A New Year brings renewed commitments, renewed hopes, renewed ambitions, and in this case, a renewed blog with a new rationale for posting -that my reading may be entertaining, informing, and transforming. I plan to bring this about through the power of self-education. So without further ado, let me introduce you to:
The Education of a Reader or, The Wordy Nature of Michael’s Mind: Ruminations of Education, Books and Personal Grounding
Education is about bettering one’s self through the acquisition of knowledge that leads to wisdom. In schools (public and private) we learn the rudiments of how to educate ourselves through Authority, Observation, Analysis and Synthesis, (and more often we are only taught a basic vocational skill set that quickly becomes out-moded and out of date in the working world) but this is not itself education, for at the end of our schooling -including grad school- we at most have a piece of paper that announces to one and all that we (presumably) know how to do research, and how to think critically about [fill in blank here], as well as an introduction to a subject of learning. It is a beginning, in other words. In this we see that education -from the Lain “to lead out of ignorance”- is a lifelong vocation and commitment to our selves.
It follows then, that to say that one is an educated person is at best a partial truth, far better is it to apply a paraphrase of Aeschylus from Agamemnon, referring to of course, Agamemnon (though it could just as likely be from Sophocles in Oedipus Tyrannus referring to, well, Oedipus), call no man educated until he is dead. At best one could say of himself (or herself) that he (or she) is on the path to being educated.
Education properly called consists of many realms, the most important of which is moral and ethical, followed by intellectual (comprised of social, political, economic, scientific, artistic) emotional, and physical.
The best ground for life-long education is the classical tradition. In the West it would Greek and Latin, or more generally, “The Great Books” whereas for the East it would be the Six Classics comprising the Confucian, Mohist, Taoist, School of Names, Yin-Yang, and Legalist Schools. I admit to not knowing what a comparable foundation would be for the Indian subcontinent, and as Africa to the best of my knowledge, West and sub-Saharan Africa had no written language tradition until fairly late, and nothing like a unified continental culture to supply a fixed canon of texts (whether oral or written), nor for a foundation for the First Nations of Turtle Island for roughly the same reason; however, I will work primarily from the Occidental foundation of Christian Humanism.
At the same time, education has always been oriented toward vocation, or one’s calling in life. And my calling is to read, to write, to shape, and to serve God and fellow Man.
Reading for Life, not (yet) Orders
In the Church of England/Anglican Christian tradition (which I call my Christian home), before the rise of the institutional seminary it used to be commonplace for aspiring young men to “read for Orders” under the tutelage of an older priest. This was not necessarily the ideal situation for the training of Ministers of the Gospel and was often an incomplete process, but it was the most -or only- effective means of supplying a rudimentary theological education, from which the prospective ordinand was expected to continue into a lifetime study of the Gospel.Unfortunately, most priests were hard pressed to come up with weekly Sunday sermons, much less engage in rigorous intellectual formation after ordination. (Thanks to The New Continuing Anglican’s “The Bishop’s Course of Study” for the background thoughts).
I though, have always like that concept, of reading your way into being qualified for an office, or an opportunity of ministry to others. But I had never taken it seriously, until now. Back in October, my mother brought my attention to a certain box in the basement of her house that appeared to be a box of old journals of mine. Well, the course of my own mental and emotional development is dear to my heart, so I went down to see what it was, and it turned out to be, not journals, but the missing first half of my collection of The Great Books of the Western World. This sparked in me a renewed desire for reading, which had been lagging of late. In fact, since July I have only been able to read 21 books from my own bookshelves. This led me back to the notion of “reading for…:”
It is my desire adapt this conception (sans the presence of a mentoring elder at this time to provide accountability) into wider intellectual categories, and so I am proposing to myself a goal: to read myself into a humanistic, philosophical, theological and even scientific (in the biological and human sciences) education. Over the next seven years (or sets of seven years considering the multiplicity of disciplines I am integrating) I am proposing to engage in intensive readings and responses to gauge my level of understanding. The subjects to be covered include: Theology (especially sacred scripture, dogmatic, moral, pastoral, sacramental and liturgical, spiritual and ascetical theology), Philosphy (especially metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, of science, and of mind; moral philosophy. political philosophy, and the argument from reason) and Biology (especially evolutionary theory, cell biology, and molecular neurobiology). Other subjects to be treated of include -to a greater or lesser extent: Classics, History, Sociology, Anthropology, Area Cultural Studies. and Literature.
Of necessity, as I am reading out of my own resources for the time being (until I can organize my thoughts, prepare more systematic reading lists culled from my existing books, solicited recommendations, and online resources; and arrange visits to my alma mater‘s library) my selections will be eclectic.
