In his recent article in Christian Scholar’s Review, Paul Waddell suggests that every human being is called to live wisely and well. In practical terms, responding to this shared calling means becoming “skillfully attuned, each day, to the myriad ways in which we are summoned out of ourselves in response to the beauty, loveliness, and goodness of the created order—as well as in response to its suffering and affliction.” To me, this sounds at once true, simple, and utterly countercultural, as perhaps simple and true things often are.
Waddell’s account of growth in wisdom certainly runs counter to what many people these days expect a college education to accomplish. Professors and university administrators are asked by pundits, legislators, parents, and prospective students about placement rates, career-readiness, and trending programs, but not very often about what it means to live well. I personally can’t recall any conversations in which outsiders to the university have asked me if we give students the capacity to be skillfully attuned to beauty and suffering. And the truth is that in an atmosphere of precarity, many of us might prefer simply to focus on “giving them what they want,” which seems to be a clear and comfortable path to a lucrative credential.
Except that we do still talk about learning, and I want to propose that the necessary connection between learning and awe is the reason that college still can and should produce the kind of attunement to calling that Waddell talks about. In fact, if we do learning right, it must at least potentially give students the capacity for living wisely and well.Continue reading