Talking to the damned is more difficult than you might imagine. When Dante enters Hell, he is lost, lamenting his spiritual malaise, and yet he has been given time and space to find the path to God again. Hell makes for an unusual path to God, for it is littered with the souls of those who finally rejected God. If a man who feared Hell had the chance to talk to a man who had actually been eternally consigned to Hell, what kind of questions would be the most spiritually helpful? Yet, many of the conversations Dante has with the damned strike modern ears as rather bland.
In a little-known novel that I love, a British grandmother, after the devastation of World War One, is left with the care of an orphaned grandson and the ache of a war-scarred family. Seeking a way to care for them all, Lucilla (literally, through a broken window) stumbles upon a worn but beautiful old house and has a vision of what it could mean for them all:
We often get asked about the best books on education. So I asked around the office a bit. Here's what some of the folks on our team had to say.
By my latest count, I have heard the following dictum at least a dozen times in the last month: “literary analysis destroys the love of reading.”
Parents and teachers who say this often assert that reading, especially among the very young, is primarily an experience of the heart and soul, to be shared between parents and children, and that too strong an emphasis on mental exercise prevents them from using story time to build deep relationships.
As modern men, we take the arbitrary nature of the world for granted. Every man is obviously allowed to determine the rules for himself. I pray you have not seen many vampire movies, or many zombie pictures or werewolf films, but if you have, you know that within the first act, the director must establish the particular vampire or zombie rules which will govern this film. Will the vampires in this film be averse to garlic or not? How about holy water? Sunlight? Crosses? Silver bullets? Stakes through the heart?
Are stories and parables told only through words?
Perhaps some might grant that parable-like tales are also told through visual art and music. I’d like to suggest, in addition, that there are many math – and, by logical extension, science – “parables” most of us have never heard. And even if we’ve heard them, many of us have likely overlooked the radically fantastic domain they represent and reflect.
The primary reason for this, sadly, is that few of us were told them as bedtime stories (though somewhat tongue in cheek, I’m actually quite serious about this).
In an earlier season of life, colleagues who retired or cleaned their offices would frequently offload unwanted books to me. Thus I came to own The World of Cheese, a 1960 promotional publication from the J.L. Kraft Company. Who could resist a title like that? The short volume traces the general history of cheese and provides short descriptions of some of the most popular varieties. As it turns out, the history of cheese has a lot in common with the history of education from the ancients and medievals to public schooling and the modern classical education movement.
Recently, I taught a unit on dragon stories in literature to my elementary students. To launch the series, I read Revelation 12 aloud in class, which is a marvelous tale of a red dragon who pursues the Queen of Heaven into the desert to devour her child, but is thwarted by creation rising up against him. The students gazed wide-eyed at the masterfully woven images, narrative, and language. When I told them that the fantastical tale was from the Bible, they gasped. One young man stammered, “Wow, I didn’t know the Bible told stories like that!”
In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis cautions us against idolizing our memories of the past: “they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,” he says.
I am sure he chose that image because of a flower’s beauty, but I wonder if he had in mind how fleeting that beauty was designed to be. I wonder if he was intentionally echoing the prophet Isaiah, who said, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field…the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (40:6-8)
To the classical thinker, vice lies at the opposite ends of a corresponding virtue (Aristotle's golden mean). A vice can be the manifestation of a virtue in extreme exaggeration or deprivation. Courage is an example of virtue. Its corresponding vices are impetuousness (the exaggeration), and pusillanimity (the deprivation). In post-Christian Christianity, doubt has unfortunately been elevated into a virtue and any type of certainty has been made a vice, a problem which can be traced back to Descartes.