In my younger growing-up years, my mother gave me a gift that I’ve since learned to wonder at. She answered my questions. All of them.
As the school year comes to a close many of us are faced with sending high school graduates off into the wide world. The young people in whom we have invested so much time and energy will soon be on their own, more or less. Most of these young people will head off to college. Still others are in the midst of college searches and SATs and planning for the future. In both cases, the process can seem never-ending, like filling out paperwork for an insurance company or paying taxes. And, in the end, who knows if the right decision was made. Did these students choose the right college?
One of the talks I will be giving in July in Charleston at the Circe National Conference is about Jonathan Swift’s critique of Modernity. His insights into the problems caused by the modern world are profound and surprisingly relevant even three hundred years later.
In a very simplified nutshell: Swift saw that the modern world reduces everything and breaks everything into parts. As a result, we lose sight of the whole. In fact, most of the humor of his writings comes from someone failing to grasp the whole and drawing the wrong conclusion based on examining the part.
Who invented ethics? As usual, Dante has a compelling answer.
Is anything truly secular? Dante's Beatrice thinks not.
And by wild ways he wandered, seeking for
False phantoms of the good, which promise make
Of joy, but never fully pay the score.
With inspirations, prayer-wrung for his sake,
vainly in dreams and other ways as well
I called him home; so little did he [reckon].
“Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Is Christ speaking to all?
Emperor Marcus Aurelius governed for nearly twenty years (161-180 A.D.), earning the distinction of being the last of the “Five Good Emperors.” Marcus was a philosopher-king, capable of defeating his political and military leaders, while also becoming known as one of the finer Stoic philosophers of his day.
We’ve all experienced that “problem” student, the one who just pushes our buttons, who drives us crazy and makes us want to go home and curl up on the couch with a good book and abandon all hope. Who makes us feel like a terrible teacher. Sometimes this student is the child who lives in our home and shares that same couch. Certainly this varies from student to student and situation to situation, but when you run into a student like this, how do you avoid throwing your hands up in the air and throwing in the towel?
One of the themes of The Aeneid is the danger of the temptation of the false homecoming. Aeneas is marked by destiny and called by the gods to found Rome, described in messianic terms. It will be heaven on earth. The plot of the epic is driven by Aeneas’ attempt to make it to this Promised Land, but along the way he is diverted by counterfeit homes.
I can’t be the only one. I can’t be the only one who has these moments when I consider how I spend my days, reflecting on the poetry, art, literature, and music that I immerse myself in and ask, what is the point of all this anyway?