The Plena of Participation: How an Algebra Lesson with My Daughter Revealed the Fullness of Knowledge

Doing mathematics should always mean finding patterns and crafting beautiful and meaningful explanations.”

– Paul Lockhart

One recent morning, a few winter rays of sun beamed through the kitchen window and lit up the top of my black coffee. In that moment, I felt a little more of my being. I experienced, however faintly and briefly, a certain calm and joy. I reflected upon the coffee and the sunbeam; I could see them both in new and different ways. In this moment of contemplation, I gained a slightly deeper insight. Let’s face it, we were all in this together: the sun, the coffee, the kitchen, the window; my visual observation, my thought and reflection.

I mention this rather trite experience merely as a setup for a second, more profound, personal story. You see, the kitchen experience contains some key elements in the art of knowing, but it lacks others—so I offer it merely as a forerunner. I propose the following story as an epistemological model, a study in the fullness of knowledge and meaning.

As I was getting ready to write this article, I insisted that my 13-year-old daughter, Charlotte, sit down with me at the kitchen table to catch up on her prealgebra lessons. With my wife and other children out for the day, the house was unusually quiet. I sensed a good opportunity for us to spend some time together by working on our own materials next to each other. Because I work outside the home, my wife teaches the lessons to the kids; opportunities to study with my children are sparse. Shortly into my canon of inventio, Charlotte began to ask a multitude of questions about chapter 3 in College of the Redwoods Prealgebra Textbook, “The Fundamentals of Algebra.” Her questions revealed her frustrations and insecurity in this new terrain: Why do these equations vary? How do I work with these negative numbers. Should I multiply or divide? Which part of the equation should I attack first?
Now it had been several years since I had solved such equations—and I confess, my memory had grown a little fuzzy with algebra. And I really wanted to work on my article. So when she asked her initial questions about the function and operation of the coefficient, variable parts, like and unlike terms, the communicative, associative, and distributive properties, and ultimately, how to solve equations involving integers with variables on both sides, I declared that it would be best for her to simply read closely the four pages of detailed explanations and examples—and surely she would come to understand the fundamentals of basic algebra and be able to solve the 68 equations. In my body language and tone, I probably conveyed that I had work to do, and that algebra is a subject that you “just have to get through at your age.”

Yet, this clinical suggestion that she simply “read the objective facts of the chapter and acquire the factual knowledge for the equations” was not working very well. She was far from gaining true knowledge, and even further from the meaning of algebra in its essential nature. My selfish fortitude did not last long, for she and I both knew the advice was cheap. Besides, her questions had piqued my curiosity and wonder. I was soon sitting next to her, determined to answer her questions by reading the chapter along with her. Now we both wanted to know what to do at each step. For me, it was an exercise in memory; I had learned these long ago in school, and some years later for the GRE exam. For Charlotte, it was all new.

As we read the explanation pages together, each part of the various operations became intelligible. After each example, we would turn to the assigned equations and begin solving them. Step by step we proceeded. After a few rounds of this, I returned to my seat to resume my studies. After all, our own agendas die hard. But as the problems became more advanced, she asked more questions. And yet again, I found myself sitting next to her, learning with her, sharing in the act of discovery. As she gained confidence, we gained joy. I was teaching and learning. We were learning together. After an hour or two, Charlotte reached an epiphanal moment, exclaiming with pure joy, “I get it! I can solve this equation on my own without a mistake!”

So my article was off, but life was on.

After reflecting on this experience, I was struck by how rife it was with the fullness of knowledge—so much so that it seemed the perfect model to serve as a central example. Indeed, our lesson embodied knowledge and meaning, for we employed and adhered to no less than twenty-five different tools and principles in the process of attaining knowledge. (We shall define knowledge as justified true beliefs.) I will list them here, with each one followed by a brief explanation of its use in our lesson.

My purpose for offering these twenty-five tools and principles is to provide a brief exposure to all that is involved in the art of knowing, to reveal just how much is at stake. After these, we will look at three fundamental concepts in greater detail.

1. Experiential and Intellectual Input – Input acquired through the five senses, along with our conceptual ideas, provided the necessary data for us to solve the equations. For example, through the use of our sight we were able to read the information on the page, and then process the ideas derived from that sensory and intellectual information.

2. Memory and Imitation – Because I learned algebra in the past, I used my memory to recall many of the details; as well, Charlotte used her memory to recall a variety of arithmetic facts. Additionally, the ancient Greeks suggested that all learning happens by imitation, the creative impulse to reflect what is already there. We imitated the steps portrayed in the examples.

3. Reason and Logic (dialectic and hypotheses construction; formal and informal) – The equations involved the use
of reason, the means by which we move from one idea
to another, by means of logical inference. We combined

like terms by dividing. We negated terms in the sum.
We divided both sides of equations. We multiplied and simplified. These were logical and reasonable moves that we knew would help us solve the problem. We also used dialectic, the “question and answer” dialogue in our joint discussion to solve the problems.
4. Verbal and Mathematical Language – We used a fairly complex verbal language to communicate with each other and to describe and explain the mathematical language.
5. Pattern Discernment and Recognition – Because our

minds are able to recognize visual patterns, cause-and-effect patterns, and other structural patterns, we noticed that a pattern exists in each equation, a pattern similar to other equations.

6. Adherence to Order – Each step in the equation needed to be solved in the proper order otherwise we would not have arrived at the truth (right solution).
7. Practice and Repetition – To arrive at the truth (right solution) consistently on our own, we needed to practice and repeat the steps several times.
8. Association – By associating one idea with another, and one experience with another, we were able to understand increasingly complex ideas by reasoning from one concept to the next.
9. Belief in Objective Truth – the mathematical numbers, laws, and principles in these algebraic equations are objective, eternal, and immutable. There is one right solution; anything other than the right solution is wrong.
10. Effort and Discipline – In order to arrive at the truth (right solution), we needed to put forth effort and to be disciplined. Though challenging, we believed that truth can be discovered, and that finding the truth is worth the effort. 11. Invention – Invention involves creativity; it is the activity of inventing ideas and arguments. This includes hypotheses, explanations, and interpretations. We interpreted the explanations of the algebraic equations.
12. Experimentation – On a few occasions we were inspired to think in different ways to solve the equations. If we generated hypotheses that produced different results from the method taught, we used dialectical reasoning to compare hypotheses and to determine which ones were correct.
13. Form, Structure, and Parts – It was important that we honored and adhered to the proper form, structure, and parts of the equations.
14. Evidence and Proof – Charlotte’s answers would have meant little or nothing if she did not show her work: how she arrived at the solution. Similarly, most assertions (theses) are meaningless without supporting proof.
15. Penmanship – Beautiful penmanship is a sign of elevated and ordered thoughts. I insisted that Charlotte use neat penmanship to reflect the quality and facility of her thinking and problem solving abilities.
16. Intuition – This can carry a variety of meanings,
but it usually stands for thoughts that are immediately, necessarily, or self-evidently true. Though we didn’t rely much on intuition, some of the mathematical concepts seemed “intuitively” right.
17. Relationship – Forming a relationship with Charlotte propelled her into true knowledge. If I would have insisted that she learn it on her own because I was busy, she would have struggled longer with the task, and she would not have known it as well. The relationship manifested in our activity has implications that are transcendent and eternal. 18. Participation – If I had insisted on looking at the algebra lesson from the outside, from a distant, objective vantage point, and made assertions from my outside perspective without participating as a subject in the activity, I would

not have been able to arrive at a complete and accurate understanding. I would have given answers based solely on my memory, which is fallible and prone to error. I needed to step inside the activity of learning to read the information myself and attempt to solve the problems.
19. Commitment to Universals – We affirmed not only the universal axioms of mathematics, but eternal realities such as truth, goodness, love, and the soul.
20. Deference for Tradition – Mathematics is an old study; we honored its function and role in the universe and in the history of man. We endeavored to participate in the Great Conversation (about mathematics) with the past.
21. Humility – Humility was absolutely essential before we could learn anything. We had to acknowledge how much we did not know. I needed to admit that I had forgotten some of the strategies in solving the equations. Charlotte needed to admit that these new concepts were a challenge and that she needed help.
22. Imagination – Here we emphasize the importance of
the imagination for a fuller, more complete knowledge of ourselves and the world. We affirm the vital relationship between reason and imagination in the activity of knowing. 23. Wisdom – Though my work on the article was set behind, it was wiser for me to invest in the lesson with my daughter because it was the right thing to do. All knowledge has an ethical and spiritual dimension (all Truth is God’s truth). So all knowledge, in some way, relates to wisdom. Time spent with her was the wiser choice for many reasons, but to name two—we are a little closer now, and she is growing in her knowledge of math.
24. Faith – We needed faith in God, and in His eternal mathematical laws. By studying them, we believed that we might come to know reality a little more fully, and through that reality, know something more of Him and ourselves. 25. Love – Because I love Charlotte, and care enough for her to learn algebra, she now understands it. If I had insisted on her reading the pages on her own, as mere facts separated from reality, existence, and relationship, she would not have come to a full knowledge of it.

We shall now consider three salient concepts from above that are vitally important in the activity of knowing: Universals and Truth, Participation, and Language and Imagination. We will begin with universals and truth because they influence and inform the other concepts.

