Being a father, a homeschooler, and a Christian, I am constantly sorting out my perspectives on raising my kids. Much of the time I am a failure, though I do have high goals. The questions that anyone in my situation faces is what to emphasize, where to focus, and for what ends? The following selection from Alexander Schmemann’s classic For the Life of the World sums up where my thinking is going lately.
Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. To be sure, man is not the only hungry being. All that exists lives by “eating.” The whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to bless God for the food and the life he receives from Him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing. The significant fact about the life in the Garden is that man is to name things. As soon as animals have been created to keep Adam company, God brings them to Adam to see what he will call them. “And whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Now, in the Bible a name is infinitely more that a means to distinguish one thing from another. It reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.
To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it. And in the Bible to bless God is not a “religious” or a “cultic” act, but the very way of life. God blessed the world, blessed man, blessed the seventh day (that is, time), and this means that He filled all that exists with His love and goodness, made all this “very good.” So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and–in this act of gratitude and adoration–to know, name and posses the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens,” “homo faber” . . . yes, but first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God–and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament. (pp. 14-15)
Should I, as a father, homeschooler, Christian, make the goal of raising my kids that they would become priests in the sense that Schmemann describes? That is, should they see themselves as offering up to God what they have been given? I think so. Should this, in fact, be the very foundation of all education? I think so. In this light I find fascinating Andrew Kern’s first lecture in The Two Andrews: On Writing and Teaching Writing. Kern speaks in much the same terms as Schmemann. He tells an imaginative story describing Adam naming the lion. The process is not a simple looking and naming, but involves a total engagement with the lion. God brings Adam the lion, presents the lion to Adam, and Adam then names the lion as a natural extension of coming to truly know the lion, of coming to know what a lion is by being fully attentive to the lion. The process, as Kern describes it, involves three basic yet profound steps: 1) Attentive perception, which in not merely seeing, but is an active, visceral extension of one’s will; 2) Contemplation, which is the process of making comparisons; and 3) Conceptualization, which Kern likes to call “formation.” This third step has a kind of mystical (yet natural) aspect, in that the truth of the lion enters into Adams soul. In other words, when we come to truly know something we form that thing in our soul. But then, when Adam had named the lion he re-presented the lion back to God. In this sense Adam is a priest. Kern states, echoing Schmemann, that, “Re-presenting to God is part of our priestly function.” Then Kern goes on to say that writing is a way to re-present to God what we have come to know. The implication of all this, as I see it, is that the priestly function of writing should be the foundation upon which we build our writing curricula. Further, the process of writing, including the grammar of language, has a kind of liturgical essence and function. Therefore, as I consider the teaching of my children, even if we are only talking writing, should I see my role as that of raising up priests? I think so.