First, an announcement: December 4 is National Wisdom Through Writing Day. Have you marked it on your calendar?
The purpose of NWTWD is to encourage people to set aside some time, if only a few minutes, to think about how writing can be used to cultivate wisdom and then to resolve to act on one’s discoveries. You might want to write your thoughts!
Last week, I responded to St. Paul’s guidance in Philippians 4:8 and 9 about what we should think about and applied it to writing. At the end, I threatened to apply this post to the question of how to find and even become one fit to mentor another in writing for wisdom.
I left myself this challenge: I said that if one focuses on the lovely without the whatever he can’t guide you. Now I have to figure out what I meant.
I left myself another clue. Here in this blog post, I jotted this note: “The lovely without the whatever is self-worship.”
Now this seems both true and important, but now I have to figure out why I related it to mentoring others in the craft of writing. To get there, allow me to reflect on what I meant when I jotted that note to myself.
The lovely without the whatever refers to Paul’s language in Philippians, where he says, “whatever is lovely.” My point last week was that we can’t see the lovely without the whatever. In other words, we can’t see “loveliness” unless we see something that is lovely. We see the idea or the form or the reality or whatever you want to call it only when it is embodied.
A number of errors can be made when we don’t hold to that principle. Apparently, last week I concluded that one of them is that we will fall into self-worship. I probably meant that we fall into subjectivism, seeing the lovely in anything we want, breaking the link between the lovely and the whatever.
This is what I call the “impressionistic fallacy,” in which one measures the value or quality of a work of art – or really any human production – by how it “impresses” or affects me personally – how I feel about it.
There are things that are lovely and things that are not. There are things that are not lovely that I like. I ought not to measure them by how much I like them. Whether I ought to like them is another thing altogether, but I ought not to proclaim them lovely in any case.
This seems to imply that we should not indulge ourselves by thinking about things just because we like them. Some things are lovely (and true, noble, just, reputable, etc.) and should be thought about. Other things are not and should, one would presume, not be thought about – or at least, not very much.
If I presume to establish myself as the judge (i.e. to argue that some things are true, just, noble, etc. for me as opposed to being true, just, noble, etc. for all), then I have nothing to say to anybody else about what is true, just, noble, or lovely. I disqualify myself from the role of mentor.
By denying the universality of loveliness or truth, by determining that I am the one to judge whether something is lovely or true, I have removed myself from the conversation and have taken the role of the adolescent in front of the television.
This point must be understood very clearly. When I say that “I am the one to judge whether something is lovely or true,” I do not mean that I cannot become able to make those judgments. The point I am contending for is a little more precise.
I cannot set myself up as the one who establishes the standards by which something is determined to be lovely or true. I am not the lawmaker, you might say. Truth is truth, eternally and always. For some that is clear, while others might not see it, though everybody lives like it is true.
But it is also true that loveliness is loveliness eternally and always – and everywhere. If I disagree with those who know about what is lovely, I am wrong. If this were not so, Paul’s words would have no meaning.
My role, my joy, then, is not to go through life seeking out every vision that gives me pleasure, but to respond to loveliness the same way I must respond to truth: love it, obey it, submit to it, join it, become one with it.
I don’t know what the right word is for what I am trying to describe, because all of the words I used in the previous sentence can mislead. I think it is the response of a loving wife, of the church to Christ, of Psalm 45.
All of that is lost to the soul that insists that the world must please him according to his own standards. It is worth pointing out that the context of these verses in Paul is that of calling the Philippians out of anxiety and into the peace of God, which “will guard their hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
To reject the true, noble, just, pure, lovely, reputable, virtuous, and praiseworthy because you have your own standards for each of them is to reject peace and to embrace anxiety.
This is yet another way in which we are called to teach from a state of rest. Don’t force your students or children to submit to your standards and don’t pretend there aren’t any real standards. Practice a mutual embrace.
Let me conclude with a brief tying up of these thoughts.
We are exploring the question of cultivating wisdom through writing. This post assumes the need for mentors or teachers who have more wisdom than the student. It argues that you become a mentor, not when you allow your feelings to guide your instruction, but when you recognize that you can only succeed as a mentor/teacher/parent when you accept and think about the actually true, just, lovely, etc.
What that means practically is that, first, your teaching cannot be child-centered or teacher-centered. It must be truth-centered, loveliness-centered, etc. Don’t pick a book, musical piece, or artifact because you love it or because kids love it. Pick it because it is lovely.
This verse explains why there is a “great books” movement.
Next week, I’m going to write more directly about how to teach the lovely. Here are the clues I’ll have to figure out when we get there:
see Lewis AOM for example
teach by comparing
thus contemplating the lovely in the whatever
we see the lovely in the thing because we’re embodied souls
teaching as process breaks down that relation and undercuts the path to wisdom
I don’t know what I mean by any of that yet, but maybe I’ll figure it out next week.