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Confessions: Education

Nevertheless, if I was sluggish in learning, I found myself being pounded. This recourse was in fact praised by our ancestors, who, as they before us passed through this poor life in their multitudes, built ahead of themselves pathways of anguish that we were forced to walk to the end, with multiples of hardship for the sons of Adam.

However, Master, we did encounter people who prayed to you, and we learned from them. We understood—as far as we could understand—that you were a mighty someone who, though not evident to our physical senses, could give ear to us and come to our aid.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.14

Augustine struggled in school; in fact, it seems that he struggled to the point of being “pounded” by his teachers. Augustine saw school as anguish we all have to go through as a necessary process. Those who came before us established the pathways and we too must walk in it. But though school is torture, along the path of education, in his books, Augustine encountered people who prayed to God. He also encountered a God that could come to his aid.

In an interview with Krista Tippet, Eugene Peterson said that he had “dead mentors.” People whose writings inspired him, counseled him, guided him, and taught him that lived in ages past. I believe this is what Augustine is communicating. Through his education, Augustine acquired dead mentors whose lives, and teachings revealed to him a God who although not being “evident to our physical senses, could give ear to us and come to our aid.”

Becoming educated is a grueling process, but it is through proper education that we come to be acquainted with mentors and God. The hardship of the sons of Adam is not only the backbreaking work of tilling the soil, but also the mind-breaking work of tilling the soul.

Hard work was created for everyone,

and a heavy yoke is laid on the children of Adam,

from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb

until the day they return to the mother of all the living.

Perplexities and fear of heart are theirs,

and anxious thought of the day of their death.

From the one who sits on a splendid throne

to the one who grovels in dust and ashes

— Sirach 40:1-3 (rf. Gen 3:16-19)

Show me your ways, Lord,

teach me your paths.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,

for you are God my Savior,

and my hope is in you all day long. —Psalm 25:4-5

Lord help me love education, guide me to those who can teach me, that I may till my soul.

Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.


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