Teaching the Transcendent

If you go to the comments from my post What is Writing you’ll see a reply from Chris in which she asks:

“Can we teach the transcendent part, the soul part, or only model it.”

Chris, I think you know you were throwing sardines to a seal, don’t you? This is like when you are teaching a class and one of the student’s raises her hand and says, “Teacher, would you please teach me how to be a perfect student?”

Writing, I suggested, is the overflow of the soul into a verbal pattern encoded in visual sybols. Chris is asking about the first part.

And what she’s asking about is the very essence of teaching. Can you cause a soul to overflow? Can you fill it?

The answer, I would argue, is “Yes, you have to, but no, you can’t.”

“So what are we to do with that?” you want to know. First, demand the explanation that I owe you. Second, read on while I try to get myself out of this fix.

I believe that you can and must “teach the trascendent part.” However, you can’t do it the same way you teach the technical side and you can’t do anything to guarantee either that you will succeed or that the effects of it will be what you intended.

Your goal is to fill their soul to overflowing. If they don’t accept what you are pouring in, they can never overflow. However, God designed the human spirit to be receptive to beautiful and good and true things. It’s just that things become complicated when our appetites confuse us.

That’s why I mentioned the great and good books as preparation for writing. Those do “teach” the “transcendent” part. We can’t measure the fruit, but the only way you can fill a soul is by pouring things into it.

When you are teaching the technical side of any art, you coach. But when you are teaching the transcendent side, you simply plant and water.

Needless to say, the transcendent side is immeasurable and is therefore neglected by conventional education. That’s why even what they can measure constantly deteriorates. They cut out the roots to measure the leaves.

Measure the lesser things, and things measurable are lesser than things infinite, and you will neglect the greater things. The measurables depend on the immeasurables, so when you neglect the immeasurable, the measurable declines. But those who don’t believe in immeasurable things will never correctly diagnose the problem.

So you can teach the transcendent, you can fill the souls with truth, goodness, and beauty. But the world around won’t understand or approve of what you are doing and they’ll pressure you to pull up the roots. If you aren’t firm in your faith and your knowledge of what is right, you’ll give in. You’ll become yet another Darwinian Christian, adapting to the environment rather than transcending it.

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Two of us

I know the “memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead” isn’t true for us, but this lovely, sad, intimate song is another tribute to my dear Karen, whom I love.

On Seminal Thinkers

Dialogue becomes meaningless when people talk about things like change as though it isn’t constant and permanence as if it isn’t eternal. I read this morning that Ficino was among the humanists put in place by the Medici’s in the 15th century and that he had a seminal mind. That got me thinking.

A seminal mind is a mind that opens new pathways for the minds that follow, one that gains unforeseen insights into some area of inquiry, planting seeds that bear abundant fruit in those who follow.

What makes a mind seminal? Escaping from the tradition? The courage of individualistic thinking? Challenging every assumption? In short, radicalism?

I challenge you to find any evidence of such a person being seminal. Focini was a humanist, for goodness’ sake. He was seminal precisely because he led people back to the classical tradition. Individualism is madness. No artist ever achieved greatness without an apprenticeship. Challenging every assumption? That’s what Descartes tried to do. It led him on a fool’s errand and spread bloodshed through Europe.

No, seminal thought doesn’t arise from radicalism.

Then it must arise from conservatism? The seminal thinking tries to perpetuate the way things have always been done and the way people have always thought. That’s absurd on the face of it.

Then where does true genius arise? Where does the great mind come from?

The Idea, put simply.

The seminal thinker does not see anything new. He sees the infinite in a new way that appeals in a particular fashion to the age he reveals it to. Too often we treat learning like something we do and get done. We fill our heads with content and sometimes even expand to include skills. Education, however, is about perception – learning to perceive with the intellect and with the senses.

What does the intellect perceive? Ideas. How? Embodied.

Everything comes back to this simple concept. Everything. This pattern is big enough to contain all that exists and to allow for an eternity of unlimited exploration.

So there will always be seminal thinkers. They’re the people who see what everybody else already sees – but they perceive what others can’t. They aren’t always right, but they’re always necessary.

May God grant us the thinkers we need, the seers, the visionaries. He’ll have to overcome a lot of schooling to do so.