Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 25, “The Blind and the Seeing”

My dear old friend,

When I dream my favorite dream—going back to freshman year in college and starting fresh—I often think of enrolling at St. John’s College. At two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, the St. John’s curriculum focuses on the Great Books, you know, all those dead white males favored by Harold Bloom but otherwise mostly banished from the liberal arts curriculum.

When we were at boarding school together, the culture was already moving away from such nonsense. Why read Homer or Virgil when you could read Hemingway and Vonnegut? First of all, you’d have to learn Greek and Latin to dip into those classics. And anyway, which authors were more relevant?

Ah, the R-word! Remember?

We demanded relevance. Whatever you teach us, make sure it’s relevant, or we won’t listen! The word relevant is almost passé today, so let’s go to that universal source, Wikipedia, to remind us what relevant is—or was:

“During the 1960s, relevance became a fashionable buzzword, meaning roughly ‘relevance to social concerns,’ such as racial equality, poverty, social justice, world hunger, world economic development, and so on. The implication was that some subjects, e.g., the study of medieval poetry and the practice of corporate law, were not worthwhile because they did not address pressing social issues.”

Imagine studying medieval poetry! Irrelevant!

(Psst. Here’s a hoot. When I Googled “Homer image” to grab the pic at the top of this post, the bust was the first hit. The next seventeen hits were more relevant, however. They were all of Homer Simpson.)

Today, I would love to enroll at St. John’s and study medieval poetry. But beyond that I think there’s a bigger issue, one that Romano Guardini raises in his chapter “The Blind and the Seeing,” about a couple of times when Jesus restored a person’s sight. Guardini flips the switch on us. In the reports of these miracles in the Gospels, the “sighted,” he says, are blind, and the “blind” can see:

“‘Blind’ are those who realize that with all their earthly insight and knowledge they stand in the dark before the divine, utterly incapable of comprehending the Essential. . . . The ‘seeing,’ on the other hand, are those who in God’s presence still cling to their earthly point of view, their earthly knowledge, earthly conception of justice, naively attempting to measure even the divine by their own standards.”

We young wise-asses (asses who thought ourselves wise) forced education to adhere to our standards, demanded that it be relevant, because we knew what that was—and if we already knew, then were we even listening? In fact, we weren’t, and that’s the point.

Jesus cared for the blind because they were the only ones who knew they were blind, who knew they did not know. But I saw everything in prep school, I knew what was relevant, and so I never even reached the first line of The Iliad:

“Sing, oh goddess, the rage of Achilles . . . ”

What a tragedy!

Your friend and classmate,
WB

This series of posts continues here with chapter 26.

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