by Rhea Bright
I teach people to read and, as a result, I keep learning to read. I teach only great texts and most of them many times. These texts are inexhaustibly deep, and each time I read and teach them I learn new things. The main idea is this: if you read these texts very carefully, if you really get out of yourself into them, the truth in them will emerge, convince, and transform you. If, in contrast, you bring your prejudices and opinions to the texts, you will find them to be wrong. To understand their truth, we must get out of ourselves into them.
Wayne Hankey, Prof. of Classics, Dalhousie University
We are in the midst of a quiet revolution. It is a revolution to change our culture, our communities, our families and ourselves. And it begins with learning to read.
We live in a culture that has forgotten how to read. Oh, we can say the words, and we know their dictionary meanings, but we have forgotten how to “get out of ourselves” and into a text. We have forgotten that the end is discovery – a discovery of convincing truth. Instead we read from the standpoint of our own particular prejudices. We run around on a treadmill of half-baked ideas, so certain that we already know what we need to know, and we read or listen to only what confirms our assumptions and preconceptions, our certainty of ourselves.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them. (Matt. 13:15)
The cry of Isaiah and Jeremiah that people hear and see with their outward senses but do not understand with their inward sense, with the “ears” and “eyes” of the soul, is quoted by Jesus himself, the Word Incarnate, as he opens the spiritual ears and eyes of his disciples to his healing Truth.
But I look around at our world, in twenty-first century America, and I see that once again “this people’s heart has grown dull.”
The mandate of The Academy is to Love the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We have but a single task: to work together – students, parents, and teachers – to open hearts and minds to the Truth, to direct wills to the Good, and to delight in the Beautiful, in order that we may become more fully human, more fully whom God created us to be. We might say that our battle cry, quoting C.S. Lewis’ four word reflection from The Magician’s Nephew on what it means to be created in the image of God, is: “Awake. Love. Think. Speak.”
To do this we must get out of ourselves and into books. Not just any books, mind you – great books. Books that have stood the test of time. Books that are imbued with truth. Books that will challenge our assumptions, and sometimes shake us to the core. Books with complex ideas and beautiful language. Books that are HARD. Books that require concentration. Books that transform hearts and minds.
We need to read good, hard books, and to do so in such a way that we hear what the author is saying. But in order to hear, we must first forget ourselves. If we insert ourselves and our opinions into a text, we close ourselves to the truth that is there, and to the illuminating and healing power of the divine Logos Himself. We must give ourselves over to Homer and Plato, to Cicero and Augustine, to Shakespeare and Austen, in order to hear them and allow the texts to awaken our minds and illuminate our souls. If we do this we will be transformed by the truth that is in them.
But how do we do this when we have grown dull? We just start. We start today with a really good book and we allow the book to sharpen us. We read by ourselves; we read with others; we read with our children – every day. And so we send this message to our children: Awake to the truth, love it ardently, think about it prudently and speak of it truly. We teach our children by our own example that reading good books is an essential part of being human. We tell our children that nothing is too hard, but some things take time – and maybe a lot of time, but it is the best way to spend time. We savor the words; we chew on ideas and discuss them; we go back to them again and again. Good books can be, and should be, read over and over, for a lifetime; and we learn something every time we read carefully, every time we get out of ourselves and into the text.
Because of the dullness of our hearts, manifested in the self-absorption of our time, we have forgotten how to really read, and we have lost direction. We give our children superficial fluff to read because we do not want them to be challenged, and so they do not learn the joy of being challenged. We want to save them from discouragement, but instead we teach them to be discouraged. We blind their eyes and deafen their ears, as we have been blinded and deafened. We have lost our way, but we can find our way back, one good book at a time.
We are in the midst of a quiet revolution. It is a revolution to change our culture, our communities, our families and ourselves. And it begins with getting out of ourselves and learning to truly read.
Rhea Bright teaches Dialectic and Rhetoric at The Academy