Sunday, June 22, 2008

Like Butter over Bread, or Pancakes

This is pretty much my idea of Heaven.

Therefore, one of the biggest thrills in my life was when we moved back to the United States from Switzerland -- I had just graduated from high school. And I found the University of Alaska library. So many books. I could research Anything. In. The. Universe. Practically.

I felt like that again when I discovered the internet less than a decade ago. The Gutenberg storehouse alone was like university stacks. And then there was Google. Truly, there is much to be grateful about. The university library, and more, is right at my fingertips.

All the same, this was interesting to think about (HT: Katie)

The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”

As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

Reminds me a bit of this post by Kim at Starry Sky Ranch -- To Allow Silence:

We gobble down information without the necessary time to really assimilate. Slowly down our own speech helps to combat that frenzy and make even abundant times meaningful versus dreadful.

So this has been the challenge - to be deliberate and discerning. What kinds of input do we really want or need? Which add meaning and blessing and which fill up our lives with tension? Are we taking the time to truly understand what we read and hear? Are we allowing silence so we can let those words grow in us? That all takes time. There is no way around that part. We can read faster, type faster, but we can't contemplate any faster. You can't force that. You must allow silence if you wish to live deliberately.
Thomas Aquinas has Sixteen Precepts of Knowledge:

1. Advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson. I bid you to

2. Be chary of speech,

3. Slower still in frequenting places of talk:

4. Embrace purity of conscience,

5. Pray unceasingly,

6. Love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar.

7. Show yourself genial to all:

8. Pay no heed to other folk's affairs:

9. Be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

10. On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world.

11. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men.

12. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but

13. Commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered.

14. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action:

15. See that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved:

16. Lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. 'Seek not the things which are beyond thee'.

Following these ways, you will your whole life long put forth and bear both branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth. If you take these words to heart, you will attain your desire."
You can see how the internet, wonderful as it is, can work against those things. It can work TOWARDS them, too, so there is a balance, but Multa is not the same as Multum, and the former can diminish the latter.


Karen E. said...

Great post, Willa, and thanks for the link to the Atlantic article.

Katie said...

What is the mystic wine cellar?

Amy said...

I love that picture! Definitely my idea of heaven too, except mine would have somewhere soft and fluffy to sit and read. :)

So much to think about here. I know I'm turning more into a pancake person, unfortunately. I've always been an info junkie, but now I feel like a rushed info junkie (more info all.the.time!), and I don't like it!

Willa said...

That is a good question, Katie.

I do not know the answer for sure, but my guess is that it is contemplation of God. Aquinas believed that the "end" or goal of intellectual study (informed by God's grace and by the gift of charity) was contemplation -- a loving participation in eternal things.

Not saying it well probably but there is my try at it!

Angela said...

This is wonderful, and serendipitous. I just picked up a book on Aquinas, and now can't wait to dig in.

Kim said...

I love the list by Aquinas. There is always so much to think about here Willa!