The first slip into modernism might well be located in the figure of William of Occam in the early 14th century. Occam established the doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals and/or abstract objects have any existence or reality. The doctrine suggests that only particular, concrete things are real, and that universal terms and concepts have no existence (other than as mere names for classes of particular things). As Richard Weaver suggests, the issue at stake is whether a source of truth exists that is higher than, and independent of, man. The consequence of nominalism is that it banished reality perceived by the intellect and the spirit, and reduced reality to only what is perceived by the senses. And with this change in the assumption of what
is real, the entire orientation of culture took a turn toward modern empiricism.1

The effect of nominalism is the diminishment, if not the devastation, of our ability to know reality in a more comprehensive way. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending sensory experience, and with this, the denial of truth. Astutely, Weaver recalls the story of the witches from Shakepeare’s Macbeth, who tempt Macbeth with the idea that man can realize himself more fully if he will only abandon belief in the existence of transcendentals.2 By denying transcendent reality
and objective truth, the witches spoke delusively and presciently—instead of man realizing himself more fully, he is actually sundered from knowledge and reality. For it is the transcendent entities that complete the fullness of reality and knowledge, giving life and being to all things.

James S. Taylor aptly states that the fullness of knowledge is a kind of natural, everyman’s metaphysics of common experience. It is a way of restoring the definition of reality to mean knowledge of the seen and unseen. Its restoration is essential for reawakening the intuitive nature of human beings who are able to know reality in a profound and intimate way that is prior to, and in a certain sense, superior to reductionistic, empirical knowledge.3

Let us now turn to the vital role of participation in knowledge. In “Meditation in a Toolshed,” C. S. Lewis relays an enlightening experience of standing in a dark toolshed. He says that the sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door, a sunbeam pierced through. Everything else in the shed was pitch black. Particles of dust were floating in the beam. The beam appeared striking and beautiful. Importantly, he was looking at the beam, not seeing things because of the beam.

Then, Lewis moved into the beam so that the beam fell on his eyes. Instantly, he says, “the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, the sun. Looking along
 the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.” The modern method of acquiring knowledge is akin to looking at the beam; but to partake in the fullness of knowledge implies standing in the beam and looking along the beam. Here are two different ways of knowing. Both are valid, yet the second way implies participation inside; it facilitates passage into the glorious realm of universals, the transcendent realities that comprise the fullness of our knowledge, being, and purpose. From mere matter to intellect, spirit, and truth.

Let us conclude with language and imagination. Remember the opening anecdote where I was sitting in the kitchen with the morning sun and my coffee? By the active use of language and imagination, I imbued the experience with meaning. With modern reductionism, it is usually assumed that there is little connection between the physical causes of things and their meaning. But, as Owen Barfield illuminates, the meaning of a process is the inner being which the process expresses.5 And it is language and imagination, through symbol and metaphor, that connect the inner beings of things to their processes and to man.

So then, a thing functions as a symbol when it not only announces, but represents something other than itself.6 We owe the existence of language to this process: memory and imagination convert the forms of the physical world into mental images, images which function not only as signs and reminders of themselves, but as symbols for concepts.
If this were not so, they could never have given rise to words, which make abstract thought possible. If we really think about this, it implies that this symbolic significance is inherent in the forms of the outer world themselves.7

Thus, Barfield reveals, if language is meaningful, then nature is also meaningful. He quotes Emerson, “It is not only words that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic… Man is placed in the center of beings and a ray of relation passes from every other being to him. And neither can man be understood without these objects, nor these objects without man. It is precisely in this ‘ray of relation’… that the secret of meaning resides.”8

Perhaps it is just this ray of relation dispersing through each other and the world, our experience and our soul—the interaction of coffee, sunlight, algebra, and spirit—the joy of participation and the fullness of knowledge—which grants meaning to all that we hold dear: that which we write, that which we hope to know, and those whom we love.

Book Review: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Recently, a colleague of mine—whose first child was born just weeks ago—noticed my copy of Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. “You know,” he said, “a friend of mine told me that parenting is the most guilt-inducing profession there is. That’s why when I saw the title of that book you’re reading, I decided I will never read it.”

As a soon-to-be father myself, I understand his sentiment. There are so many ways that we fall short in raising our children; why read a book that outlines ten more so that we can feel even worse than we already do? And yet, Esolen’s book is worth reading, and not just for the concerned parent or early childhood educator. I will admit that as a warning about what not to do with children, Ten Ways can at times be overwhelming and even heavy- handed. But read as a broader critique of our system of education and culture, it offers a creative and poignant reminder not only of what a good childhood used to—and might still—be, but also of what it means to be fully alive.

The introduction to Ten Ways is worth the price of the book. In it, Esolen adroitly establishes the conceit that holds the book together: His narrator, a sort of twenty- first century Screwtape, is fed up with children. He has opened his essay decrying the dangers and inconveniences of classic books, but now he turns to children, who are, he writes, “worse than books.” For “a book makes you see the world again, and so ruins your calm and efficient day. But a child does not need to see the world again. He is seeing it for the first time.” The curiosity and wonder that come from seeing the world afresh make children unpredictable and unmanageable. Turning the cliché that “children are our greatest resource” on its head, the smug narrator argues that if we do indeed see children in this way, then we should treat them as we would any other resource: standardize them, warehouse them efficiently, prepare them to fit neatly into their proper place in the commercial juggernaut that we call culture. And to accomplish this we must kill their imagination. “If we can but deaden the imagination,” he says in his eminently practical way, “we can settle the child down, and make of him that solid, dependable, and inert space-filler in school, and, later, a block of the great state pyramid.” This deadening is critical, because even a single act of imagination is a threat, as this hilarious analogy makes clear:

A vast enterprise like McDonald’s can only function by ensuring that no employee, anywhere, will do anything sprightly and childlike in the way of cooking. I sometimes think that if a single boy at the grill tossed paprika into the french fries, the whole colossal pasteboard enterprise would come crashing down. Barbarians everywhere would be grilling the onions, or leaving the ketchup out, or commandeering the Swiss to take the place of the American. The great virtue of McDonald’s, that of the solid, dependable, inert routine, would vanish. The rest of the book gives us a program for making sure the paprika will never be tossed. Esolen presents ten “methods” for squashing individuality and creativity in children, each in itself an ironic critique of trends in education, child- rearing, or the culture at large. The first of these, a chapter entitled “Keep Your Children Indoors as Much as Possible, Or They Used to Call it ‘Air,’” is one of the best. It attacks the increasingly prevalent sheltering of children indoors, away from the majesty and risks of the natural world. By recounting the joyful alfresco adventures of his youth, and by cataloging insights about the natural world from books (from the Epic of Gilgamesh to C.S. Lewis and Wendell Berry), Esolen reminds us that like the Psalmist, we should be awe-struck by the glories of God’s creation. He also makes it clear how easily we can miss them: “A child that has been blared at and distracted all his life will never be able to do the brave nothing of beholding the sky.” Thus
the need for time in nature, which builds resistance to the flashy and ephemeral distractions of culture and leads to curiosity, resourcefulness, and self-knowledge. But children no longer spend much time outdoors, for the school day is too long, the summer too short, the parents too scared. So children, whose little “free” time is regimented out in a slew of formal extra-curricular activities, don’t really get to experience life.

This is the focus of Method 2: “Never Leave Children to Themselves,” in which Esolen looks back wistfully to a time when children were allowed to organize games and adventures through their own initiative. He praises pick-up baseball and spontaneously formed clubs devoted to the love of singing or stamp collecting or chess, while he critiques what he sees as the largely utilitarian motives behind the zealous involvement of parents and organizations in children’s activities. “Everything you do as a child,” counsels the narrator, “must be geared—I use the word “geared” deliberately—toward the resume which will gain you admission to Higher Blunting, followed by Prestigious Work, followed by retirement and death.”

Method 4, “Replace the Fairy Tale with Political Clichés and Fads,” is a diatribe against Deconstructionism and political correctness, the violence they do to the love of learning, and the mediocrity they breed in literature. Such an argument has been made before; for example, see Francine Prose’s scathing and controversial 1999 essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read: How American High School Students Learn to Loathe Literature,” which begins in this way: Like most parents who have, against all odds, preserved a lively and still evolving passion for good books, I find myself, each September, increasingly appalled by the dismal lists of texts that my sons are doomed to waste a school year reading. What I get as compensation is a measure of insight into why our society has come to admire Montel Williams and Ricki Lake so much more than Dante and Homer.1

Both Ms. Prose and Esolen make the point that growing up on drivel stunts young people so that when they face more challenging and potentially rewarding literature, they don’t stand a chance of understanding it or appreciating it. Why the drivel? Both authors maintain it is because the childrens’ overseers are less concerned with stretching the imagination or presenting the real complexity of human relationships than they are with keeping things “relevant” and socializing children well. Now, the problem is not that literature is used to teach deep moral truths to the young. That must happen. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “unless civilization is built upon truisms, it is not built at all.”2 The problem is that the books that high schoolers read, many of them of dubious literary merit to begin with, are presented solely as a pretext for facile discussions of values that are in vogue. As Esolen’s subversive narrator concludes, “Reading is all about the adopting of the correct position.” Of course, the correct position—and Prose and Esolen agree in this critique—is always some modern piety along the lines of a predictable and very limited set of socially acceptable morals.

