This text from St. Mark complements the story of Christ’s going up to Jerusalem and his encounter with the blind man which we read last week. Such things belong to the nature of the educational journey. It is, in the proper sense, counter-culture because it challenges the assumptions of our age. Education is actually subversive in the sense that it questions the dominant assumptions of those in authority. It confronts them with the idea of the author, the root of the word authority. It calls us to account, in short, to God, the author and ultimate good.
This has very much to do with the love of learning. Here the disciples seek out Jesus who has retreated into a solitary place to pray. So often we think of religion and prayer as simply individual and private matters. We forget the ethical demands that compel us into relation with one another. The retreat into solitude is about communion with God through which we have communion with one another.
As the poet, T.S. Eliot puts it:
What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of God,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate. (Choruses from the Rock)
The story shows Jesus as the healer of “all that were diseased” but also as the healer of “them that were possessed with devils.” This speaks to the idea of the healing of the whole of our being, body and soul, but also to the desire to be healed. The statement of the disciples speaks to a universal desire. “Everyone is seeking for thee.” Such is the desire to know which, like the blind man, implies that something is already known, namely, that we don’t know, we don’t see, yet in seeking we know that we lack something which we need. We confront our lack, an insufficiency in and of ourselves.
This counters the false forms of the autonomous self which isolates us from each other in a kind of solipsism - the idea that the self is the only knowable or existent thing (OED). We only know ourselves as selves through our awareness of other selves. Our self-consciousness really belongs to our sense of being with one another in seeking what is best for all. This counters the deadly forms of addiction in our culture whether with respect to substance abuse or to our devices which possess us and use us. We are, as Brett Frischmann puts in the Sir Graham Day Lecture at Dalhousie last spring (CBC Ideas), the wards or the slaves of the technology and as such the slaves of the masters of the technology who are using us for their own ends and interests. The argument is further elaborated in “Re-Engineering Humanity” by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger.
The journey of education is an ethical journey. It happens in and through our lives together in a community of learners who know that they do not know yet seek to know. They are seeking for what is known already as prior and greater than themselves. Such are the deepest yearnings of the human soul. It is a yearning, a desire, for what is greater than oneself, as the philosopher Plotinus puts it. Such an insight is ancient truth but is always to be learned time and time again perhaps especially in our current world and in the face of the forms of our unfreedom.
Everyone is seeking, it is suggested, but seeking what? Ultimately the question leads to what is most to be sought, most to be wanted. What is it that we truly seek? Such questioning belongs to a long and rich tradition of the theology of amor, of love, of the soul’s seeking for its truest end, for what is everlasting in which is found the healing of body and soul. The idea is that what we truly desire is always present, always prior. At issue is our relation to it. The journey of education seeks the awakening of our minds to what is more than ourselves and yet part of ourselves. As such it is about maturity, about growing up into an understanding that belongs to our life together as a community of learners.
In our culture of addiction and solipsistic solitude which closes us off from one another and encloses us in the prison of ourselves and our self-obsessions, we need to be reminded of the ethical nature of education that connects us with one another in meaningful and substantial ways. It means discovering what the disciples here acknowledge, our seeking for what has meaning and truth and which is found in a community of seekers and learners in our care and engagement with one another.
The important insight is that our seeking is already a form of knowing. It is about being aware of our lack. This is the counter to the false forms of autonomy which paradoxically undermine agency and responsibility and lead to the various forms of fatal dependencies. Here the true form of human agency is found in our seeking what is to be sought - the truth of God in whom we find the truth of ourselves individually and in community. Important lessons for our anxious times. “Come unto me all that labour and are heavy-laden,” Jesus says, and “I will refresh you.” “Learn from me,” he says, and in so doing you will find joy and well-being, freedom and dignity. Such is the ethical nature of education. It seeks our good which is found in our lives as lived for the good. It is what we seek.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacherChair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy