Pause for thought: The importance of learning
The importance of learning
How do we feel about learning something new? In learning we make ourselves vulnerable and make ourselves open to change, both of which can make us feel uncomfortable. However, learning is one of the great experiences in life. I used to be rubbish at history at school, I hated having to learn lots of facts and dates only to regurgitate it all in an exam (or as much as I could remember). But now I love learning about ancient history, and I am often reading popular history books about the beginnings of time and where our origins as human are. I find it fascinating.
We find in St Padarn’s that once people start learning about theology (at whatever level) too they are fascinated and can’t get enough of it! However, in the wider church we can sometimes disparage learning. I remember once being copied in (by mistake) to an email saying to a candidate training for ministry that some diocesan event or other would be a ‘great excuse’ to miss a course. The implication being that no one really wants to go on courses!
As someone with a vocation to teach, it is one of the great joys in my life to see someone have an ‘aha’ moment or get passionate about applying their theological learning in their church or working life. One of my favourite writers on education and theology, Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, puts it well:
I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind—then teaching is the finest work I know.
Those of you who are also educators and teachers may be able to identify with this. Learning is a collaborative activity, and learning takes us all to new places. No one has all the knowledge; we can all learn something from someone else. Learning brings us joy and meaning. For me, if I’m not learning something new, I can feel disconnected from life and a bit stuck. Even if I’m watching a film or drama, I am often googling to find out more about what I am watching. I also think that the so called ‘aha moment’, when something makes sense for the first time, or we have a moment of genuine insight, is a spiritual experience. I believe it is of God.
In this season of Epiphany, we don’t just think about stories of wise men and a star, Jesus’ baptism and turning the water into wine. Behind these accounts is a general theme of opening up the good news of Jesus to the whole world, and seeing him for who he really is, a moment of genuine insight. In fact, an ‘epiphany’ is when we see something clearly for the first time.
How do you feel about learning? Are you happy to acknowledge you don’t know everything, and that while you will have areas of expertise, you will always have huge gaps in your knowledge like everyone else? Although we have great opportunities for people to learn at all levels of theology (check out our website!) that is only part of the message of this pause for thought. Of even more importance is our attitude to learning. Are you always seeking out new things to learn? Or are you stuck? If we are a leader, we set a tone, and set the culture, and our own attitude to learning will seep out into what and who we are leading.
It can be freeing when we realise we don’t have to know everything. Like the wise men, we are all on a journey, where there are mistakes, wrong turnings and danger……. But ultimately the journey leads to Jesus himself, through the steady illumination of a star.
Canon Dr Manon Ceridwen James
*Picture courtesy of Kyle Glenn- Unsplash*