Esolen does offer an alternative, though, and that is where this chapter is of most use to the parents of young children. He praises folk tales, fairy tales, and fables for their potential to stir up in young readers a love of virtue and justice and to help them recognize, and believe in, love and beauty.3 Because folk tales present a moral universe where right is right and wrong is wrong, they are dangerous. When learned in childhood, these stories—and Esolen provides a number of specific examples—make it possible for young people later to appreciate Shakespeare, and Dostoyevski, and even Puccini. Therefore, says our narrator, the stories must be suppressed: “If you do not want a child to paint, you take away his palette. If you
do not want him to use his imagination to conceive of archetypal stories, you take away his narrative palette.”

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child makes a lot of other good points as well. There is no space here to outline, for example, the book’s insights into how a child’s belief in heroes, his love for his country, his openness to learning from the past, and his respect for the mystery of the opposite sex all help to nurture his moral imagination. The book is a valuable contribution to the conservative corpus on education and virtue that should provoke good discussions among educators and parents. Where others have laid out in a more analytical way the reasons for the decline in moral education, such as empirical psychology, logical positivism, and general moral relativism,4 Esolen’s contribution is to make us understand these causes through laughter and then mourn their effects. His writing is elegant and vigorous and his love for the classics infectious. Readers who want to follow up on any of the dozens of books, folk tales, and children’s stories he draws from can consult the detailed bibliography he provides. There is some repetition between chapters, but this makes it possible for sections of the book to be read independently by those who are not ready to attack the whole. I might even suggest that parents consider forming a group to discuss sections of the book together, perhaps along with a teacher or school administrator, as has been done with success at the school where I teach. Not everyone will love the book: the author’s strong opinions (on everything from day care to pop culture to true manhood and womanhood) and his tone (at a few moments almost belligerently pedantic) may be off-putting to some, and others may feel crushed by the sense that modern life, or their particular situation, makes many of his ideals difficult to realize. But I think that most readers will be grateful for this inspiring charge to foster and protect our most human resource.

“What’s Going On?” as an Essential Question: Jesus, Socrates, and the Imagination

The use of essential questions to guide both curriculum and lesson planning is characteristic of classical Christian education. As John Milton Gregory proposes in The Seven Laws of Teaching, questioning is an artful science that invigorates the learning process by drawing students into an active posture of inquiry, rather than relegating students to passive receptacles of information.1 The use of essential questions is taken to be synonymous with the Socratic method and the teaching style of Jesus, placing the practice squarely at the center of classical and Christian education. The desire of the Socratic and Christological method, however, is concerned with a reality deeper than the (truly gratifying) moment in which a student, rather than the teacher, answers the question. In short, to take a cue from the pedagogies of Socrates and Jesus is to be occupied with a form of comprehension more primary than rationality—namely, the imagination—and to seek after this precise form of comprehension demands an appropriately precise form of questioning. I propose, in the words of a teacher who has had a great influence on me, that Socrates and Jesus teach us to interrogate the imagination by taking the time to ask Marvin’s question, “What’s going on?” before Lenin’s question, “What is to be done?”2 In order to develop what is meant by using “What’s going on?” as
an essential question and to demonstrate its use, I will first examine the pedagogies of Socrates and Jesus, reflect upon the philosophical underpinnings of an imagination-centered pedagogy, and, finally, provide two case studies drawn from the seventh and twelfth grade classes I teach.

The Socratic method of interrogation deals with one ethical question by asking a series of other, seemingly unrelated, ethical questions. In order to answer, “What’s to be done?” Socrates demands that we address what’s going on. If we were to ask, “Is it good to know oneself?” Socrates would barrage us with a whole host of other questions: is this knowledge the whole or a part of virtue, is this knowledge teachable, is it enough to make us happy? The purpose is not simply to elicit right answers to a list of discrete questions, but to destabilize our sense of knowledge by demonstrating the unity of these answers—that, in fact, their usefulness is not as distinct definitions or separate units of knowledge, but as they cohere together by their reference to wisdom in its unity.3 To answer one is to find oneself approaching another; to fail to answer one of the many is to fail to know anything at all. It is in this sense that Socrates challenges others by his claim to know only that he knows nothing.4 Socratic questioning resists the fragmentation of knowledge by building connections among different forms of analysis and disciplines of study. To the extent classical education models itself upon the Socratic method, classical educators are committed to rigorous, interdisciplinary interrogation.

Characteristic of Jesus’ teaching is the way he revolutionizes, not simply modifies, understanding. This is because Jesus is not preoccupied with discrete objects of knowledge, but total ways of being in and seeing the world. When the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question about the resurrection, they seek to trap him with a “What’s to
be done?” question, but he responds with a revelation of what’s going on. To the question of whose wife a woman married seven times would be in the resurrection, according to the Sadducees’ plans, Jesus would have to either deny the resurrection or betray the law of Moses, which instituted Levirate marriage (see Luke 20:27–40). He does not answer their question when he says, “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” for “they cannot die anymore.”5 He shows, instead, that their understanding of the resurrection continues to include a place for death—a profound misunderstanding of what the resurrection is. The law of Levirate marriage only makes sense in a world of death, wherein the death of a husband means a grief-stricken widow must be passed along and “given in marriage” to another. The condition for the possibility of their understanding of the resurrection includes death; death has so infected their vision that they are unable to imagine a world without it. It is precisely the good news of the gospel that a new imagination, a new way of seeing, comes with the new creation. To the extent classical Christian education models itself upon the teaching of Jesus, classical Christian educators must be committed to interrogating the imagination.

The imagination is like the structure and contents of a room that we enter. The furniture, the walls, and the carpeting are set: they are the setting in which we eat, read, or converse. A space’s form can have direct bearing on the sorts of encounters or behaviors that take place inside. The open concept living space of a modern home encourages fluid movement and interaction among those who would otherwise be occupying different rooms. A cathedral’s immensity, permanence, and verticality impart upon worshipers the awe that is appropriate for encounter with the eternal and wholly Other.6 Buried with books in the university library’s basement, the graduate student feels life and joy incrementally sapped away with each flicker of the fluorescent lights. To ask what’s going on of a particular situation is to start moving the furniture, tearing up the carpet, and examining the architecture of the rooms we inhabit. Forces beyond our immediate attention operate upon us and shape us; our very perception of particular situations is, in a sense, given prior to our rational engagement with that situation. Like a room, that givenness circumscribes, directs, and limits our engagement; it can make certain choices seem inevitable, and others unthinkable. The question of what’s going on engages this givenness.

James K. A. Smith has identified this imaginative givenness as a faculty that rests somewhere between instinct and intellect.7 It is a discipline deeper than a rationalist worldview that has been constructed over time and passed down by the incorporating and institutionalizing practices of our communities. The imagination is constructed and entered, given and inherited. Moreover, the imagination, not the intellect, is the motivating center of action; if action arose from intellect, academics would surpass all others in moral excellence. Instead, the seat of action is the imagination, or what French philosopher and social theorist Pierre Bourdieu calls habitus: a structure that structures our vision of the world and our moral place in it. Contrary to a common scholastic fallacy, there is no theoretical space above or behind the practices that shape our imagination; rather, we are fully embodied beings and our imagination reflects the social location of our bodies.8 The rooms we enter represent forces of desire and relations of power that shape identity. As Bourdieu carefully points out, this discipline is far from innocent—especially in the academy—for the way we see the world reflects our social location in it, and it is characteristic of this vision to be self-effacing. That is to say, it is all too easy to forget the conditions for the possibility of seeing the world from a position of scholastic privilege—“a site and moment of social weightlessness” wherein philosophical investigation is freed from the constraints of necessity.9 According to Plato, leisure (skholè) is the distinctive and requisite privilege of philosophers, the success of whose heavenly searching depends upon not being preoccupied with the hurried conditions of the world “at their feet.”10 Forgetting the privilege of that detachment, students and teachers re- inscribe the inequalities that support their studious position of sight.

One essential question I have been using with my seventh graders is, “What do stories do?” They have learned a simple answer: “Stories teach us how to see the world.” This is an inquiry along the register of the imagination, but what is the connection between stories, the imagination, and bodily discipline? As the Israelites entered Babylon in
the early sixth century B.C. and passed under the Ishtar Gate, they were submitted to an imaginative discipline. The imposing structure boasts extravagant wealth and power, not only by its sizable, artistic construction but also, and more seductively, by its brilliant, expensive blue hue. Images upon its walls tell the story of Marduk who, according to the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish, created the world by destroying the gods who opposed him and then established the city of Babylon and the Ishtar Gate itself as testimony to his victory. It would be insufficient merely to note this point without attending to its formative power upon those exiled bodies passing under it. The Ishtar Gate serves as an entrance into the city, to Marduk’s temple,
and into the Babylonian imagination. It operates as a habitus, an imaginative discipline of domination over those shackled exiles subjected to it. Walls ask without rational argumentation, “Where is your wealth and power? Where is your city? Where is your god?” Bodies comprehend, “We are captive.”

