Being Literate, Becoming Literate
But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.--C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism.
What does it mean to be literate? How many today can attain unto it? For how many is it simply too late, a lost cause?
To be literate means to seek knowledge and wisdom through literature, to live a certain kind of life. A literate person experiences life through the knowledge gained through reading great--and some not-so-great--works; she carries the works within and summons them (consciously or unconsciously) for the thoughts and emotions requisite for any given situation. Being literate expands the vocabulary, the semantics, and the syntax of the soul, allowing more of reality to be appropriated in more ways. It helps one see what is tragic, what is comic, and what is trivial.
This knowledge establishes a friendship with the best that humans have written; it lifts one out of the cave of individual stupor (self-stultification and self-stupefaction) by exposing the soul to fresher air, higher thoughts, deeper feelings. It opens the pores.
For many of the image bearers of God in our day being literate is neither a goal nor a possibility. They have been rendered functionally autistic through the diversions of digital media, hyper hedonism, and pseudo-education that is more concerned with indoctrination than with the invocation of the muse, whose presence can transport us to unexplored lands of truth, even to eternity.
The National Endowment for the Arts laments (again) that reading is in steep decline. How can I provoke in my students the love of learning, the thrill of discovery, the discipline of finding, testing, and applying ideas? How can I commend reading over watching or playing? I can attempt to be a model of a literate man--a very imperfect one, who got a late start, and who chronically feels his ignorance. I can pray for them to awaken, to begin to distain the cave they call a home.