A lovely aspect of learning for enjoyment is that, without the pressure of an exam at the end of the semester, one is freer simply to delight in and be improved by what one is learning.
I love what Peruvian author Manuel González Prada wrote early in the 20th century: that education makes one more magnanimous. A dictionary I have relates magnanimity to generosity, nobility, and courage.
From where does the thirst to comprehend ourselves and the world around us come? For instance, what motivates the retired senior who's studying ballet for the first time, or the 13-year-old who suddenly takes an interest in all things Japanese and, on her own, begins learning that language?
In my own case, I've found that my desire to understand and my passion for learning actually relate to the two great commandments that Jesus identified: to love God with all one's heart, mind, and soul; and to love another as oneself. He said that all the law and the prophets - in other words the whole Old Testament teaching and what Jesus was defining as his own teaching - hung or depended on these two commandments.
Recently I read a history of Africa covering trading between various peoples during certain historic periods, the huge kingdoms that existed before Europeans arrived in large numbers, and the colonial and post-colonial periods. The subject matter fascinated me, but what motivated me to finish the book was the love I was feeling for the many beautiful and varied ways in which Africans express God - in their arts, their resilience, and their vibrant spirituality.
Every field of human endeavor brims with opportunities to love and serve others. Whether it's the engineering student taking a course in structures, the scientist researching weather patterns in the Caribbean, or the high school student taking a class in media awareness, true education gives us the tools to practically express love toward our neighbors, near at hand or on the other side of the planet.
But if one's motivation in learning can have a positive effect on one's learning, it can also affect it negatively. Facts without purpose, knowledge without wisdom, or erudition without intelligence only mimic true education, which is underpinned by selflessness and the desire to serve others.
The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, was a lifelong learner, right up to her passing in her late 80s. In her main book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," opposite the marginal note "Useful Knowledge," she wrote: "Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause" (p. 195). Later in the same book she wrote: "School-examinations are one-sided; it is not so much academic education, as a moral and spiritual culture, which lifts one higher" (p. 235).
Doesn't genuine learning always elevate the learner morally and spiritually? When in our learning we cultivate the expression of spiritual and moral qualities, we soar beyond mere knowledge to self- discovery, spirituality, and service. Then, learning truly is practical, and the opportunities for this learning are life long.
The Lord giveth wisdom:
out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom
for the righteous:
Proverbs 2:6, 7