Saturday, October 26, 2013

5 steps to studying like a saint

The section of The Intellectual Life on "The Spirit of Prayer" is two and a half pages that will rock your world.  To whet your appetite, I've put together five points that should move you a few steps closer to Sertillanges' ideal for an intellectual.

1.  Start with a prayer - This sounds obvious, but consistently asking for God's help before studying is not the easiest thing in the world.  It's worth mentioning that prayerfully approaching work is not primarily about actual vocal prayers.  The movement from object to God by way of causes, which I discuss in point four, more properly describes prayerful study.  Sertillanges recommends St. Thomas's prayer: Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.  Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.  Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.  Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.  Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2.  Forget the details - Minutia and esoteric facts are not important for scientia, which is knowledge by causes.  "The important things are the dependences" -- what influence does this fact have on another.

3.  Connect the dots - Focusing on causes will reveal the links between different facts and your "profane" object of study will yield "connections on every side."  The biography you're reading reminds you of something your friend told you three years ago, triggering a memory from an economics class.  Bam! A new insight you've never thought of.

4.  Go to the top - Your chain of causes should lead quickly to the ultimate cause - God.  The movement of the mind from the object of study to God is the essential part of studying prayerfully.  I can't say that I have this habit, but Sertillanges has sold me on trying to acquire it: "we have only to leave the mind on the one hand to its upward flight, on the other to its attention, and there will be set up, between the object of a particular study and the object of religious contemplation, an alternating movement which will profit both."

5.  Wonder - Knowledge by causes is only one way to experience reality.  Knowing the causes does not lead to the jaw dropping impact of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  A reaction that naturally leads us to think that God is amazing!  But, that reaction and so many others are a necessary part of experiencing reality that cannot be contained in a causal chain.

*Quotes from Ch. 2, section III

1 comment:

  1. What does this mean: "on the one hand to its upward flight, on the other to its attention"? Is 'upward flight' the process of contemplating the divine, and 'attention' concentration on the task at hand?