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The Parable of the Eagle Who was Taught to be an Ostrich

The master and his disciples walked their way up the High Street of Monmouth to the old grammar school.  ‘It was here my grandfather studied,’ said one of the disciples.  She imagined her grandfather marching along the corridors of the little brown buildings, standing at attention on the quad, or playing around one of the trees before going in to class.  ‘He boarded here when his parents sailed for Africa,’ she added, caught up in a memory mixed with imagination.

‘Education was restarted in the Middle Ages by the Church,’ said the disciples’ master.  ‘We can thank Charles the Great for that, but he turned to the Church to accomplish it, and for most of the history of Europe ever since, education has been the responsibility of the Church.  Even today in these lands, many schools are still run by the Church.  When you place the study of Scripture at the centre of education in order to form children in the way that they should live, all education follows.

‘Learning to read the Scriptures is the beginning of education.  Then students want to read other literature, too.  They learn to write as well, and engage their minds with what is right and true or painful or exciting or good. 

‘They learn from Scripture that God created all things, and they study the sciences to explore His creation. 

‘They want to learn how the story of the world unfolds in obedience or disobedience to God, and how it continues in the life of the Church.  History is the study of what has gone wrong and what has gone right, and they learn from its many stories the virtues of the good life.

‘They hike the hills and visit the cathedral and discover within their hearts a longing for beauty, awe, and inspiration that stems from their desire to know the God of our worship and the God of all creation.

‘The revelation of God in His Word and His creation is the fountain of all our learning.’

Some of the disciples felt a little guilty.  They had not particularly enjoyed their school days, nor had they ever seen study to be anything about God and His Word.  One of them asked, ‘Master, what about the many in Wales today who study but have no knowledge of God and no desire to study His Word?’

The master replied, ‘Oh, God made us all to seek Him, whether we know it or not.  The soul is never at rest, as the bishop of Hippo says, until it finds its rest in God. 

‘But to remove God from knowledge is like the eagle who was taught to be an ostrich.  He no longer flew but ran along the road, flapping his wings.  He never soared.  He dwelt on the ground instead of nesting in the cliffs.  He caught his food well enough but never felt himself lifted up to glide on the currents of the air.  He saw only what was near him and at eye level.  He reduced his life’s pursuits to what he needed rather than spread his wings in the high altitudes to see the wider world and know the sheer joy of flight.’

‘Today most children do not want to read books,’ said one of the disciples.  ‘They use books to get information, although they prefer youtube and wikipedia.  I suppose they have lost the sense of revelation one gets from reading.’

Another said, ‘Most students hate the arts.  I suppose they have lost the sense of transcendence.  Art class is a painful exercise unless you have talent.  School singing has disappeared, too; making music is for professionals, who sell it to the rest, who in turn consume it  through their headphones.’

‘The study of biology is purely functional,’ said a third.  ‘There is no sense of higher purpose for living organisms.  Desire is itself just a function.  It exists only to ensure mating and therefore the survival of the species.  But the awe of being created a little lower than the angels and being crowned with glory and honour has been lost.  The notion of one’s body being a temple of the Spirit of God has been exchanged for the mere purpose of survival in a world where everything ultimately dies.’

‘Students find history boring, mere facts and dates for past events that are better left forgotten,’ said a fourth.  ‘Without God, they have no sense of story and no narrator for human life.  They just exist and seek the pleasure of the moment.’

‘What about mathematics?’ asked another disciple.

‘Before creation,’ said the master, ‘all was without form and void.  When God formed the world, He separated things—the darkness from the light, the sky above from the waters below, and the dry land from the waters.  He created distinctions, and with them measurements and relationships and ordered functions that allowed life to flourish in the places He created.  In total chaos, there is no mathematics.  In God’s ordered creation, everything is mathematics.’

‘I think,’ said Peter, ‘that if I had to do it all over again in school, I would try to soar like the eagle rather than run around like the ostrich.’

‘Education,’ said the master, ‘when understood as knowing God, awakens the heart for God.  But what will this land do when the Church in these parts no longer knows God?’