Although, I have it on good authority that I own, not to mention have already read, more theology than most priests, yet alone most seminarians. Knowing this, my other fields of intellectual interest and endeavor are, I am sure likewise well represented in my library. I say this not to boast, for the only thing worth boasting about is my faith in Christ Jesus- but to ponder the circumstances of a layman having a potentially greater knowledge of theology than some priests. To me this is a humbling condemnation of the state of clerical education (Although this really a post -or set of posts- for a sister blog “The Walsingham Way” and really belongs to a discussion of catechesis, Christian Formation, and the Christian response to God and Neighbor), and worth pausing for a moment before going on.
My goal for this first year is two books, How to Read a Book. Revised and Updated Edition, by Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren (1972) -“The classic guide to intelligent reading” as it is billed- , and Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: a Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis, by Joan Bolker, Ed. D -even though currently I have no prospects of entering a formal academic program of instruction- and as much of the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica, -edited in part by one Mortimer J Adler- as I can with the remainder to be read the following year(s).
After this initial taste of the Pierian spring, I plan to read selections from the Greek and Latin Classics with Loeb Classical Library, volumes of Blackwell’s Companions to Philosophy and Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy, the English translation of Kittel’s Dictionary of New Testament Theology, and companion series Dictionary of Old Testament Theology, volumes from Anchor Bible and Anchor Bible Reference Library, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, the Popular Patristics Series from St Vladimir Seminary Press, Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality, and numerous individual volumes.
I title drop here not to boast of how wide my reading is or will be, or how well read I will (potentially) be, and certainly not to boast bout my academic and intellectual achievement or achievements (or lack thereof), but to show how far I have to go before I can begin to consider myself on the road to a holistic education.
Readings will be complimented by language studies: Hebrew, Koine (possibly Classic as well) Greek, Latin, German, French, Japanese (because…Japanese) one year primarily devoted to each language in turn.
Every Wednesday, a Note*
Piles and Philes will become a sort of running personal journal of reading responses, with new content posted every Wednesday, in emulation of certain online graduate degree programs I have researched over the years that use Wednesday as weekly deadlines for posting reading and critique assignments. No matter where I am in my reading, Wednesdays will provide the summary of my understanding to date. So, I will be changing the Piles and Philes description to read : a journal of reading, viewing, and thinking with the mind in the heart. This does not, of course mean that I will cease from writing free-standing interviews, though I suppose a three year gap between entries might suggest otherwise. I have plenty of draft reviews -I only need to finish them.
I am sure that my reading lists will be more exhaustive than my actual capacity to read them (though this knowledge won’t prevent my making the attempt). The reading lists are more of an ideal, the closer I come to the ideal, the better prepared I will be when chance happens. An old saw says that if you devote an hour a day every day for seven years to a subject of interest, then at the end of seven years you can attain expert understanding in that field. This too, is a ideal to live up to, not a ironclad demand that must be obeyed on penalty of intellectual disfigurement. Other recent reading about directed self-study suggest that I should spend a minimum of 10 hours per week in my studies. This I can do. And hopefully, my Wednesday posts will prove the pudding.
Every Reader a Prayer
And yet, I must become ruthless in pursuing prayer as well. If I am not grounded in prayer, all the studying, reading, viewing, thinking, and writing in the world will not benefit me one iota. But that, again, is a post for another blog.
So look for it soon! What this means in part is that I consider my reading itself a form of prayer to God (in fact, some Orthodox Jews consider study of Talmud itself to be a fitting prayer unto God in lie of sacrifices due to the [current] abeyance of Temple worship, and then there’s the wonderful verse in 2 Timothy “Study to shew yourself approved unto God” (2 Tim 2:15) but oh look, another Rabbit Hole). It also means that I must integrate prayer into study and study into prayer, and even apply Lectio Divina, if possible (out of one rabbit hole into another). My prayer life, though is always a work in progress, and seems to be more like public road works projects -lots of noise and very little to show for it more days than not than anything else.
So join me on this renewed journey of the mind in the heart, and I promise you will be entertained, informed, and just possibly, as transformed as I hope to become.
For next Wednesday, I plan to introduce How to Read a Book, as well as other people’s responses to it at work. Look forward to some interesting times, y’all.
*Of necessity, this post was not pre-read or vetted by anyone other than myself, so that I could push it out this first Wednesday of 2017. If you. my good reader, should find any error, inconsistencies, or other room for improvement, please let me know and I shall incorporate your advice as best I can. Thank you for helping me to improve myself.