If you were to spend any amount of time around me, you will find that there are a few names that keep popping up…
They are, in no particular order, people who have influenced me through their writings. In surprising, frustrating and delightful ways they have challenged me to think better and to sharpen my mind. They are saints, mystics, and professors that in their day and since have been controversial yet indispensable to the ongoing discussion of how to take faith and incorporate it meaningfully to the rest of the spheres of one’s life. None of them are without fault, but there is something to be said about purposefully engaging with the best minds of the Church for their insights and, dare I say, even the ways that they have helped to shape the rest of the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American born traveling philosopher and lecturer. He made his living being an orator that would go from town to town and speak at prominent places. Despite the fact that I think he went a little too far with his worldview (and may be considered a post-modern in a pre-modern context), I agree with him that one should be a perpetual student.
Every one of us should find their literary heroes, to read everything they can and then take the best and learn from it. Every one of us should seek to keep learning. Even more than that, every one of us should purposefully expose ourselves to thinking that is different from ours. To spend all of one’s time being influenced by the same voices over and over again (be it books, or movies, or tv, or music), is to create an echo chamber where one only ever hears the same content over and over again. When we create for ourselves echo chambers that cease to challenge our worldview, then we have completely ceased in our intellectual growth. Learning how one person says the same thing that others have been saying is not learning, that is just studying someone else’s rephrasing.
I think that within and without the Church, we have a habit of confusing studying a new “rephrasing” as if it were studying something “new.” Our minds are capable of so much more than repetition. When is the last time you thought, “Hmm, I have never thought of that before?” Or, “Wow, that is a new idea to me!” When was the last time you actively disagreed with something yet kept on reading because you knew it would challenge you?
The list I gave at the top are some of the Church’s best thinkers who still challenge me. They inform my worldview but they do not dictate it. I implore you, the reader, not only to try giving each of them a chance to speak to your intellectual life, but to also find voices that actively work against your own echo chamber and provide you with new (and potentially better) ways of looking at the world around you.
Now go be a better student. You can do it.