“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.