The End of a Classical Christian Education

Exhilarated at the journey I was on, I ran along the path. 

I started out across a dry, empty riverbed to reach the place where the path picked up again on the other side. 

As I stepped out, a train flew by and nearly ran me over. 

It blared its horn in rage like it was angry that it had missed me. 

I was blown back, so I just stood there, shuddering for a moment at how close I'd come to being mown down. 

But I recovered remarkably fast. 

I was more than eager to keep moving on, filled with joy, excitement, and sheerest delight.  

I watched till the train was out of sight, and more cautiously this time, stepped quickly across the riverbed before another train could come.  

"Why a train?" I remembering thinking. 

I was aware that I was dreaming as I am often am in dreams, but I was also thinking, "Wow! What a dream! I hope this one never ends!" 

These pictures and sensations remain with me now clearer than most memories including my marriage ceremony or the births of my three children. 

What does a loving wife and mother do with that?

I trust God that He knows and is gracious. 

And if He's the dream-giver, His work is bound to make its mark upon one's consciousness. 

His dreams are more real than any lived experience. 

Perhaps dreams are part of lived experience. 

Anyway, it came to me years later that the train represents Modernity, and all its ways of doing things including giving a person an education. 

I still shudder at how close I came to missing this education. 



I took it all in as I walking the path again, now running, now climbing, now clawing my way up an ever-steepening path, but jewels were literally falling into my hands as I went further up. 

These jewels were breathtaking.

Each one was precious and beautiful in its own way. 

Each magnified the Light as I turned them in my fingers, and I could have beheld each one for ages without growing bored. 

But I couldn't wait to get on, so I gathered them all and hurried forward, onward, upward, giddy with delight. 

The path led to the base of a mountain, and I took to climbing it with ease and interest. 

I was surprised at myself as a climbed, but also surprised at how real it all felt, because my muscles were fit for the task, though they began to actually burn and eventually groan with exertion. 

I was breathing heavily and finally, really slowing near the summit, laboring with all my might to get to go on. 

Near the top, the shale-like rocks were loose and began shifting and sliding under my hands and feet, and I grew more and more fatigued and hot and thirsty, and it was altogether harder to keep hold.

Just as I reached the edge of the summit, the rocks shifted in such a way that I almost fell off the mountain altogether. 

I caught hold, but I couldn't move or else I would slip and fall beyond recovery, so I held as tight and still as possible so as not to shift the rocks I was clinging to. 

That's when Satan appeared, a pale, grey, skinny man in gray shirt and trousers. 

He perched lightly, carelessly on the edge right before me, his body language communicating total and complete ease, seeming to flaunt the fact that he was secure while I was losing grip and tempted to real panic. 

That's when I saw the chalice filled with cool, clear water just out of my reach.

I still wonder if Satan pointed out the chalice as a torment to me. 

Or was it the Spirit guiding me up the mountain who prompted me to finally behold my prize?  

Maybe it is both at once. 

That interpretation seems most likely to me now, since moments of suffering and temptation are so often combined with moments of spiritual victory. 

My thirst cried out for me to take a drink of that chalice. 

I knew the cup was the fitting reward for my journey, but I also knew it was totally out of my reach. 

My fingers were shaking, gripping on for dear life at this point. 

"If you let go, you will fall," Satan told me. 

This wasn't a taunt or a temptation. 

It was more like a simple statement of fact. 

There was no way for me to shift to hold on and also take hold of the chalice without falling. 

I considered my dilemma. 

I withdrew from the dream and weighed facts.  

Magnificent as this dream was, I knew it was a dream and everything in it, including the mountain was just a symbol signifying something absolutely real and outside the dream. 

I knew that there was God and He loved me. 

He was the One who had prompted the dream, the One delighted to see me so delighted in this symbolic world He had made for me. 

So I grew bold and the dream came back in focus. 

I was filled with a white hot, holy wrath and also a cool, joyful mirth. 

"This mountain was made for me," I declared. 

Then I smiled and laughed. 

My fear disappeared, and my soul did something that my mind and heart still look back on in awe and wonder. 

I let go. 

And I fell. 

But somehow, I also grabbed the chalice and drank deeply even as I was plummeting backwards and down. 

As I swallowed that lovely draught of cool, sweet water, two things happened at once. 

I saw Satan's face. 

And he was shocked. 

That was right before he disappeared. 

That is still a satisfying memory even if it only ever actually happened inside my imagination. 

I was also immediately caught by four arms of two angels, one on each side of me. 

"What an awesome dream!" I remember thinking. 

The angels flew me forward, somewhat roughly and awkwardly, and pushed me into the side of the mountain until I could get a solid hold again.  

As I caught my breath, I realized the angels were gone, and I was alone looking out over the top of what I now know was Parnassus. 

The word "Parnassus" came clearly into my mind a few days after this dream when I was praying to understand what it had meant. 

I didn't consciously recall knowing that name before that day, but I am sure I must have read it somewhere before the dream.

I came to understand that Parnassus is a symbol for a Classical education, and the home of Muses in ancient mythology. 

But in my dream, the top of Parnassus was empty, flat, barren.

It started raining as I held on there. 

I was getting drenched to the bone and chilly. 

The severe barrenness of that mountaintop was a judgement and a warning to my soul. 

That image has remained with me as I have walked this path towards a Classical education.

And even as I have whole-heartedly thrown myself into this journey, knowing God was leading, I've held something sacred back, knowing that barren mountain top was not be the end. 

So I look around, and I took in all the lessons. 

The path only goes so far. 

Before I was allowed to wake up, my attention was drawn into the distance, far below the mountain top.

I saw something like a hobbit house, a simple, humble home.

Warm light was spilling out from around the round door and windows. 

I could see smoke from a fire in the hearth rising into the night sky, and I could hear laugher and conversation and the tinkling of glasses and plates. 

All at once, I knew that inside that home sat a circle of friends who lacked no good thing. 

Somehow, I knew that everything I had expected to find at the top of that glorious mountain was to be found around a table with Christian friends.  

I resolved to get down from there and go find that dwelling and knock and ask to be let in. 

It seemed that the Holy Spirit was satisfied that I had taken proper notes, so that is when I woke up and that was years and years ago now.  

I had this dream when I started the Circe Apprenticeship several years ago. 

And I took it then as I am certain it was meant then: God's was promising to give me an exhilarating Classical education.

But now, as I leave Classical Conversations after twelve years, meditation on this dream is a comfort and a confirmation, too. 

I am letting go of something that I have striven upon and built myself up upon and held on to for many years. 

But I will be caught.

Last evening, by an almost unbelievable-unless-I-had-lived-it-for-myself timing of Providence, our home was filled-to-bursting with friends from our homeschool communities and our church. 

We shared food, drink, and rich, Spirit-filled conversation over the Word late into a cool, damp night.  

So now, I'll give you the final interpretation as it came to me last night as I was saying goodbye to our last guest. 

Now that Christ is risen and the Spirit of God dwells inside human beings, there is no place on earth higher or better or more enlightening or inspiring than wherever Christians happen to gather together. 

Parnassus is wherever the Word of Christ and the Spirit of Christ meet, and the truest end of a Classical education is a table Christian friends conversing over the Word. 


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