Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods by A G Sertillanges

Well, personal obligations have kept me away from blogging but I plan to return.  I am mostly trying to follow the advice of A.G. Sertillanges, a Jesuit priest who wrote a book in French called "The Intellectual Life, Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods".  He says it is important to write, and to get published.  

When you write, you must publish, as soon as your judges think you capable

It may seem odd for an Orthodox Jewish blogger to come back to writing through a Jesuit priest's book, but since I do feel the calling to write, and there are so many thoughts I need to put in writing, his words make sense to me.  Self-publishing is unfortunately not much, but perhaps someone reading this in Ghana, or the USA, or somewhere else far from me, Google will work with God to help my words help others who might need them.  This is better than writing in a diary.

The truth is, I was close to giving the book away.  It was in a pile of books destined for a library donation when I decided to give it one more shot.  Bought it 2008, I had not read it much.  Perhaps I am older now, and the words speak to me differently, but I really do understand now that this book, even for a non-Christian reader, can be immensely helpful.

Energy and time are short, dear reader, so I will not be able to do justice to this important little book.  But if you are someone with a curious mind, and very little time to indulge that curiosity, this book gives very helpful advice on ordering your intellectual growth.  Two short snippets below:

A vocation is not fulfilled by vague reading and a few scattered writings
the mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading.  It is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production.  It grows inwardly extroverted, if one can so express oneself, becomes the slave of its mental images, of the ebb and flow of the ideas on which it has fastened its attention
Intellectual, and spiritual growth, then, require reading wisely.  They require dedicating attention wisely.  How should one, then, order their reading, and plan their time?  How should we organize our very attention?

Maimonides starts his Mishna Torah, by telling us that the first Commandment is to "Know that there is a First Being".   He seems to be answering my question, a millennia  after he wrote the book.  The focal point around which I organize my attention must be that principle, that God is there.  That He is First. 
תחלת חכמה יראת יהוה
I plan to write more about Maimonides, rationalism, mysticism later.  But for now, as I return to writing, let me share my hope that I can remain true to this organizing principle in my mind.  The beginning of Wisdom is the Fear of Hashem.