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Now Read This
Heather Grennan Gary

 

A few months before he finished first grade, my youngest sat me down on the couch, picked up Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and proceeded to read the whole thing, cover to cover. This was, for me, a delight beyond measure. Despite concerted parental effort, books never much held his interest until then. He had cared about being a scientist, a magician, an athlete, but not a reader.

Because of this, a line from David Weber’s review of Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech caught my attention. Weber quotes Wolfe: “There’s no telling how we first learned to code and decode t-r-e-e” because there are “no traces of any evolution of language through the sounds that apes make, or dolphins for that matter” (page 43).

Speaking as the parent of a new reader and not as an expert on the evolution of linguistic capacity, I have an idea of how that shift happened for my son: his well-trained, dedicated teacher was able to spark the desire and provide him the tools to accomplish this task. But knowing the how didn’t make the experience of listening to him read that story any less miraculous.

The gift of reading is on full display in this issue. In the opening essay, Lea F. Schweitz considers how to read the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature—especially the Book of Nature, as more and more places are known for their urban trappings rather than their natural ones. Peter Ely’s piece, “Jesuit Education in the Age of Pope Francis,” examines the distinctive characteristics of Jesuit schools, one of which is the discernment of spirits, or the ability to “read” and understand one’s deepest feelings as “a means whereby God’s will can be made manifest through careful reflection, rather than as disturbances to be put aside” (page 35). Paul J. Willis likens reading to entering a wilderness area where one needs to “be alert to what lies in wait beyond every switchback, every silent turn of the page” (page 56).

What’s the point of all this reading? At the very least, reading carefully and well benefits our life together. Schweitz explains how reading the Book of Nature even in scrappy urban locations helps transform our connection to creation and the Creator. Ely considers how Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual wisdom applies to our increasingly ecumenical, interreligious, and intercultural reality.  Mel Piehl’s review of Mark Roche’s book Realizing the Distinctive University and essays by Matthew  L. Becker and Stephany Schlacter all decode how certain perspectives and activities allow colleges and universities to do their best work.

The essays by Schweitz and Schlacter are both adapted from presentations they originally delivered last October at the national conference of the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts, held at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. It’s fitting that this issue also includes Mark R. Schwehn’s memorial tribute to Arlin Meyer, who served for many years as director of the Lilly Fellows Program and dean of Christ College—The Honors College at Valparaiso University.

In his tribute, Schwehn reveals the secret ingredient for making reading truly miraculous, an ingredient that Meyer shared with his students. “It is good to teach students how to read, but it is much better to teach them to love reading. Indeed, for Arlin, without the love, one could never really learn to read well. Love is never sufficient by itself for understanding. But without the love, without that special hunger for unity with the subject under study, certain truths about a text will remain forever obscure regardless of the amount of disciplined attention lavished upon them” (page 25).

As you prepare to enter the wilderness area of this issue, may you be be outfitted with a comfortable couch and plenty of love—and may you be rewarded with delight beyond measure.

                                                —HGG

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