Vol. 2, Issue 18
September 26, 2007
Autumn has begun. The sun is rising and setting a little further south each day and the days are getting cooler. Here in the North, our tomatoes and corn are gathered in, the apples are soon to be harvested and pressed into cider, we'll dig the potatoes shortly, deer season starts in a couple weeks, and sweatshirts and coats are migrating out of the back closets. Even if you live in the South and none of these things apply to you, you've still got the World Series coming up and Friday night highschool football games where you can park your pickup and set up your lawn chair in the back. It's a glorious season.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS -- The Heart of the Matter
2) COGITEM -- Eating Books
3) DE ASTRIS -- The Twilight Stars of Early Autumn
4) SIC LOCUTUS -- C. S. Lewis
SCHOLA NEWS -- The Heart of the Matter
Sorry about the bad joke in the title. Many of you have asked for an update on my heart condition, so here's a brief one. For many years I experienced periodic episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. They ceased suddenly several years ago, but in recent months I've felt a new irregularity in my heartbeat. I had it checked out last week and finally heard the results. There is no atrial fibrillation, but there are a lot of premature atrial and ventricular contractions and a little bit of tachycardia. Huh. According to the doctor this is even less of a concern than atrial fibrillation, but it bothers me more, so he's putting me on a beta-blocker. So there you have it. Thank you for your concern and prayers -- I'm very grateful for them all.
COGITEM -- Eating Books
Never speed-read good books. Speed-reading is only for books which you need to get through once and will never read again. If you read them again you'd get nothing more out of them. But the best books (and if you never read them, you're living on junk food), the ones you'll get more from every time you read them if you read them well, deserve to be read slowly. Of course, you could speed-read a great book -- say, Augustine's The City of God or Dante's Divine Comedy or Austen's Pride and Prejudice -- and you could get the gist of it. But is the gist all there is?
If my wife goes to the trouble of making a wonderful meal of prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, and cherry pie, it's terribly rude for me to rush through the meal, gulping down my food and hurrying from the table. More importantly, I would miss much of the nutrition that can only be gotten by chewing slowly. And most importantly of all I'd miss the delight and spiritual nutrition of the circumstances that make the meal so pleasurable -- appreciation of the place settings and fine china and the enjoyment of the company and conversation that make up the fellowship of the table. We experience the same kind of loss when we speed-read a great book and ignore the pleasure of the binding, the print, the smell, the heft, and the ribbon marker, but especially the sound of the words, the rhythm and style and diction, which can only be savored at a normal, human, read-aloud speed, the pace at which the author wrote and at which he read his manuscript aloud to his friends.
We are not gnostics -- or at least we shouldn't be -- but eating as though the tablecloth, china, crystal, nice clothes, and good conversation are not essential parts of the meal is a kind of gnosticism. And so is reading a good book as though the body of the book and the sound, rhythm, weight, diction, and taste of the words is not essential. Wisdom comes not from stripping out some Platonic essence from the meal or the book as we rush through it, but from moving with the author at his pace and experiencing the things he put into his book that we can never even notice when we read too fast. If you've only read a great book at a great rate of speed, you cannot in good conscience say that you've read it. You wolfed your food.
But if you read a great book slowly -- better still, aloud, or at least moving your lips -- you can taste those long, juicy vowels, the crisp, chewy consonants, you can hear the swing and symmetry of the clauses and periods, and the very muscles of your mouth will participate as you speak the words. Learning comes in through three doors -- eyes, ears, and mouth -- instead of just one. And there are things to learn from the sound and rhythm and taste that we will never learn when we read too fast.
Read the opening passage from The Pilgrim's Progress silently and quickly:
"As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man cloathed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a Book in his hand, and a great Burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the Book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?"
You understood the story, didn't you? But now, please go back and read it aloud, slowly, and with feeling, almost exaggerating the inflection. Do it twice. Notice the sound and the shape of your mouth as it makes the W's, S's, D's, and B's, and the long O's, E's, and A's. Listen to the rhythm of the passage and the pace of the clauses. Do you see how it adds to the richness of the passage, a richness that the quick silent reading would never recognize? Of course, if you're reading this essay quickly and didn't actually go back and read the paragraph aloud when I asked you to, you won't understand.
In our Christian circles we often glibly say that "meditation" in the Psalms means something like a cow chewing the cud. But how often have we thought about how literally David might have meant that? Medieval monks had a method of reading called "lectio divina" -- divine reading -- in which they read the Bible and other great books slowly, aloud, and chewed over the words to extract every morsel of nutrition from not only the ideas but the very sounds and tastes of the words of a Scripture passage or a church father. But we in the modern world have too little time, and the same pressure that drives us to gobble fast-food meals on the run causes us also to read everything, even our Bibles, much too fast. We starve our souls and our minds and wonder why there is so little wisdom in the world.
DE ASTRIS -- The Twilight Stars of Early Autumn
If you look directly overhead about thirty to forty-five minutes after sunset (around 7:15 PM) you'll see Vega, the brightest star in the evening sky, showing before any other stars. It's in the constellation Lyra (the harp). At the same time, look low in the south-southwest and you'll see Jupiter dominating the southern horizon. Turn to your right and see Arcturus well up in the west; it's in Bootes (the herdsman). An hour after sunset (around 7:30-8:00 PM), low look in the north-northeast to see Capella, the bright star in the constellation Auriga (the charioteer).
Get up an hour before sunrise (around 5:30-6:00 AM) and you'll see brilliant Venus, brighter than anything in the night sky except the full moon.
The moon is full tonight, but for the next couple nights will still be gloriously full. Since the moon rises an average of fifty minutes later every day, you'll have to wait a little longer after sunset tomorrow night to see it (between 7:15 and 7:30 PM tomorrow night), but it will be worth it.
"If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come."
--C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time", The Weight of Glory