Shackles tell a similar story in U.S. History. With my seniors, I ask the question more directly, regarding any given event we study, “What’s going on?” Thomas Jefferson is a particularly contested and paradoxical figure who well serves this analytic exercise. An agrarian antifederalist, Jefferson opposed the strong central authority created by the U.S. Constitution: he was one of the many who immediately recognized how subjecting local, state interests to national control would likewise consolidate power with the traditional, urban, moneyed, and property-holding elite. We cannot read the Constitution naively, but must ask with Jefferson what social arrangement the Constitution stabilized. After a century of class conflict—Shays’ Rebellion of 1786 only the latest flashpoint of tenant unrest—the elites sought finally to secure their position.11 James Madison proposed a national representative republican government as a mechanism capable of filtering out the vicious lower passions; according to the maxim of the federalist John Jay, “Those who own the country ought to govern it.”12 Once in office, Jefferson advocated for the poor landless whites. He would maintain education as a prerequisite for civic participation, yet he insisted that the poor were capable of being educated, growing in virtue, and joining the American experiment. There was one condition: the institution of slavery would have to be maintained. Who else would support the agricultural industry (America’s backbone, according to Jefferson) if poor whites were to seek advancement and full citizenship? The condition for the possibility of white prosperity was black enslavement—a channel in American imagination and society that flows throughout U.S. History to the present. Jefferson’s imagination was held captive by a racialized vision of the world. Even as Jefferson exposed the hierarchical social arrangement stabilized by the Constitution, we must inquire after what social arrangement had constituted his vision of American democracy.

The ultimate purpose of drawing attention to the ironically non-egalitarian author of the Declaration of Independence is not to cast judgment on an individual, but to demonstrate the way disastrous choices and skewed perception can seem completely reasonable within the horizon of a distorted imagination. “What’s going on?” sets us upon a trajectory capable of exposing that imagination. “What’s going on?” demands that we go deeper than asking what happened, who was involved, when it occurred, and why and how it came about. To follow the classical trivium, these are essential questions of grammar and logic, and they must be answered. We must identify the players, facts, and events in their entire social, political, and economic complexity; we must discern the logic of how those players, facts, and events are organized into relationships of causation. Yet, there remain questions of rhetoric: how are grammar and logic being deployed and whose interests are served? Following the Augustinian principle that societies are constituted by their loves, how does desire shape identity? Furthermore, with Augustine, how do relationships and systems reveal idolatries that play out in lust for domination?13 What is being desired, what relations of power are being established or stabilized, and how are identities being formed in the process? What identity is desirable and who is excluded from this identification? What are the social conditions for the possibility of satisfying what is socially desirable? What is the quality of the relationships being established—e.g., mutual, reciprocal, oppressive, violent? How do particular social arrangements validate or invalidate certain identities and desires? What’s going on? No question is irrelevant to study, as Socrates teaches us. Every question is relevant to exposing whole ways of seeing the world, as Jesus reminds us. Apart from this interrogation, we know nothing—the Ishtar Gate is just architecture, the Constitution is just a text, and slavery is just an institution.

Christian Apologetics and the Imagination

The part of the mind known as the imagination—the ability to form mental images—is important in the life of the Christian. Though a realm in need of discipline and sanctification, the imagination is a God-given super-power, making possible some of the greatest achievements of human beings. It makes possible empathy and compassion, shapes our worldviews, and is the way into our hearts.

The imagination can also be the way into the hearts of unbelievers. Many people in today’s culture, trapped in their narrow materialistic worldviews, “cannot imagine” any kind of spiritual reality. They perceive only dimly
the difference between good and evil, and while they can respond to extreme cases of the two (they are human, after all), they have difficulty imagining themselves as sinners. And God, Christ, Hell, Heaven, Redemption are outside of their imaginative frames of reference.

But it isn’t just that they have trouble imagining spiritual reality, they have trouble imagining physical reality. Their world consists of material objects, which they are glad to use for their pleasure; but the objective universe has no meaning for them. They think science has not only explained the natural order but has explained it away. There is no mystery or wonder in the external world, only dead matter. It can be manipulated in various ways, but any kind of meaning must come from within the self. While there might be objective facts, there is no objective truth. They cannot imagine a creation, much less a Creator.

One symptom of this tragic blindness is that people today are strangely impervious to reason. Rational arguments were important in the modernist era, which claimed the Enlightenment mantle of being the “Age of Reason.” But postmodernists often seem little affected by logic, chains of reasoning, or objective evidence.

Convincing people of the  thus poses new challenges today. Evangelists must try to reach people who have little conception of what the evangelists are talking about. Apologists can make superb arguments for the truth of Christianity that nevertheless fail to penetrate the mindset of their audiences. To be sure, many people are still coming to faith, proving that the Holy Spirit and not our merely human efforts is the One who brings people to Christ. And yet Christians must continue to speak about the objective truth of what we believe, objectivity being an important part of our worldview, both to emphasize to non-believers that the message of Christ is not just another construction of the self and to teach new believers how to think in objective terms. But one way to connect with postmodernists, to open their minds to a much larger worldview, is to reach their imaginations.

What C. S. Lewis did

C. S. Lewis is surely the best known and most successful Christian apologist of the 20th century. He showed that there is a rational case for Christianity. As such, he was addressing the modernist mind. And yet that was not all he was doing. Consider the climax of his argument about Christ in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.1

Here is a logical argument, establishing three possibilities and asserting which one is more plausible. But it is also addressing the imagination. When we read this argument, we are also picturing a lunatic, a devil, and even a poached egg. We also picture in our minds the responses to Him: shut Him up, spit at Him, kill Him, fall at His feet, call Him Lord and God.

Lewis wrote many books that make the rational case for Christianity: Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, God in the Dock, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer. His apologetic works are not abstract tomes, full of intellectual content but tedious to read. They are absorbing and hard to put down. His reasoning, full of vivid illustrations and analogies, is compelling, even exciting. This is because Lewis is stimulating not only his readers’ intellects but also their imaginations. Lewis was also the author of fantasy novels: The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, Till We Have Faces. At a time when literary modernism favored works of grim realism, Lewis was writing in the genre of untrammeled imagination. But these works of the creative imagination, written to send their readers’ imagination soaring, also were works of Christian apologetics, playing a role, just like his rational arguments, in bringing countless readers to faith.

An important clue to Lewis’s life work can be found in the subtitle of the first book that he wrote after he became a Christian: The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism. His is an apologetic not only for Christianity but also for reason and romanticism. But aren’t reason and romanticism opposed to each other? How can he defend both logic and emotion, realism and fantasy? And in what sense are both opposites under attack?

This may be one of Lewis’s greatest insights. The modernists, in the name of reason, rejected romanticism. Today’s postmodernists, in their subjectivity, reject reason. But even as early as 1933 when Lewis published Pilgrim’s Regress, both worldviews were taking shape and starting to contend with each other. The narrow road that the Pilgrim must follow runs between two extremes. On one side are barren, icy cliffs, symbolizing the cold, hard facts of rationalism. On the other side are hot, muddy swamps, symbolizing the sensuality and inwardness of romanticism. But when the Pilgrim finds Christianity, a true reason and a true romanticism are restored to him.

Today, both objectivity and subjectivity are impoverished. Both are lifeless. Having no room for each other, they leave human beings trapped in a partial, incomplete state, with the different facets of their minds and personalities in conflict with each other. In the words of Lewis’s rival and fellow convert T. S. Eliot, who put forward a similar diagnosis, human beings today are plagued with a “dissociation of sensibility,” in which thinking and feeling go in different directions.2 Eliot found the unified sensibility he craved in 17th century Christian poets such as John Donne and George Herbert, and then he himself embraced the Christian faith and experienced the wholeness that it brings.

Lewis’s own coming to Christ had its start in his imagination. What he presents in an allegorical fantasy in Pilgrim’s Regress and more straightforwardly in his autobiographical memoir Surprised by Joy is his account of various experiences of ineffable longing. These were moments of transcendence, glimpses of something beyond this life, which he felt as a mingling of joy and an almost painful yearning. As he recounts in Surprised by Joy, different things would bring on these feelings, but they were almost always works of the imagination: Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin; a recording of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; the mere title of William Morris’s The Well at the World’s End. A milestone in his spiritual pilgrimage was his discovery of Phantases by the Scottish clergyman George McDonald, one of the great masters of Christian fantasy. When he read it, Lewis said, “My imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.”3 Later, in a conversation about myth with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, he realized that what he loved in myth—its aching beauties, its slain gods, its deaths and resurrections–pointed to Christ, in whom myth became fact.4

Imagination led C. S. Lewis to Christ, and he led others to Christ by awakening their imaginations.5

Freeing Prisoners

Lewis’s good friend and the man who brought him to Christ was J. R. R. Tolkien, an even greater writer of fantasies. In replying to the charge that fantasy is mere “escapism,” Tolkien asked, “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”6

This is exactly the plight of the lost. They are prisoners of the sin that enslaves them, to be sure (John 8:34). They are also imprisoned in their narrow, confining, claustrophobic worldviews. That prison may be the materialism that insists that the physical world is all there is. Or it may be the even smaller and darker enclosure that is the self.

