Thoughts of Gratitude

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, 

and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:31-32

Last week I was welcomed on the Steve Smith Podcast to discuss the school year thus far. Sometimes it is better not to formulate precisely what will be said ahead of a conversation, so as to enter into that conversation with authenticity. And then the question came from Mr. Smith, the same question Mrs. Sweet delved into the last newsletter. I am a stickler for first reactions, as those tend to be the most revealing of a person’s innermost thoughts and experience. As I look back at my own reaction to that question, I am relieved that I said what I said. 

In response to the question, “How is the school year going?”, I answered “I am just really grateful.” I am relieved because that is where I want to be in the center of my being, because it is the only place we can live out our identity as children of God. 

The Tremblay household has a six month old in it - Joseph Thomas. One of the experiences I keep relaying to my wife is what it must be like for God the Father to look at us. If it is anywhere near what I experience when I look at Joseph, wow am I blessed. One look at Joseph’s irresistible face and joy just jumps out. He smiles back, I smile more. It is perhaps the most primitive but foundational conversation in the human language: the smile. 

Besides a happy baby to make me smile, another reason I am smiling is because I am back teaching what I love teaching: anything to do with humanities. Even when substituting last week in American Political Theory, that overwhelming sense of purpose came over me again. Encouraging these young minds to exert some serious intellectual energy can be considered somewhat tortuous, but how else are we going to move beyond the superficial sentiments that so dominate the conversations rattling around on every form of screen we see? For the observer, it is almost like we are a permanent pinball, and the bumpers keep trying to push us laterally instead of forward or backward. Saint Junipero Serra’s “always forward, never backwards” adage isn’t even possible right now because we are just bouncing back and forth all the time between seemingly irreconcilable perspectives. 

I think it worthwhile to continue sharing little nuggets of wisdom from that text I introduced last time I wrote (Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education, Stratford Caldecott). Mr. Caldecott writes, “Language and myth, bound up with our sense of personal identity, destiny, and meaning, are rooted as we have just seen in Remembering, but as soon we come to self-conscious awareness we are of course involved in Thinking, or the mental processes by which we separate truth from falsehood.” 

This dialectic stage of the liberal arts moves us to the “art of analysis or discerning the truth.” And much like the Blessed Virgin did so famously in her own life, “To think is not enough: you have to think about: you have to ponder, rather than just flit from one image or phrase to another.” In the Bible, when Mary is described as ‘pondering’ these things in her heart, the word symballousa connotes a ‘bringing together’ to compare or examine. 

Bringing together sounds much more attractive than bouncing back and forth. 

I think all teachers would agree with Mr. Caldecott when he claims that children are naturally Platonists and Aristotelians. “They jump to intuitive conclusions about the nature of the things and people they encounter.” 

Oh…. so because I smile at Joey, he smiles back. 

Mr. Caldecott says it quite succinctly: “Language, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary exist for a purpose, and that purpose is revealed only in the search for truth… Reality is the food of the soul… The many poetic or scientific or psychological or aesthetic or probable truths that make up our intellectual landscape are simply aspects of, or means of approaching, the complete truth.” 

I suggest that when approaching this complete truth, it becomes easier to see how the pieces all fit together and that they are meant to be brought together, not severed apart. This severing of truth is what alienates us at the core of our being. I think that is why it brings me such delight to enter the intellectual landscape with these young minds, because there is great hope in that upward climb even when there are rather heavy items that have to be carried. 

Tim just woke up and asked as he does most mornings: “Mama, do we have school today? Mama, is it gym day?” His intellect seemingly resets each morning. What a wonderful place to be! Leave it where it was yesterday and start anew that journey towards truth today.

And then I learned something I never came across before in Mr. Caldecott’s rather eloquent and lucid commentary on the dialectic elements of a liberal education. Referencing G.K. Chesterton’s remark that ‘thanking is the highest form of thought’, he enters the etymology of the word itself. “Thought comes from the Old English thanc from which our word ‘thank’ is also derived. To think arises out of memory - which is...not simply the recalling of past events but the gathering and focusing of attention in the present. Thanking is the ‘highest form of thought’ because it penetrates the highest truth about things: that do not simply subsist in themselves but in another.” 

An act of gratitude to God is therefore an expedient arrival at the gate: thanking the greatest Gift-giver of all is an expression of the ultimate truth of everything. “Through Dialectic, or conversation, conducted in courtesy and thus in gratitude, we ultimately arrive at the summit of human thought and discover that up there it is the same as prayer.” The greatest prayer is of course the celebration of Eucharist, which itself means thanksgiving. 

It is my prayer that our shared gratitude for the present brings us closer together and closer to the truth, one new day at a time. 

 - Headmaster, Mr. Derek Tremblay