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Backtracking to Forge Ahead – Part 2

Editor’s Note: Joshua Sturgill has returned to college eighteen years after trying the first time. He’s blogging his way through this first semester. In case you missed it, here’s part one.

The Way of learning is nothing other than to seek for the lost heart.Mencius

There is only one war left to fight: the battle for your own heart.St. Anthony the Great

All the human tragedy of our time lies in the fact that we live, speak, think and even pray to God outside our heart. Everything else we do is vanity. Only the work of the heart remains.Monk Zacharias

I often make decisions based on an informed intuition rather than strictly through reason, only later trying to work out the rational “why?”. My return to formal education was prompted by this way of thinking. A part of me said “I want this” and another part said “you’re ready for it” and a third said “God will bless you”. The first voice was loud and familiar; I want many things and am constantly choosing between goods (sometimes between evils) before wondering if I’ve made the right decision.

The second voice was a surprise. Being rather insecure, I always sense that I am not ready for or prepared for or capable of most of the choices I have to make in life.

I almost fear to mention the third voice. I’m discomforted when I hear someone say, “God told me…” This statement has too often been followed by something that 1, didn’t sound much like God’s work, 2, should have been kept secret, or 3, seemed merely the church-speak version of a material desire.

Occasionally, however, a situation presents itself in which the opportunity, the ability, and the blessing co-inspire the soul to step forward into the unexpected.

And now that I’ve made the step, I have to work out why I’ve done this – to make the goal of my education clear to myself. So clear, in fact, that I’ll not lose sight of this goal half-way through sophomore year when I begin to really wish I had done something else with my time (and with the government’s money).

When I first attempted higher education at age 18, I had no center from which to make or to evaluate my decisions. No heart. There was no ultimate goal for my attendance and there was no person within me substantial enough to have articulated a purpose.

Now, at age 36, the goal seems obvious, though distant: I want to live from my heart. Life from the heart, however, as in the above quotations, requires an education.

I think – perhaps speaking without enough experience, but speaking toward a truth – that any education will help the man whose goal is to live from his heart. First because that man will instinctively choose a path of learning that leads to the heart, and simultaneously because he will take whatever is given to him and make it valuable for the heart-reaching journey.

Mencius says the heart is found through learning; St. Anthony says it is found through war. I find this to be a helpful juxtaposition of ideas. Is education a battle? If so, I fear that for the next four years I might be fighting my own self – my laziness, my addictions, my intellectual biases and limitations. Despite the external and internal obstacles, if the goal of finding the lost heart is ever-forward in my thoughts then my schooling won’t get sidetracked.

The Monk Zacharias, of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, says that nothing is important except the “work of the heart” – by which he means finding the heart and living there.

To make the point more clear, I should define “heart” more precisely.

According to Christian anthropology, the heart is the center of a person’s being – the place where he or she meets God and is joined to God. Sometimes the heart is referred to as “the eye of the soul,” remembering that “the pure in heart will see.”

Sometimes the heart is a place, sometimes an eye, sometimes an ear. Always, it’s the center: both the center of each human life, and also the part of us where God’s love and work is focused. The parable of the Pearl of Great Price illustrates this. It tells us to seek and find, and to detach from every unimportant thing.

I wonder how many years the man in the parable was searching the fields? And, I wonder what kind of education he had that would prepare him to recognize the pearl as genuine treasure – and to calculate its worth? A geologist studies for years and then can tell at a glance the history of a rock. An archaeologist looks at maps and notes before beginning a dig. Education itself is not the finding of the heart, obviously, but it seems that the purpose of Education generally should be the same as for the geologist specifically – to prepare and to recognize.

If Education has lost its focus – or rather, if culture has lost the understanding of education as the finding of the heart – then I can’t expect that my teachers or fellow students will be helping me to use what I’m learning to become more Christian. Perhaps the opposite.

Let me close with this thought. Since St. John’s College uses classic texts as its curriculum, I will be viewing a uniquely raw history of human thought. And since the idea of education has changed from “seeking the lost heart” to “being a productive citizen”, I should expect to encounter the following:

  • Themes of searching and returning that are quite prevalent in ancient texts, but more obscure up to the current.

  • Failed substitutes for the heart – ideas that captured the minds of one generation but were abandoned by the next as inadequate.

  • Fellow students who are unsure why exactly they are seeking an education, knowing it is important but not being able to articulate what they are looking for.

  • Finally, uneasiness and even despair in the literature and among my fellows because of having learned so much, but not having grasped the purpose of learning.

“Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you”St. Augustine

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