Tolkien wants to help the captive “get out” of his prison so that he can “go home.” Imagining something bigger and better than the constricting confines of the prison blows out its walls. Imagination can also awaken a yearning for one’s true home.7

To be sure, imagination can send an escaped prisoner in all kinds of directions, including to new imagination-created prisons. Christians must continue to insist on reason, evidence, and objective truth. What must be done is to re-associate truth and the imagination.

“Part of our problem in presenting the Faith,” observes Alison Milbank, “is that our world deadens desire, and many people do not know that they are missing anything.”8 “For me,” she says, “the whole enterprise of presenting the faith convincingly is aimed at opening this desire in others.”9 Helping people realize that they are missing something and awakening the desire for eternal life, for God, are critical for both apologetics and evangelism.

This is a task for the imagination, but not at the expense of reason. But reason itself needs to be imaginatively rehabilitated. Again, Dr. Milbank suggests how: Reason does need rescuing and we can do so by recasting the limit to understanding from a negation to an opening out to mystery. As Fr. Giussani argues, reason discovers mystery: ‘the summit of reason’s conquest may reveal itself as a foothill’ but this perception is itself a positive discovery that there is more: ‘the existence of something incommensurable in relation to [Reason] itself. And it is imagination that helps reason to recognize the mystery as mystery. So let us use every imaginative tool at our disposal to awaken the religious sense, and then use reason to explain the difference this viewpoint makes to our experience of the whole of reality, which is restored to us, in all its fullness.10

A good example of how this apologetics of the imagination has worked in practice can be seen in this account from British journalist Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, who describes how, as an atheist, she was converted to Christianity through the poetry of George Herbert. (I have never understood why Herbert is so little known by evangelicals today. The Word of God is part of the texture of his verse, his major theme is the Gospel, and few have written so profoundly of their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Also, even secular scholars agree on his stature as one of the greatest lyric poets of the English language in his formal and aesthetic mastery.)11

Ms. Threlfall-Holmes recalls first coming upon Herbert as a teen-ager in school. “By the end of the weekend, I realised that this poetry was the most dangerous challenge to my atheism that I had yet come across.”12 She says that she had assumed religion was for the weak-minded. “But here was some of the most fiercely intelligent poetry I had ever read, grappling with Christian doctrines and with a relationship with God. If this brilliant mind believed all this, and devoted a life to it, then clearly I needed to look at it again.”13 Notice that she is responding not simply to Herbert’s imagination but also to his intelligence. And yet, her own intelligence needed something more.

She responds to the honest struggles that Herbert records. She says of his poems that “many of them clearly describe his intensely personal struggles with faith and calling. Even those that are more formal explorations of particular religious doctrines or concepts have a similar air of spiritual authenticity. There are no mere statements of dogma. The poems record the poet’s own doubts and faith in a way that still rings true with many readers, even those with no explicit faith of their own.”14 She begins to see that there is more to Christianity than she realized.

For Herbert, religion is never simply a set of dogmatic assertions, or a collection of cultural practices, as historical religion is sometimes caricatured. . . .It was easy to dismiss the truth of the 20 impossible things that religion seemed to expect me to believe before breakfast. It was much harder to dismiss my own emotional reaction to these poems: the beauty, the yearning, the enticing danger. They left me with the sense that I was standing on a cliff, staring out to sea, hearing marvellous tales of lands beyond the horizon and wondering if they were, after all, just fairy tales or whether the intensity with which the tales were told was evidence that the teller had indeed seen a barely imagined kingdom.15

Our churches are full of young people like teenage Miranda—smart, sophisticated in their own way, and eager to leave their parents’ households–and we agonize how to reach and keep them. They need teaching, but simply throwing abstract doctrinal ideas at them may not be enough. The teaching needs to appeal to their intelligence. But Christianity is not merely about ideas.
It is about mighty realities, as concrete as rough-hewn wood stained by blood. And Christianity is not about bourgeois complacency, but it addresses failures, suffering, and personal struggles. Teaching the faith to young people—or, for that matter, to the unchurched or to anyone today—should involve awakening them to “the beauty, the yearning, the enticing danger.”

The point is not just that we need more poets and other artists like George Herbert, though we do. We do need more apologists like C. S. Lewis who can reach both the intellect and the imaginations of people today, who are, in many ways, different than those Lewis addressed in his day. And we do need more writers like J. R. R. Tolkien who, even though they do not directly address religious issues, can expand the imaginations of their readers and fill them with desire for realities beyond the world.

But we also need preachers who can move their hearers to a deeper response. We need people who can witness to their friends so that the message of the Gospel is not easily dismissed but sinks in deeply. To be sure, the Word of God creates faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, but God’s Word itself is much more than abstract ideas. It certainly teaches inerrant propositional truths, and it does so by means of historical narratives, parables, poetry, and figurative language—all of which address the imagination in the course of reaching the heart. Meanwhile, all Christians—especially as they face the dehumanizing, reductionistic, and materialistic mentality of our current times—need to love God with all of their minds, which would include their imaginations.

Accounting for the Form Knowledge Takes: or, What Do We Mean by “Meaning?”

In recent years, Christian educators have become more aware of the fundamental role of the body and of the imagination in the acquisition of knowledge. Teachers and administrators are increasingly recognizing the mistake — embedded and celebrated in modern culture — that ideas can be reduced to abstract information. Because human beings are not “brains in vats,” but created to know the world as embodied, intuitive, imaginative beings, knowledge is not simply data. Teaching and learning are thus more like a dance than a data transfer protocol.

We are none of us simple blank slates. We each receive knowledge into the context of what we already know and what we imagine to be the case. The rhetorician and intellectual historian Richard Weaver used the term “metaphysical dream of the world” to describe the “intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality” that informs all human thought.1 Weaver’s use
of the term “dream” suggests that what we commonly call “worldview” should be recognized as more than a simple checklist of doctrines and their consequences. The perception of reality and the wise apprehension of what is true about reality has a character that is more like a story than a formula, equation, or algorithm. Acquiring knowledge is the act of amending the story about reality that we carry with us — a story that orders our assumptions about what is and what might be — with new details: characters, settings, events, expectations, patterns of resonance.

But a memorable story, a story that haunts our imagination and shapes our dreams, is more than a collection of such details. It is in the form of the telling, not just the content of what is told, that stories sustain coherence. Good storytellers, good journalists, even good comedians, know that the timing and texture of the story — pauses, inflection, repetition of certain details, the careful selection of le mot juste — is essential to the story’s success. In stories, form is the fount of meaning. But not just in stories.

While some will insist that anything that can’t be set down in words can’t be knowledge, the testimony of the Psalms clearly refutes such a claim. As in all poetry, the Psalms present meaning in the concreteness of metaphor, whereby some aspect of the physical world — the world known to us immediately by the senses — is likened to some reality that is more than matter.

Consider the opening verses of Psalm 91:

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

The meaning of the text is in the metaphors and their unstated, connotative, associative power, a power which is ignited as we imagine ourselves in the embodied settings the metaphors describe. And beyond the meaning in the metaphors lies a meaning in the poetic structure, especially the confident rhythm of those couplets. In verses 5 and 6, we experience night and
day, night and day, threatened by arrows and pestilence and wasting destruction at all hours. Would God have communicated with us more efficiently if he hadn’t relied on so many metaphors? Is our acquisition of knowledge and understanding hampered because the form this revelation takes is so vividly tied to concrete experience, rather than the safe, lawyerly language of theological abstraction? There are those who seem to believe so, and since the Enlightenment — that cultural movement intent on securing knowledge that could liberate us from all shackles — their number has been thicker on the ground, so to speak. Consider this counsel from John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

[I]n Discourses, where we seek rather Pleasure and Delight than Information and Improvement, such Ornaments [as metaphors, similes and the like] . . . can scarce pass for Faults. But yet, if we would speak of Things as they are, we must allow, that all the Art of Rhetorick, besides Order and Clearness, all the artificial and figurative application of Words Eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong Ideas, move the Passions, and thereby mislead the Judgment; and so indeed are perfect cheat: And therefore, however laudable or allowable Oratory may render them in Harangues and popular Addresses, they are certainly, in all Discourses that pretend to inform or instruct, wholly to be avoided; and where Truth and Knowledge are concerned cannot but be thought a great fault, either of the Language or the Person that makes use of them.2

If I read this correctly, “Things as they are” are best understood without figurative language. By contrast, the Psalmist (in Psalm 19) seems to be asserting that the biggest “Thing as it is” can be known in the wordless speech of Creation received through all the senses:

  1. 1  The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

  2. 2  Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

  3. 3  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

  4. 4  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Derek Kidner suggests that the sense of the paradox of wordless speech described here might be better conveyed if we insert the word “Yet” at the beginning of verse 4. There is no speech, no words, no voice, yet their cry, their utterance, their knowledge, is universally disseminated.
Poet Joseph Addison (1672-1719) captures the paradox of wordless speech in the third stanza of “The Spacious Firmament on High,” when he marvels:

What though in solemn silence all move round the dark terrestrial ball? What though no real voice nor sound amid their radiant orbs be found? In reason’s ear they all rejoice, and utter forth a glorious voice; for ever singing as they shine, “The hand that made us is divine.”

