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Along the Way
Education for love
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A writer friend of mine lives in a small town on Long Island in New York State. He was going to the Post Office one day when he noticed an elderly gentleman gathering his letters and magazines from a Post Office Box. The man seemed to be struggling with the mail that was jammed tightly into the box, so my friend went over to help. After carefully removing a few letters, there seemed to be enough room to wiggle several of the magazines loose. That broke the mail jam and the rest was removed easily.

My friend noticed that several of the magazines were actually academic journals and there were several letters in envelopes that were clearly Harvard stationary. In an attempt to satisfy his curiosity and make friendly chit-chat, my friend asked if the elderly man had attended Harvard. The man replied that he did graduate from Harvard in 1936 with a Ph.D.

My friend was duly impressed. The old man had a doctorate from one of the best, if not the best university in America. As my friend helped the older gentleman to his car, the man explained that he was presently retired but had taught at major universities in New York and Boston during his long career.

"What have you learned from all of your studies and research over the years?" My friend asked, hoping for a few words of wisdom.

"I have learned to better love you." Responded the retired professor without missing a beat. My friend was not disappointed in his hope.

The English word "education" comes from the Latin root educare, which means "to lead out". Education means to lead one out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. However, the type of knowledge implied by the Latin root word is not the technical information needed simply to earn a living. Rather, education is meant to give the student the basic tools necessary if he or she is to gain wisdom.

Wisdom is the ability to see beyond surface problems and issues to the heart of a matter. Seeing the inner reality, the person is able to respond to the true need. The person must be able to understand the physical reality in which he or she lives with the information provided by the five senses. The person must be able to make use of reason through critical thinking, not allowing him or herself to be lead astray by faulty logic or emotions blinded by unruly vice or uncontrolled appetites. Finally, the person must have enough of a spiritual life to be aware of the inner movement of one's soul and perceive the transcendent reality, in which we all move, live and have our being.

The professor was not a theologian or philosopher from whom one might expect such an answer. This academic training was in the physical sciences. Yet, over the years he discovered that all learning served to broaden the scope of one's worldview and to bring one to consider why we are here. What are we to do?

Over the years of his long career, the retired professor considered those questions from the perspective of science. Eventually he found the hand of God at work in evolution, in the Big Bang, in the workings of DNA and in the simple fact of our existence. His work became a form of contemplation and his attitude toward the world around him one of reverence.

Finding himself in such a gracious and loving universe, his only response was to love in return. His students were amazed by the professor's animation as he taught class and his emotion was apparent as he spoke of the grandeur and beauty of the universe. He saw the face of God in nature but also in his students and in everyone else with whom he came in contact. Thus, when he said that his education made it possible for him to better lovemy friend or anyonehe spoke quite literally.

It is still early in the new school year. Notebooks are largely untouched and we are only beginning to grasp the material that our teachers try to share with us. Often times we are able to consider the work ahead of us only in terms of homework that has to be done and books that must be read. This can be daunting. Yet, if we look only a little below this mundane surface it is possible to perceive the great, transforming adventure which we have undertaken. It is possible to perceive the slowly brightening light of knowledge, whose ultimate source is God's gracious love. It is also possible to perceive that our hearts and minds are beginning to glow ever so faintly with that same divine light.

 

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.