captivated by the awe
Is the goal of learning to close us down or to open us up?

There is a kind of learning that seems to shut people down. To the extent to which they are experts, they tend to spend their time correcting others rather than asking the kind of questions that gave birth to their first questions.

Learning is born of wonder even perhaps, awe. Any activity that explains away the wonder, is surely an activity that kills rather than gives life. Perhaps in engineering this is ok but in philosophy or theology, what could be sadder? A learner is a most attractive person but nothing is more ugly than someone who is dead right.

I’m not about to make an argument against education. What’s missing in our culture is a lack of understanding of the life-rhythms that determine that we can only learn and love in bursts. We must sleep and wake and sleep again. A sense of wonder and awe gives birth to our learning. In the act of learning we are for a time in the presence of something greater than we had previously known. Such bursts of learning must end. A process takes place whereby we fossilize our learning into orderly concepts that we can command and call upon in the future. The process of fossilization is a useful and important part of living and at the same time, an inevitable loss of life or wonder.

A body of knowledge or a scheme of ideas, is located in me. I know things. I am able to diagnose, expound and correct, based on what I know. But the thing known is always greater than my idea of it. There are always more questions and plenty of material for anyone with a sense of wonder. In science, theology, philosophy there is always more. The trick is to be captured by the awe that first propelled us into the field. The only process I know that can achieve this is a process of “turning”.

To turn from my idea of something to the something itself, will awaken awe in me. Even in a field that I know well, I can meet it all as if for the first time when I turn from my body of knowledge to the phenomenon itself.

I’m not describing a process that can be avoided. Rather, wisdom comes from recognizing the life-rhythms and learning not to panic when my group, my study, my life has lost the purpose that once animated it all. The trick is in learning to turn. The trick is to recognize that being dead right; that habitually being the smartest person in the room, is a sign that all efforts to spread good in the world has turned into a death dealing enterprise. In turning, we can be in awe again.

 About the Author: Rev. Graham Long
Rev. Graham Long is the Pastor and CEO of The Wayside Chapel. For the past 10 years, he has provided love and support to people on and around the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross who are homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted and often forgotten by society. Through the Wayside Chapel, Graham has created a community with 'no us and them'. A community free of judgement for people just to 'be'.
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