The sensory experience we enjoy of Creation conveys real knowledge about the Creator. Creation, without words or propositional speech, is meaningful. As with stories, the form of Creation — especially, in this case, the experience of what we call “radiance” — is the fount of its meaning.

Unfortunately, contemporary Christians, like most post-Enlightenment people, tend to assume that form and content are easily and conveniently separable, and that the form with which content is expressed is not itself meaningful. According to conventional wisdom, forms serve the same role as wrapping paper, a decorative garnish, or a spoonful of sugar in dispensing medication. The form of expression may make the content more attractive or desirable, but it does not convey any meaning in and of itself.

Pastor Rick Warren typifies this assumption when he counsels church leaders: “Music is nothing more than an arrangement of notes and rhythms; it’s the words that make a song spiritual.”3 Any music with words that present Christian ideas or sentiments (or even vaguely pious words capable of being interpreted in accordance with Christian teaching) is automatically Christian music, and thus apparently liturgically appropriate. Words are the only vehicle of meaning that Christians need to worry about. Anything worthy of the label “knowledge” is conveyed in words and only in words.

D. C. Schindler has characterized such assaults on the meaningfulness of poetic expression as an expression of an “iconoclasm of the intellect,” a formative feature of early modernity whose consequences are still much with us. The images torn down and smashed in this crusade are the experiences of the senses, which even in the Platonic conception, Schindler argues, were assumed to be “intelligible content, in a spatial and temporal mode.“ While modernity assumes that the physical world is meaningless matter — and the life of the senses thus has no intrinsic connection with Truth — the Platonic and subsequent Christian assumption was that the physical world was “nothing but meaning made tangible” (or, the case of art and music, meaning made visible and audible). Whether received immediately by the senses or echoed in metaphoric speech, the perception of reality through the body by what would later be called the imagination was the source of meaning. Schindler insists that a recovery of a Christian understanding and implementation of imagination is essential to the recovery of a Christian understanding of truth:

The imagination is, if not the center of the human being, then nevertheless that without which there can be no center, for it marks the point of convergence at which the soul and body meet; it is the place where faith in the incarnate God becomes itself incarnate and therefore truly becomes faith; it is — pace Hegel — where reason becomes concrete, and the bodily life of the senses rises to meet the spirit. It lies more deeply than the sphere of our discrete thoughts and choices because it is the ordered space within which we in fact think and choose. Far more than a mere faculty, the Christian imagination is a way of life, and this is because we might say it represents the point of intersection between Christianity and the world.4

Discipleship (that enterprise of which education is a subset) can be seen as the forming of a Christian imagination, the training of the believer’s facility and agility in imagining the world rightly, thus to seek to resonate sympathetically with the order of Creation. Whether we use the vocabulary of loves and affections, imagination, or of taste, the effect is the same. Discipleship involves
the training of intuitive and subjective responses. C. S. Lewis captured this understanding near the beginning of his great treatise on education, The Abolition of Man, when he explained that, in classical and premodern Christian thought it was assumed that “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”5

In many Christian circles, discussion of the meaningfulness of form is all too rare. Forms are discussed in terms of popularity, as meaningless vehicles or containers for the content of conceptual knowledge. Or they are regarded only as motivational devices — usually carrots rather than sticks — employed to stimulate enthusiasm about certain truth claims or certain moral commitments.

But to say that the only kind of knowledge Christians should be concerned with is abstract, analytic, conceptual knowledge is to treat human beings more like angels or computers. Brains with no bodies, no loves, no qualities.

Meaning (and hence knowledge) is much bigger than verbal content. Flowers left by a bedside in a hospital are meaningful, as is a cross burned in someone’s front yard. A child running to greet her father returning home will mean something different from a child sitting coolly on a porch-step until he arrives. Eye contact or the lack of it can be meaningful. The presence of a friend means something different from a text message, and a gift carefully wrapped and hand-delivered means something different from a gift card left anonymously on a desk.

Words rationally perceived are necessary for stating and defending truth, and Christians do care about truth. But we care for more than truth. We care about realities that can only be partially described by words: about joy and sorrow, hope and frustration, fidelity and fear, love and justice. All of these abstractions are known by us as embodied creatures, living in space and time. Sorrow or fear or hope are not abstractions when you experience them.

The meaning of the realities with which Christians are concerned — which is pretty much all of human experience in its relationship with God and with Creation — cannot be adequately described through coldly analytical declarations, definitions, and argument. God knows this better than we do, which is why when God reveals himself to us, reveals who He is and what He is doing in the world, He does so in the concrete realities of Creation — the Heavens and the mountains and the seas and ants and trees and marriage — as well as in inspired stories and poetry, metaphors and imagery, parables and hymns, letters and visions. The Bible does not arrive as systematic theology and isn’t given to us just to create jobs for systematic theologians who, once they complete their work, can get rid of all of the imagery and messiness and fuzziness of the Bible. The Bible is given in forms that are to form our own lives, and it does that by capturing our imagination as well as engaging our analytic reason. In fact our imagination has to be involved before our reason can do its work.

Forms are meaningful in part because we live our lives in the form of our bodies. When we are burdened, we bend; when we express deference we lower our heads and our eyes; when we are excited our hearts race at a faster rhythm. When we strive to be attentive, or when we are pensive, we slow down, sometimes to stillness.

Not only do our bodies form our experience; our inner lives also have a form. Philosopher Susanne Langer (1895-1985) developed a theory of art that challenged the radical dualism between content and form, and thus between objective and subjective. In her anthology Problems of Art Langer argued that “subjective existence has a structure; it . . . can be conceptually known, reflected on, imagined and symbolically expressed in detail and to a great depth. Only it is not our usual medium, discourse — communication by language — that serves to express what we know of the life of feeling. . . . [W]hat language does not readily do — present the nature and patterns of sensitive and emotional life — is done by works of art. Such works are expressive forms, and what they express is the nature of human feeling.”

As Langer describes the formal depiction of inner life, she quotes a psychologist who has been trained in music who said, “‘Music sounds as feelings feel.’ And likewise in good painting, sculpture, or building, balanced shapes and colors, lines and masses, look as emotions, vital tensions and their resolutions feel.” This does not mean that we need to translate a painting or a sonata into words, into discursive concepts in order for the work of art to do its work. “A work of art is an expressive form, and therefore a symbol, but not a symbol which points beyond itself so that one’s thought passes on to the concept symbolized. The idea remains bound up in the form that makes it conceivable.”

This binding together of form and content is not unique to works of art. All transmission of knowledge — by the Heavens, by storytellers, even by humble teachers — relies on the situatedness of embodied knowers. We and our students are not “brains in vats”, not computers, not disembodied spirits. Our lives have meaningful form, and thus the form we give to the knowledge we share will take some form. The challenge to thoughtful teachers is to appropriate the form that is most fitting.

Book Review: Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, is the second volume in what will be a Cultural Liturgies trilogy, which seeks nothing less than to overturn what Smith perceives as the dominant paradigmatic approach to Christian education. In his first volume, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith challenges the notion that education is essentially about “ideas and information” which seek to cultivate “the life of the mind” into a distinctly “Christian perspective, or more commonly now, a Christian worldview.”1 For Smith, this line of thinking entails the Cartesian assumption that human beings are essentially minds, “thinking things,” and thus places a premium on the cognitive and propositional relative to the practical and aesthetic. Instead, Smith argues that human beings are essentially desiring beings, in that “before we are thinkers, we are believers; before we can offer our rational explanations of the world, we have already assumed a whole constellation of beliefs – a worldview – that governs and conditions our perception of the world.”2 But this precognitive sense of the world is not arbitrary;
it is developed by the shaping of our dispositions and habits which inscribe what Smith refers to as a ‘social imaginary’ within us. And the primary means by which our dispositions and habits are shaped is through social and bodily practices. Thus, Smith proposes that we “re- vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project,” paying particular attention to how “Christian education shapes us, forms us, molds us to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God.”3

With this second volume, Smith supplements the central argument of Desiring the Kingdom by developing three interrelated constituents of a liturgical anthropology: first, the centrality of the imagination for our desires and actions; secondly, the role of the body in the formation of the imagination; and thirdly, the role of narrative in the integration of body, mind, and environment. “In short,” Smith writes: “the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story.”4 The focus of the second volume is thus the formation of the kind of imagination that is behind the desire for the kingdom.

The book is made up of an introduction and two parts, each comprised of two chapters. Part One, “Incarnate Significance: The Body as Background,” provides an overview of how the body is the site for its own unique form of knowledge. In Part Two, “Sanctified Perception,” Smith develops how such physiognomic knowledge primes the human person to perceive the world through metaphor and narrative.

In his Introduction, “A Sentimental Education: On Christian Action,” Smith sets the stage with an inquiry borrowed from political theologian William Cavanaugh: how does a provincial farm boy become persuaded to join the military and travel thousands of miles away to another part of the world to kill people he knows nothing about? The answer is not that he has been convinced by an argument, but rather “he has been conscripted into a mythology: he identifies himself within a story that has seeped into his bones at levels not even he is aware of… He is the product of a sentimental education” (16). Smith observes that the dynamics of inscription operate more at the level of the imagination than the intellect, and that our imaginations are shaped by the cultural ecosystem that we both imbibe and shape by virtue of our bodies. For Smith, the ‘imagination’ is “a quasi-faculty whereby we construe the world on a precognitive level, on a register that is fundamentally aesthetic precisely because it is so closely tied to the body” (17). Thus, he notes, becoming a soldier, “takes practice;” it involves innumerable kinaesthetic and poetic reinforcements that persuade by attuning the desires of the provincial farm boy in accordance with frames of reference constitutive of nationalist narratives (19). In the interest of Christian education and formation, Smith intends to account for these desire-shaping dynamics by “recognizing and understanding this intertwinement of embodiment and story, of kinaesthetics and poetics” (20).

