In our last post, we looked at the importance of fostering contemplation in the lives of students. This indeed is an ancient practice. Contemplation involved seeing the world from the perspective of the gods, through divine eyes, as it were. But contemplation did more: contemplation was the key way in which awe and wonder were awakened within the human person.
And we found that the way in which students develop contemplation is by teaching them to see the world as a collection of metaphors through your own subject. Your subject in effect becomes a new set of eyes for your students to see the world anew in Christ.
With that in mind, I want to explore 4 ways to foster contemplation in your own life and in the lives of your students through various subject curricula:
1. See the world anew through stories. In the world of literature, we see through stories when we realize that they point beyond themselves to a larger story, they are microcosms of a larger narrative macrocosm. Whether we are dealing with children’s literature or Shakespeare, stories give us a taste of the meaning of our world through the narrative world. Thus, Shakespeare’s tragedies are seen to represent the fall of humanity and his comedies represent our redemption; Sleeping Beauty can be seen as a story about a Christ-redeemer who slays the dragon and rescues his betrothed, by raising her to life. In Pinocchio, the hardened wood represents laziness, lying, and self-centeredness, and his transformation into a human represents the divine processes of regeneration and transfiguration. The Little Mermaid represents the quest for eternal life; and Charlotte’s Web represents life as communion and friendship.
2. See the world anew through numbers. The Greeks, following the Pythagorean school of thought, noticed that numbers don’t exist in time and space. No one has ever seen the number ‘1’ for example; none of us have bumped into the number ‘1,’ no one has heard it, smelled it, etc. This is because the number ‘1’ does not extend in time and space; it appears only as an adjective: one pencil, one book, one student. But the Greeks asked, what would happen to human civilization if we said that numbers and mathematics don’t actually exist? We could not build bridges, or buildings, or roads, or anything; the regularity of the universe would be called into question; everything would collapse. So our existence, our experience of numbers is testimony to the fact that numbers and mathematics must exist, but they must exist in another world. And because mathematics deals with a perfect world, then it must be a divine world. So mathematics represents, literally represents, that divine world in this one, and thus every time I do mathematics, I am communing with divine life, or in Augustine’s refinement, the architecture of a divine mind. You see, numbers aren’t just numbers; they point beyond themselves to something that awakens awe and wonder within us.
3. See the world anew through shapes. In the medieval period, geometry awakened the student to divine meaning primarily through classical Christian architecture. The circular dome of the church represented heaven, with the circle representing eternity, the four corners of the floor represent the four corners of the earth, particularly Byzantine churches were a perfect square, representing the Holy of Holies, often there were four pillars that stretched down from the heavenly dome to the earthly floor which represented the four gospels testifying that heaven has come down to earth in Christ. And of course, the cruciform became the standard floor plan in the Christian west so that every church was a tangible representation of the world recreated through the cross.
4. See the world anew through colors. Colors are highly meaningful in classical Christian art. Blue signified eternity as per the sky and the ocean depths; white signified purity and rebirth; green represents life; black represented death; red represents love as well as the fire of the Holy Spirit. For example, why is the color of a wedding gown white? It represents the purity of the church (Eph 5:25-27). What color are your school uniforms? Our students are dressed in uniforms that are predominantly blue, and I never tire of reminding them what blue represents in the classical Christian consciousness; every day, when they put on their uniforms, they should be reminded that they are being prepared for eternity.
By looking not merely at but rather through our subjects and curriculum, students will acquire a new set of eyes, ones that see the world as a divine arena of meaning and purpose redeemed in Christ. And as such a sight awakens awe and wonder in teacher and student alike, our affections are shaped to love what is truly lovely, and to desire the One for whom we were created.
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.