Pope Benedict offers an idea that speaks to all bibliophiles who always knew that there was something more to their love affair with books. We are drawn to books–good books, books that reveal the truth about the human person; books that speak of the beauty as well as the sorrows of this created world; books that overflow, above all, with words– because we long to know The Word himself. "The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions.""By inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or – as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu). The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language..."
"Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a dominici servitii schola. The monastery serves eruditio, the formation and education of man – a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason – education – through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself."
(From Pope Benedict's speech to representatives of the world of culture in France on September 12, 2008)
Why is this? Pope Benedict points out that one key way that God has revealed himself is through the word, the Scriptures. The only way such a revelation can be fully appreciated is through a cultivation of a “culture of the word.” My life as a lover of language has made me realize that the more one reads, the greater one’s sensitivity to the nuances of phrasing, the depth of metaphor, and the painting of character.
Our family is embarking on a new exploration of words as we teach our little ones to "penetrate the secret of language" through learning to read and write. Like the monastery, our little domestic church is called to pursue eruditio, the formation and education of man. And so we fill our days with living books, exploring childhood’s literary landscape in order to engage the heart and open the mind to knowledge. As Charlotte Mason remarks, the key to education is presenting children not with dry facts, but “with fact clothed upon by living flesh, breathed into by the vital spirit of quickening ideas.” Good literature incarnates history, geography, science, culture, and faith, propelling the naturally curious mind of the child towards a greater engagement with topics than the faceless facts of textbooks.
Such literature does not always leap off the library shelves into our hands. Often we find it through the guidance of others who have gone before us, sometimes we happen upon it. This little Weekend Book Nook will be a space to share literary discoveries and our family’s engagement with them. Most will probably be elementary-aged children’s literature, as my oldest child is only 3, and that is where our sights are set at the moment.
My grown-up reading habits entail much “grazing” and little “finishing,” but I’m sure from time to time my own reading will make its presence known as well.