In Chapter One, “Erotic Comprehension,” Smith draws from research that has foregrounded the role of the body in knowledge acquisition. In as much as the mind exists in a body, it has been recognized by scholars that we as humans cannot but experience ourselves simultaneously in and as our bodies. Smith observes: “My body is not something I have, but something I am; it is the ‘me’ that dwells in the world” (49). Statements such as ‘My foot hurts’ and ‘I am in pain’ are in fact synonymous statements that indicate I don’t just have a body, I am my body. We experience things done to our bodies as done to ourselves. This means that there is no such thing as ‘disinterested’ thought; all human perception entails an aesthetic evaluation, such that our thinking is affected invariably by our affections, the ways in which we feel. This combination of emotion and perception, what Smith links to the imagination, is primed or trained by narrative, a “storied pedagogy,” that is inextricably linked to embodiment (36- 7). It is this interface between imagination, narrative, and embodiment that serves as the nexus for Smith’s liturgical anthropology.

In order to explicate this kinaesthetic link between story, body, and imagination, Smith turns initially to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau- Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment, by which Smith disambiguates the nature of bodily knowing, or what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘perception’ (41). For Merleau-Ponty, the world as perceived through the body is not merely the foundation for knowledge of the world, but involves its own unique mechanism of knowledge. He argues that humans are neither solely intellectual nor instinctual, but rather we live between instinct and intellect. There is, as it were, an immediate relationship between the perceiver and that which is perceived. For example, in order to reach for a spoon, one need not first search for his hand and then calculate the distance between the hand and spoon. Nor is the act merely instinctual, devoid of any meaning or significance. The reaching for the spoon is an act that exists in between our intellect and instinct, and it is this interstice that accounts for the way the body knows (44). It is the body that mediates our ‘being-in-the-world’ and inexorably shapes our perceptions of the world; I know what a tree is not by merely analyzing it but by what I do with it (e.g. climb it, decorate it, cut it down, etc). The same goes for tables, chairs, and doorways. Thus, “the body carries a kind of acquired, habituated knowledge or knowhow that is irreducible and inarticulable, and yet fundamentally orienting for our being-in-the-world” (45).

In Chapter Two, “The Social Body,” Smith seeks to answer how such habituation is acquired. Here he enlists the help of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his theory of habitus, defined (somewhat confoundingly) as “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures…” (81). Human dispositions or inclinations for Bourdieu involve norms, habits, rules, understandings and goals that reflect the constituents of a wider social order. The important insight offered by Bourdieu is that
our dispositions and inclinations are not learned abstractly or intellectually but rather through the unconscious inculcation of objective social conditions inherent in bodily postures, gesticulations and rules of etiquette. The social inscription entailed in various reciprocal practices produces dispositions that are homologous to the social conditions through which they are acquired. Thus, the dispositions of human persons are always structured and structuring; they are produced by the rules, understandings, and goals inherent in the practices constitutive of the larger social order on the one hand, while, on the other hand, the socially inscribed dispositions provide a range of options for the actor to choose from that are appropriate to any given situation. In Smith’s words: “I need the community and social body to enable me to perceive the world; however, the social body needs my body to instantiate its vision and practice” (82). Again, in a wonderful turn of phrase: “I learn how to constitute my world from others, but I learn how to constitute my world. The ‘I’ that perceives is always already a ‘we.’ My perception is communal, a debt I owe” (84).

This practical sense is not so much a formal knowledge per se, but more a kind of proficiency or mastery which does not entail necessarily the ability to mentally process such proficiency. As Smith notes: “There are all kinds of virtuoso players who make terrible coaches, precisely because their practical sense and feel for the game does not necessarily translate into the ability to communicate and teach what they know” (87). This practical sense, this habitus, is thus a belief, a taken-for- grantedness that arises as the result of the body’s interaction with its culturally conditioned world. “To have acquired a practical sense is to have imbibed embodied beliefs in such a way that I ‘naturally’ relate to my world and my environment on those terms” (88). This imbibing is acquired through various rituals that incorporate or initiate us into a culturally defined habitus, such that the social body in effect co-opts my body (94).

In Chapter Three, “‘We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live’: How Worship Works,” Smith develops the concept of the socially invested body by exploring the centrality of stories for our existence. Each of our acts, however mundane, in fact constitute micropractices of larger macrocosmic narratives. “Such orienting narratives are not explicitly ‘told’ in a ‘once-upon-a-time’ discursive mode … We don’t memorize the Story as told to us; we imbibe the Story as we perform it in a million little gestures” (109-10). Stories are imbibed by our bodies through gestures that have a semiotic relationship with our environments; that is, each action of the body corresponds to our environment by virtue of human “meaning- making” (110). For example, the act of kneeling does not merely communicate or symbolize subordination but in fact subordinates the kneeler in the act itself; the act of kneeling is the site of meaning. “Our bodies, brains, and environments function together as the three-legged stool of our experience; any meaning is generated at the nexus of all three” (111). This nexus entails a ‘feel’, an aesethetic evaluation inherent in human perception. It is this aesthetic sense that sketches out our neural maps of the world, providing the plausibility structures by which the world is imagined and interpreted.

This tripartite complex of body, brain, and environment accounts for the primacy of metaphor for how we make sense of our world. Citing theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie, metaphors are mechanisms for the enactment of meaning. When someone makes a statement, “This rose is my love for you,” the rose is presented not merely as a rose, but as a tangible expression, a concrete manifestation, of the person’s love. The metaphor represents one thing in relation to another, and in so doing, it transforms the object of representation; the rose in our example is no longer merely a rose, it now embodies an idea, an expression that transforms its connotative significance. But metaphor is not merely linguistic; Smith argues that metaphor is in fact “characteristic of the aesthetic aspect of human being-in-the-world” (118). We experience our world tacitly, such that our learned tastes and distastes and the cultural shaping of the senses provide the aesthetic lens through which we know our world. For example, when someone points something out with his finger, we see the finger, but we are not looking at it but rather through it. Our awareness of the finger is the subsidiary means, the instrumentality, by which we may focus on the object to which it points. For embodiment theorists, knowledge obtains primarily through a tacit collection of subsidiaries that constitute a framework through which our perception of the world is shaped and focused, very much the way sight obtains through the instrumentality of the eyes. It is through this tacit awareness that we know our world, a knowledge that is rooted in the body and sensory experience. The mental, somatic, and ecological constituents of liturgical environments shape the way we see, that is, imagine our world. And it from this imagined world that our desires spring. We simply do not self-generate our desires; rather, “they are birthed in us. There are formed in us as habits, as habitus.” (125) Our desires thus arise from our somatically- and environmentally-shaped imaginations. Smith concludes:

Our incarnate significance, our imaginative being-in-the-world, is governed by the dynamics of metaphor and narrative, poetry and story…. Liturgies – those formative rituals of ultimacy – marshal exactly these dynamics…. [L]iturgies are pedagogies of desire that shape our love because they picture the good life for us in ways that resonate with our imaginative nature … We are conscripted into a Story through those practices that enact and perform and embody a Story about the good life…. [W]e are incorporated into a social body when the stories of a people become the dominant landscape of our imaginative background – when those stories have worked their way into our ‘practical sense’ in such a way that they now (automatically) govern how we perceive the world…. This is how worship works (136-37).

In Chapter Four, “Restor(y)ing the World: Christian Formation for Mission,” Smith applies the previous chapters’ explicated liturgical anthropology to distinctively Christian worship practices. Smith writes: “Worship and the practices of Christian formation are first and foremost the way the Spirit invites us into union with the Triune God.” The discipleship inherent in worship is thus not merely imitating Christ, but rather being formed in Christ, absorbed in the shared lifeworld of the church which is the body of Christ. This Christocentric formation entails the ‘sending’, the missio, distinctive of Christian worship, since to be incorporated into Christ is to be incorporated into the story of God sending his Son, the Son sending the Spirit, and the Spirit sending the church. Thus, Smith argues that if this sending-action is so central to our Christian identity, then Christian missional institutions such as churches, schools, and universities, must form actors. Formative education requires “sanctifying our perception” through “restor(y)ing the imagination” (160). Restor(y)ing the imagination involves, first, foregrounding narrative and art as primary ways in which we know our world and, secondly, ordering our perception in such a way that we take the right things for granted (161). This entails that Christian education must be rooted in Christian worship and liturgical formation, for it is only through such formative practices that we experience a reformation of our habits and dispositions distinctive to a Christian vision of life. Moreover, Christian worship provides the allure or the momentum for such a reformation by virtue of the divine calling that initiates our worship. This calling awakens the obligation of my response to that call, and thus orients my body to a liturgical environment reconstituted by such a call. Smith writes: “Christian liturgical practices and spiritual disciplines are not just means of personal renewal; they remake the world because they transform the perception of the people of God who not only inhabit the world differently but inhabit a different world, a world constituted by God’s creation” (167).

