberal education to job-specific education. You correctly stated it turns the value of life into what we produce. Thanks for a powerful message that I will be pleased to share.

  5. Still have no idea why I never receive notification of your posts, but am always blessed when I seek them out my friend. This one was especially amazing. I think of how much we can share to help others coming behind us in our journey in faith, yet how little time some of us actually give to help them. Such an encouraging post ma’am. Thank you!

  6. Interesting reflections on education. It’s sad how learning has become about the training toward a particular career, the means to an end, then it’s over. It’s why I’ve always valued life-long learning and the pursuit of God and truth.

  7. This is good encouragement, Nancy! A year ago, my wife and I took in in a friend who is on a long recovery from a serious accident. This time is my first up-close exposure of one who has no appreciation for any reading at all (not even the Scripture). I suspect he might be somewhat dyslexic, as he reads with his finger when pressed to examine a short passage of something. (The accident had nothing to do with it.) I have come to appreciate how my own life would be immensely diminished if I had not acquired a love of reading at a young age. My parents bought my brother and I a set of the World Book encyclopedia. I remember reading the whole thing, first cover to last. How the world opened up to my young eyes, from a small farm in eastern New Mexico. Later I found the entire expanse of all creation and the limitless purposes of God in the pages of the Bible. I may never sound the extent of its depth, but He calls to me in it and His voice is oh, so compelling!

  8. Absolutely agree with you! The pursuit of truth is essential for our sanity, as it enables us to stay grounded in reality. And reality, as you rightly said, is the nourishment our souls need to thrive. It is only when we acknowledge and accept reality that we can make informed decisions and lead fulfilling lives. Thank you for sharing this insightful thought from Chesterton!

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