Returning to Wonder in the New Year

Returning to Wonder in the New Year

by Gannon Hyland, Boethius Fellow

The new calendar year typically invites a flurry of  resolutions, some hastily made and some more seldom realized. Whether the goal be greater fitness, stricter budgeting, travel, the emphasis seems most always to involve doing something – and if doing these things seems to help bring out, in contemporary parlance, the real you, then all the better. We must always be looking forward and moving forward to claim the yet-defined patrimony while we yet have time—you can almost hear Fitzgerald’s words, “And so we beat on…” The new year is as good a time as any to take stock of what things we are doing and the reason behind them. Often, we aim for some kind of fulfillment or contentment. We desire interior peace and a sense of freedom, and we believe that the more industrious we are, the closer we are to our goals. And perhaps this is somewhat true—After all, God does not move a ship docked in harbor. But it isn’t through busyness that we set ourselves up for the peace that we hope to attain; rather, it is in choosing the right things in which to rest.

The Boethius Fellows have committed themselves to a life informed by study and application of the Liberal Arts. We have committed to learning Latin and Greek grammar, Aristotelian dialectic, Euclidean geometry, studying Harmony, and wondering at the cosmos. This, at first, seems counter-intuitive to the modern self-realization program. No amount of Koine Greek directly leads to efficient business practices. No dialectic analysis digs post-holes for the fence in the backyard. And yet, time is not wasted. The Trivium and the Quadrivium – respectively, the three and four ways – prepare the soul to wonder at the reality of existence. Through sense perception, we notice pattern and order around us. Upon investigation, we discover the intimate parallels and overlaps that suggest the reality of the λόγος (Logos). The Trivium introduces language: its signification and cadence. In an immediate practical sense, studying Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric makes a man more competent at communication and thinking. In learning how to use language, we are more capable of sharing the things that really matter—be it in poetry or a letter to home—or critically engaging the policies that inform our lives—such as ethics disputes or town ordinances. In studying Measurement, we are more prepared to consider proportion and harmony in our daily activities—from the arrangement of furniture in our living room to the design of a new building. A more contemporary mindset weighs all worth against practical application, but what could be more practical than feeding the mind and soul? We can’t argue for the common good unless we have encountered the Good itself. These studies only have practical ramifications because they first and foremost put us in touch with the real world and its Creator.

In the dawn of this new year, I’m struck by two considerations. We plan for tomorrow, but tomorrow is never guaranteed. C.S. Lewis reminds us that “War does something to death. It forces us to remember it.” There are many current, external factors reminding us of our mortality. I’m grateful to have time, still, to contemplate these beautiful and good things. But that brings me to the second consideration. It truly does matter what we do. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many habits I have that waste (read kill) my time. And yet, we only have so much time. It would be a shame to look back on life and only see busyness. In fact, we would have effectively escaped life. Far better would it be to look back and see fewer occupations but a greater relish of life – which can only come with sincere rest and intimacy with reality.

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