Smith’s Imagining is an important work for classical educators. It helpfully draws together a number of embodiment and literary theories into a singular coherent paradigm, a synthetic vision, of physiognomic logic indispensible to teaching in accordance with the nature of the student. While the content of Imagining is quite dense (a mere four chapters comprising nearly 200 pages of theoretical argumentation), Smith’s writing is lucid, enlivened by nice turns of phrase and inviting prose. There are also a number of sidebars that illustrate richly his points with literature and film, poetry and litany. As Smith himself admits, however, the density of practice and literary theory will likely be a challenge for most readers, especially those not accustomed to the theorists from whom Smith draws. While his Introduction does map out the scope and sequence for his study, it would have been helpful if Smith had delineated his argument at key points within each chapter to guide the reader through what can be rather bewildering content. Furthermore, the theoretical focus of the study does at times come across as ironically ‘disembodied.’ There are a number of studies on historic Christian educational practices which could have been analyzed illuminatively by Smith’s practice and literary theory. Finally, though a small quibble, Smith’s occasional social, political, and economic comments can come across as sanctimoniously selective, predictable, and sententious.

That being said, Smith’s second volume of the Cultural Liturgies project does not disappoint as a supplement to his already well-received first volume, and has awakened within this reviewer an ardent anticipation, a desire, for the third.

When “Men Without Chests” Rule the World

Teaching young people to think rightly about themselves and the world is not enough. Ideas matter but they amount to little if the desires of one’s heart are pulling him in another direction. It is rare that someone chooses to act solely on the basis of a set of well-reasoned arguments; one’s desires and affections play a significant role in determining the shape of one’s life. Given the skill of our modern world’s appeal to the eye and to the heart, we should not be surprised that the heads and the hearts of many of our students are pulling in different directions.

This understanding is behind C. S. Lewis’s warning in The Abolition of Man that modern education is creating “men without chests”, that is, people without properly trained and ordered affections or desires. Lewis asserts, “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…The head [must rule] the belly through the chest – the seat…of the emotions organized by trained habits into stable sentiments.”

Lewis gives us the imaginative version of this argument in his novel That Hideous Strength. At the center of the story is a newly-married couple, both of whom have received modern educations, who live in a small university town which is undergoing enormous changes as the ideas taught in many classrooms of the university are being acted upon and taken to their logical conclusions by a small group of men called the “Progressive Element”.

Mark Studdock, the young husband and a fellow at the university, is being courted by this group of men to join their enterprise centered in an institution called the N.I.C.E., the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. Mark is well along the road to becoming a “man without a chest”, and Lewis makes clear that his education has played a major role in this.

…in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical – merely ‘Modern’. The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by … He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge…and the first hint of real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling.

No noble thoughts came to him at a moment of crisis because his education had been devoid of training in right sentiments.

In this fantasy in which images speak even louder than words, the institute into which Mark is being drawn is run by the disembodied head of a renowned scientist with a swollen brain protruding from its skull kept alive in a sterile lab by being connected with tubes to some complicated medical machinery. This vivid image of a “man without a chest” makes periodic pronouncements from its drooling mouth and supposedly presides over the institute’s project of taking over the human race and reconditioning it. The goal is to produce a Technocratic and Objective Man who will lead civilization into a new age. Mark must be trained to be like the Conditioners who do the Head’s bidding.

In The Abolition of Man Lewis says that modern educators have “misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda…and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion…[They don’t understand that] the right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey for the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” Mark’s earlier education had been along these lines and had prepared him for membership in the N.I.C.E.

Mark’s final training for acceptance into the institute consists of time spent in a place called the Objectivity Room the purpose of which is to destroy all natural human emotions and reactions in him and produce “objectivity”. This training is based on the premise that all natural feelings are subjective and are merely chemical phenomena. Mark’s trainer tells him:

Friendship is a chemical phenomenon; so is hatred… one must go outside the whole world of our subjective emotions. It is only as you begin to do so that you discover how much of what you mistook for your thought was merely a by-product of your blood and nervous tissue.

In the Objectivity Room Lewis gives us another vivid image of these ideas. It is a high, narrow, windowless room lit by a single bright cold light. It is ill-proportioned, lop-sided; there are no right angles
and everything is a bit off. Hanging on the walls of the room are paintings which at a glance seem ordinary but which contain perverse or grotesque details such as a Last Supper with beetles crawling all over the table. Mark is to be left alone in this room for a prolonged period which will supposedly kill his affinity for harmony, balance, and order. One’s ideas of beauty as well as goodness are meant to be written off as merely subjective.

Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man that once the Conditioners (such as those leading the N.I.C.E.) have moved everything that pre-modern man considered to be objective into the category of the subjective, there is really nothing left but the will of some to have power or control over others.

It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will … The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

His time in the Objectivity Room does not have the desired effect on Mark. His heart is not completely dead, and he finds himself reacting against “the built and painted perversity of this room” and longing for the “Normal”, as he called it. “As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight.” Enough humanness remained in Mark to save him and turn him around.

As the N.I.C.E. is pursuing its program to take over the university and the town, Mark’s wife Jane is driven to seek safety among a very different community of people living together in a large manor house on a hilltop in a village called St. Anne’s. In his portrayal of this community Lewis gives us a picture of the Normal, “the sweet and the straight”. This house is surrounded by lush gardens and a stone wall. Whereas at the N.I.C.E. animals of all kinds are kept in pens to be used for experimentation, the animals at St. Anne’s are cherished “servants and playfellows”. The beauty, warmth, and sheer homey-ness of this place is a welcome contrast to the sterile, cold, and ugly place called Belbury where the N.I.C.E. is housed.

This community is presided over by a very different kind of head, a Director who rules over others with full awareness that he is under the rule of Someone infinitely higher than himself and who knows that there are fixed realities both visible and invisible to which he and the rest of the company must conform. Jane meets with this man in the room where he is confined as an invalid. It is called the Blue Room and is a visual antithesis of the Objectivity Room. It has many windows that let in the light of day, and it is warmed by a fire on a hearth. Its predominant color is blue. There was a “clear beauty in the colours and proportions of the room” which had the effect of calming and comforting Jane who had arrived at St. Anne’s in a state of extreme fear. She had come as well with a strong determination to stay in control of herself, not to be “taken in”. But in this room before this kind, strong-hearted Director both of these states melt away; “her world was unmade.”

In this room the reshaping of Jane’s affections begins. Her modern ideas about marriage and equality are immediately challenged as the Director explains how little love and equality have to do with each other. As she lives in this company where obedience to something higher than oneself is taken seriously, she sees true equality in the absence of class distinctions and the willingness of each member to share in the work and serve the needs of others. She is at first taken aback by seeing her former charwoman Ivy in this company being treated as an equal by the others, and she discovers that she is not quite so modern as she thought she was. She eventually surrenders “that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation, which she thought essential to her status as a grown-up, integrated, intelligent person,” and she begins to experience delight and joy in a myriad of simple things outside of herself. Most importantly, she comes to see Mark and her marriage with new eyes, and when the two are reunited at the end of the story, their marriage begins anew on a much stronger footing as both have learned important lessons about the eternal verities to which one must conform in order to be fully human.

In this day many might consider the attempt to train the affections to be interference in an area of a young person’s life that should be allowed to develop freely and naturally. This is, however, interferencewhich young people desperately need. It’s what G.K. Chesterton had in mind when he said that education is interference. “Education is violent because it is creative,” says Chesterton. “It is as ruthless as playing the fiddle; as dogmatic as drawing a picture; as brutal as building  a house. In short, it is what all human action is: it is interference with life and growth.” The old hymn reminds us that, just like a fiddle, our hearts need to be properly tuned: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune our hearts to sing Thy grace.” Teachers and parents can participate in the task of tuning hearts by, among other things, filling the imaginations of those under their care with images of things that are truly noble and lovely, “sweet and straight.” Who, having seen both, would choose Belbury over St. Anne’s?

Cultivating the Moral Imagination in Daily Lessons

Storytelling is not just for preschoolers. Vivid story telling should be utilized across all subjects and for all grades. Jesus was a stellar story teller, captivating thousands as he taught about the kingdom of God. He utilized stories to etch images into the hearts of his audience, giving his lessons great depth and longevity. This workshop will introduce techniques to enliven the content of all subjects into vivid stories that will captivate your students and nourish their souls.

Trisha Detrick

Trisha Detrick teaches fourth grade at The Geneva School in Orlando, Florida. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and is certified by the state of Florida. Trisha was introduced to classical education in college and was blessed to complete her student teaching in a classical school. She spent her rst six years of teaching at a small ACCS school before transferring to The Geneva School seven years ago. Trisha is a dynamic teacher who has a passion for training fellow teachers. She is an inspiring mentor and is actively involved in cultivating a vibrant and thriving culture amongst her colleagues in the grammar school. This is Trisha’s fourth year speaking at SCL conferences, and she is excited to be back again.