Thursday, July 07, 2005

Learning in War-Time

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the London bombings and their families.

At times like these, I am often tempted to think, Why work? Why should I write, study, blog, catalog, parse verbs, or do research, when there is so much suffering in the world, so much of "real" importance to be done, besides which my activities pale into insignificance?

I find C. S. Lewis's sermon "Learning in War-Time," delivered in Oxford as the Second World War broke out, a bracing tonic for these feelings. Read it all, if you can find it. A few quotes:

Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. . . . [Men] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing on the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.
If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.

So ... back to work.


Talmida said...

Thank you for this - I'd never read it before.

Jim said...

Thank you Ed, from the bottom of my heart, for this very timely and grace filled reminder.