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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3 Responses

  1. Andrew-
    I am so pleased you caught my sardine!
    I am pondering the notion of filling the soul, and wondering if that doesn’t happen largely in the classroom by reading, and even imitating, great works, or at least good and beautiful works? I think I teach the transcendent when we look at the sentence structure of Washington Irving and marvel over his choice of structure and vocabulary to fit his content. This teaches a kind of appreciation of form and proportion. Or, when we read Apthonius’ invective on Philip of Macedon, discussing just what made Aphtonius have such strong feelings about old Philip, and then attempting to write our own invective about someone equally worthy.

    It seems to me that when we read and ponder and imitate the overflow of soul of others, it leads to growth of our own.

    And I appreciate your point about not being appreciated for teaching in this manner. Often parents who have not been taught in a classical way don’t appreciate it at first, or ever. But that is no excuse to reject what is so resonant with a Christian and classical perspective. It rings of truth. And I find I win over most if they will stick it out.

  2. As a teacher you owe it to your students to fill yourself to overflowing. Pause often to meditate on the good, the true and the beautiful. Don’t be surprised when your class itself becomes a storehouse of goodness, truth, and beauty. Give and it will be given unto you.

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