Back to School & Lifelong Learning

September 6, 2022

The start of this school year has brought some significant changes to the Belous household.

First, my daughter Rachel has gone off to college. While I am proud of what she is doing, I miss her very much. We often listened to podcasts together while driving, and we would stop the podcast and share views on the topics covered. It was so refreshing to get the insights of a Zoomer (Gen Z) on a wide range of issues.

Rachel would also have me listen to her music playlists, which ran the gamut from new wave pop to Nat King Cole. She has a free Spotify account, so we must listen to commercials. Rachel said, “Why do so many of the advertisements sent to me seem to be for people in their 40s or 50s? I told them I’m 18 years old.”

“Yes, but your playlists have so much Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Rogers and Hammerstein that they think you are a middle-aged person driving an SUV,” I said. In many ways, Rachel is an old soul. I first heard Olivia Rodrigo and other new pop stars on Rachel‘s playlist. I will miss these streaming online listening sessions with Rachel.

My younger daughter Therese started second grade this year. She told me she was going off to college with Rachel. I asked her how she could attend elementary school in Salem, Virginia if she were in Massachusetts with Rachel.

Therese tilted her head and said, “Dad, I will just have to go to elementary school online.”

My daughters are often really different about things. When I took Rachel clothes shopping for school, she picked “no-nonsense” stuff. But when I told Therese we were going shopping for school clothing, she said, “Great! I’d like to get a new bracelet and rings.”

Ty’Ann Brown is the Vice President of Outreach Ministries at Guideposts. Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, and his wife Ruth, were the founders of Guideposts. Ty’Ann recently had some very interesting things to say about this “back to school” time of the year.

“I look back on my formal education with mostly good feelings. There were so many positive, exciting experiences – from elementary school all the way through grad school. But calculus? I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore,“ Ty’Ann explains.

“Still, I consider myself a lifelong student. In particular, I want to keep myself open to learning from God. Getting older does not automatically mean that we are getting wiser. We have to work at it. Learning from God requires constant rethinking and refocusing,” she insists.

I agree with Ty’Ann about her views on education – including her thoughts about calculus. I first took calculus in my junior year in high school. I did somewhat “okay” in this branch of mathematics that was first formulated by Newton and Leibniz. But I vowed never again to take a course in mathematics if I could avoid it.

And avoided it I did as an undergraduate English major. But then a weird thing happened. I became very interested in economics, and the “dismal science“ really requires mathematics proficiency.

Calculus is about continuous change, and I really could understand why analysis of continuous change is essential in economics. In graduate school, I wanted to master calculus. I saw the reason and need for calculus. This time the laws of differentiation were relatively easy and quick to learn.

I took French in high school and college and remember many French words. But I have never really thought in French. However, I bet if I lived in France and had a French girlfriend, I would be amazed at how quickly I would learn to think in French.

The point is that when I see the need to learn something – and what this learning can do for me – I become super-motivated, and mastery of the subject becomes relatively easy.

In the realm of the spirit, my experience is that lifelong learning is essential. We do not graduate, but we need always to be students. As Bob Dylan put it, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen Buddhist teacher, said that when he was a young monk, he wondered why Buddha had to keep doing his spiritual practices after becoming enlightened. Then Thich Nhat Hanh remembered that impermanence – the calculus of continuous change – was at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. Even the Buddha’s enlightenment would fade away unless there was continuous practice and lifelong learning.

So even if we may be many years away from “School days, school days/Dear old golden rule days,” I would ask us to all think: What can we learn in this new school year in terms of the realm of the spirit? How can we be lifelong spiritual learners?

It might be through a rededication to prayer and meditation. It might be through reading a book on some enlightened subject. It might be taking a class or working with a spiritual mentor. But whatever shape or form it takes, a common denominator is that it will enhance our connection with the Divine Spark inside us. Use the start of a new school year to walk in this direction.

Let me suggest one way that you might do this. In a few weeks, Unity of Roanoke Valley will start the fall session of Spirit Circles. These small study groups meet in people’s homes, at URV, online, or in a library. It is an excellent way of not only doing spiritual study but also a great way of making friends and strengthening community at URV.

This time the Spirit Circles will look at Gleanings of Truth from World Religions: A Unity Perspective. Sign-up sheets for the Spirit Circles are in the Fellowship Hall at Unity of Roanoke Valley.

Being a lifelong spiritual learner is an investment that I promise will pay you very rich dividends. It will help you deal with a world of continuous change.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

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