Friday, September 03, 2021

Solomon's Nature Study

At the end of 1 Kings 4, we are given a further explanation of the depth of Solomon's wisdom that he had received from God after being given one request.

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite, wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. ~ 1 Kings 4:29-34 

Several ideas have come to mind upon reading this interesting bit of narration from the author of 1 Kings.

1. The areas listed as examples of Solomon's wisdom go far beyond the practical and awe-inducing discernment in administering justice seen in the baby custody incident . We are told he wrote proverbs (or wise sayings) and composed songs and poetry in great numbers. He was a prolific writer and composer in what could be considered both the arts and the humanities. But the surprising inclusion of nature study topics is remarkable. Solomon was a naturalist and a lecturer who held talks covering an enormous range of topics in the plant and animal world as well as the arts. Studying nature in all its forms is not just for the scientists and birding clubs. It is an interest worth anyone's time to know the world of creation that we live in. 

In a recent post by GretchenJoanna, she shares her continuing interest and curiosity in looking for and naming wildflowers, insects and other discoveries on a return trip home. She takes photographs, but also keeps a notebook list of what she sees. Anyone can stop and look, you don't need to write a blog post about it. Anyone can look up what they see and learn its name and how it grows, you don't need to take photos for social media. But the point is, being learned in nature is a sign of attainable wisdom, not useless nerdiness. 

2. In Josef Pieper's book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, he makes some statements about who can do philosophy and what it looks like when they are doing it. Bear with me, as I give you some extended quotes from the second part of the book, The Philosophical Act.

As a preliminary approach, however, it may be said to philosophize is to act in such a way that one steps out of the workaday world. The next thing to do is to define what is meant by the workaday world, and then what is meant by going beyond that sphere.
The workaday world is the world of work, the utilitarian world, the world of the useful, subject to ends, open to achievement and subdivided according to functions; it is the world of demand and supply, of hunger and satiety. It is dominated by a single end: the satisfaction of the "common need".
And then he goes to to speak more about what this "common need" entails. So he has given a definition of "the workaday world". And he goes at length to make sure the reader understands that he does not intend to denigrate this world, "that the world is of course essentially part of man's world, being the very ground of his physical existence, without which, obviously no one could philosophize". So then, with that clarification, let's see what he means by "going beyond that sphere" into doing philosophy.

A properly philosophical question [my note: his example used is "Why is there anything at all?" as asked by Heidegger and others] always pierces the dome that encloses the bourgeois workaday world, though it is not the only way of taking a step beyond that world. Poetry no less than philosophy is incommensurable with it.
... Nor is it otherwise with prayer. 
... Man also steps beyond the chain of ends and means, that binds the world of work, in love, or when he takes a step toward the frontier of existence, deeply moved by some existential experience, for this, too, sends a shock through the world of relationships, whatever the occasion may be, perhaps the close proximity of death.

So in Pieper's thesis, you step outside or beyond the workaday world when you ask important questions of yourself, the world, the nature of man, etc, when you partake of some form of poetry or song, when you pray or when you have an encounter that stirs your emotions on different levels.
Clearly Pieper says more than I can quote or explain on this matter, but in my readings I see how the wisdom that Solomon became famous for was not limited to intellectual musings or judicial prudence, but the very matters of human existence: life, death, poetry, song, prayer, trees, plants, birds, fish, etc. Solomon studied the world that God gave us and he was given supernatural insight into these matters that he then in turn, poured out in word and writing to those around him and for us. He used the gift of his wisdom to instruct and help his own nation and those who came to him from all over.  How much can we find help and comfort in these same areas as we live in this very real world created by God but subject to the curse?

3. And my final thought was how this list of Solomon's areas of wisdom coincides with the areas of study that we strive for in education, in particular the methods of education spelled out by Charlotte Mason who promoted all of this and more for all children and all people. Her particular attention to poetry and nature study as being as important as history and literature. To neglect these 'subjects' as extras or luxury is in Pieper's words: "to screw down the dome more firmly than ever, to close every window, and then man really is imprisoned in the world of work." If you're interested in learning more about the educational methods of Charlotte Mason or who she was, this brief introduction from The Charlotte Mason Institute and Deani Van Pelt will give you some information and resources.

There is always more than can be thought about and said on any of the ideas mentioned. I mostly write this out for my own benefit, but if it has stirred up ideas and connections for you, I am thrilled.

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