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In the lips of the understanding

When I was a child, I thought like a child, and since my mother recognized that she read to me from books that did not condescend to me. In my memory, she read to the four boys who were her sons almost every day, usually from the book of Proverbs.

Since it is my memory we are using to remember this, it probably happened a lot less than I remember it, but it happened enough that I do remember it, and I remember it as a defining activity of my childhood.

Day after day, she would read the words of Solomon:

Go the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise…

A wicked man walketh with a froward mouth. Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mschief continually; he soweth discord. Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly…

For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth…

Because I have called and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh…

The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wllsprng of wisdom as a flowing brook…

It is not possible that I should ever adequately repay my mother for reading these words to me.

When I became a man and taught third grade, I went through the Proverbs each morning with my class. Each day we would read one chapter taking turns in a “random” order (so they’d all stay in touch) and when we finished I would ask them which proverbs they liked the best that day (so they’d 1. pay attention, 2. know that I valued their opinions, 3. know that I knew they could perceive things, and 4. gain practice listening to and evaluating proverbs).

Also, we memorized Proverbs 8 together. We would memorize three verses per week or so, though of course it got harder toward the end. But when we were done (it took about four months) they could recite all 36 verses of Proverbs 8. I can still hear their eight and nine year old voices reciting together enthusiastically

Oh you simple ones, understand prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion…

Receive my instructio and not silver: and knowledge rather than choice gold…

I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me…

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old…

When he prepared the heavens, I was there:… Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth; and my delights were with the sons of men…

For whoever finds me finds life, and shall obtain favor from the Lord. But whoever sins against me wrongs his own soul: all they that hate me love death.

Many people believe that the most important thing about what you teach young children is what they remember or else skills they can hold onto. I judge the skills to be more important than the facts if the purpose of the facts is simply to remember them.

But I would argue that there is something almost infinitely more important than either the facts or the skills, something from which the facts and skills derive their importance.

How to put it? Perhaps like this:

A truth or an idea or a wise saying is a seed and the soul is the soil in which such a seed can be planted. The soul in which such seeds are not planted will not bear fruit. The soul in which such seeds are planted might. Our Lord was Himself the sower of many seeds that fell by the wayside, that landed on rocky soil, etc.

But when the soul was ready for the seed, it bore fruit, to the overturning of the world.

When we approach those early years as pragmatists, trying to ensure that our children will do well on tests, will learn how to perform academically, will excel in the eyes of their blessed teachers and jealous classmates, will learn things that will help them succeed in life, we have reduced our children.

In fact, I would contend that putting the practical, as we like to call it, above the eternal, is a mode of sowing discord, first in our children’s souls and then in the world they will influence.

I also believe they will grow up to be foolish, no matter how successful.

Wisdom, Proverbs 8 tells us, was there before the heavens and the mountains and the seas came into being. It guided God, as it were, while He accomplished His work.

It is in the heavens above and the mountains and the sea because it transcends them. That is why princes rule by wisdom, justice is decreed by wisdom, and we find life by finding wisdom.

Wisdom is better than rubies and silver and Gold, “and all the things that may be desired cannot be compared to it.”

Wisdom does not isolate a problem, find a solution, and consider the issue dealt with. Wisdom continues to ask whether justice was accomplished, whether discord was sown, whether good was withheld from those to whom it is due, whether we are leaning on our own understanding, whether we consider ourselves overly sufficient to the task before us, whether we are rich in spirit instead of poor, whether we insist on laughing instead of mourning, whether we are haughty instead of meek, whether we have pleased the Father by seeing all things united in Christ.

I believe that if there is any value in my life, it is because my mother fed – nay, moved – my soul with the words of the Proverbs of Solomon when I was a child.

Teaching for me has never been about anything other than this treasure more precious than rubies. It is because in the book of Proverbs we read, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of silver in settings of gold” that I cherish a well-turned expression, a proverb, even an epigram.

That is why, for example, The Lost Tools of Writing is like it is. You can tell pretty quickly, I hope, that it is not oriented toward academic success or pragmatic effectiveness. We are trying to cultivate wisdom in students by teaching them to do what Proverbs tell us: “hear… attend… listen… receive… don’t forget… know understanding… get wisdom… get understanding… regard discretion, …that thy lips may keep knowledge… go in the way of understanding… give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he iwll increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

The underlying idea of all we do at the CiRCE Institute is derived from these Proverbs: Christ is the wisdom of God, Christ therefore orders and fills all things, Christ therefore will order and fill our thoughts if we seek Him as for hidden treasures.

He is a God who hides Himself, but He hides Himself in being ever present. May you be blessed in the eager search for Him whose glory the heavens declare and whose handiwork the skies proclaim.

And may the seeds of wisdom be planted in the soil of the souls of your sons and daughters in the coming weeks. Above all, may the seeds of wisdom be planted.

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