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Through Heaven's Eyes: The Importance of Teaching Contemplation

Posted by Steve Turley ● Mar 23, 2015 5:29:00 AM

As educators, our lives can be pretty much absorbed with lesson plans and lectures, assignments and evaluations, conferences and deadlines.

Not much to love here.

Why should we expect any difference in attitude from our students?

While class and curriculum organization is of course important, it is no substitute for what classical education believed to be indispensable to fostering a love for learning subjects: contemplation.

Historically, contemplation originally meant something akin to what goes on in a temple, such as gazing at the statue of a god. To contemplate was thus to be caught up in a divine vision. Aristotle believed that contemplation enabled the student to see the world through divine eyes.

For Plato, contemplation, or what he called theoria, involved a kind of intellectual purification by encountering and meditating on the True, Good, and Beautiful, particularly in mathematics, where the student is able see the reality that lies beyond appearances. Thus, for Plato, all subjects in an educational curriculum serve as lenses through which the True, Good, and Beautiful can be encountered. Gymnastics cultivate the virtue of engkratia or self-mastery; music and poetry provide the chief means by which the rhythm and harmony of the cosmos can be communicated through the body and sunk deeply into the recesses of the soul.

The important point here is that contemplation was understood as that which evoked wonder and awe within the student (what the Greeks called thauma), and this wonder transformed into a love or desire to encounter the world as a reflection of divine life. Such love was important because it served to train the affections and dispositions of the student in such a way that lives in harmony with the gods and men and thus perpetuates the life of the world.

So how do we foster contemplation within our students?

The key element to fostering contemplation is teaching our students to see the world as a collection of metaphors through your own subject.

Metaphor exemplifies the way we know the world. We all look at the world through a subsidiary means that draw us to a focal point. So, when I look at the world through my eyes, my eyes provide the subsidiary means by which I can focus on something beyond my eyes. If I start looking at my eyes, going cross-eyed as it were, I lose focus. The only way I see the world is through something that allows me to see. I think this is why we take delight in metaphor; metaphors in a sense become a new set of eyes through which we can ‘see’ the meaning infused in creation.

In our next post, I will give you 4 ways to teach your subject as a new set of eyes for your students to see the world anew in Christ.

Until then, watch this 2 minute video where I discuss the role of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty play in education.

This post is part of a series on Truth, Goodness, and Beauty promoting the release of my new book, Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, available here.

Featured image credit: © 2015 Diana Robinson, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Topics: blog, truth goodness and beauty, contemplation

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