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The Mother of Our Lord and Teaching Children to Read

Looking to Scripture for examples of how Jesus was taught can be a tricky endeavor. It is my intent both to remain within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and to learn something from the analogy of Scripture without making it say more than it does. Forgive me when I inevitable fail on either of those two counts.

Teaching children to read is more than merely teaching them to sound out words and decode them into symbols of meaning. To read the sentence, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, Luke’s description of Mary after she goes back to get 12 year old Jesus from the Temple), is to do more than simply discover what the individual words mean: Mary refers to the mother of Jesus, treasured up refers to her putting something into her memory, these things refers to the words of the shepherds, pondered them refers to her contemplation of those words, etc. To decode words is to read, but to read is so much more.

The art of grammar is the art of reading. Reading includes the art of hermeneutics—that fancy seminarian word for interpreting a text. Besides decoding the meaning of words, reading is interpreting those words, not just in the single sentence but also in the whole text. Reading goes beyond identifying the words of Luke 2:19, above, and into understanding and interpreting the whole passage, the whole chapter, the whole Gospel of Luke, the whole New Testament, and the whole Bible. Reading well means to recognize what kind of text I am reading. It also means being able to recognize and see echoes of themes and motifs. The storing up of words spoken about Jesus and spoken by Jesus is an echo, and in good literature—which the Bible is—echoes mean something.

In Norms and Nobility, David Hicks expresses the purpose of education as “not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows” (Hicks, 20). Learning is something we do in order to think, will, and act rightly. And here, the mother of our Lord has something to teach us about reading because reading goes beyond decoding and interpreting to habituating us to act in accordance with what we know.

Reading, therefore, ought to include time for storing and treasuring. Reading ought to include time for pondering and contemplating. Reading ought to include time to shape our thoughts, our will, and our actions. It is not possible for the child or the adult reader to understand everything that is read or heard (especially good things) and for it to immediately become the foundation for their thoughts, their will, and their actions. Time is a necessary component of reading because time allows us to treasure and ponder what we’ve read.

We cannot replace treasuring and pondering with conversation and expression and expect the same results. Conversation and expression have their places and can be used rightly from those places, but treasuring and pondering are necessary for reading as well. We must give our students time for treasuring and pondering, and we must give ourselves the same. But this requires patience. We expect immediately the fruit of our labors, as if educating a child was like ordering food from a fast food drive thru. We cannot read or hear words at the menu and expect perfect thoughts, wills, and actions by the time we arrive at the pickup window. We ought to be pleased with whatever it is our child, student, or self can give at that point, but also expect a more glorious expression and embodiment of the truth once time has passed for treasuring and pondering.

In this, we can see Mary, the mother of our Lord, embodying a lesson for us. In this, we can see an analogy for how we read and how we learn. Perhaps we can take some time to ponder Luke’s words once more: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

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