Good afternoon, RMCA community,
Are you familiar with C.S. Lewis? Maybe you know him from The Chronicles of Narnia series, his classic text Mere Christianity, or his other books or `reflection during national and global crisis.
Among his literary and cultural pursuits were essays and sermons. Several compilations are available, namely, in The Weight of Glory and God in the Dock. And while all of them have some relevance to us, one stands out as particularly helpful in this time of uncertainty.
His essay, "Learning in War-Time," was given as a sermon at one of the chapels attached to Oxford University in October 1939. This was only a month after Nazi and Soviet tanks invaded Poland. The fall of France, the bombing of London and other British cities, and D-Day were months and years away. In the midst of expected catastrophe, he spoke and wrote about the necessity of continuing 'peacetime' cultural pursuits, such as education. While he was speaking specifically to university professors and students, everything he writes is as applicable to children and parents.
And how did Lewis deal with or explain the crises of his day? What did he say about education and home life? Here area few ideas to consider.
First, he sets any current crisis within the larger context of our reality. The eternal fact is that we are always moving toward or from God, to an eternity spent with or without him. He reminds us that all cultural contexts, all cultural pursuits, are to be understood within this foundational truth. Whatever work we have, wherever our home, in whatever age or family situation we are in, the words of the Apostle Paul,
"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12a-13).
As Lewis says near the beginning of his essay,
"For that reason I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective, The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice."
Second, Lewis reminds us that there is no perfect time to learn and be educated. In fact, there are always excuses to not learn or cultivate an education toward a mature, other-centered adulthood. There are always distractions, always concerns that would redirect our attention to developing habits, character, and virtue. Again, from Lewis:
"Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right...
If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come."
Third, Lewis argues that an authentic education is a prevention and inoculation against miseducation. If we aren't taking the time to consciously soak our minds and hearts in Scripture, in the wise, enduring classics of the past, in prayer, in the fellowship of people who love God and us, then we are leaving ourselves and our children open to lesser, if not malignant, influences. Again, Lewis:
"If you attempted, in either case, to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, either in the Church or in the line: if you don't read good books you will read bad ones."
In conclusion, who are we and what are we to be about?
For one, I am encouraged and take heart that we are doing and being exactly who God has called us to be as parents and educators. The rearing and education of children is always fraught with challenge. Our situation might be novel, but it is not unique.
I take heart. The long defeat against our enemies--sin, death, and the evil one--is assured. Our victory is won. We will be celebrating that triumph again with our families and churches in a few weeks, regardless of whether or not we do it in a building.
What else are you and I encouraged to do? Pick up a book. Continue in our own education, your own cultivation of your whole person. Even5-10 minutes a day will yield fruit. That small discipline will lead naturally to others.. If you never finished (or even started) Rare Leadership, now is the time to devote 5-10 minutes a day in reading it. Susan Schaefer Macaulay's For the Sake of The Children, which we now ask all new parents to read as part of their enrollment, is also a great place to spend time. And if you'd like to know more about C.S. Lewis and his inspiring, very relevant works, click here. Here's a link to a recent article from Breakpoint that I shared a few weeks ago, "C.S. Lewis and the Coronavirus."
Most importantly, keep spending time and reading aloud with your children. They won't forget it. And it will help them set their eyes and thoughts on something higher than the 24 hour news cycle and the crisis of the day. Your actions will set how they react or respond to other people's dis-ease ,and help them to remain joyful even in hardship.
We are a long-game people. We are not out for quick fixes or the easy way. We are looking for good, hard work to do with good people who are looking to endure, at times suffer, but always growing in kindness, compassion, and joy.
That is our calling. Let us chat, text, call, video, and walk together, if not in person, than certainly still in heart and mind.