I had an occasion to use this maxim today: “We love what we know.” Thinking myself somewhat original, I had forgotten that Aldous Huxley had once said almost the same thing. Or maybe Huxley and I just had the same idea. His complete quote was: “We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…” He includes this quote (without attribution) in the book “Perennial Philosophy.”
This little saying has helped to guide the way I homeschool my children. I noticed years ago that students seem most frustrated, most ambivalent, or most negative about a new subject when they still don’t know anything about it. We teachers are taught that success breeds success and that if a student is to stick with something and learn it (and especially if he is to develop a fondness for it), he must have a taste of success with the thing. For example, we are taught that we target struggling students with questions we know they can answer and then gently work with the student to push them toward more complexity or more difficult aspects of the lessons. We whet their appetite with a taste of success and inspire them to want more.
But, as true as it is that success breeds success, it is even more true that we come to love what we know. If I had asked my younger son early last year what his favorite school subject was, he would probably tell me math or his bird study. He had no love for nor interest in human anatomy because he had not studied that yet. If you had asked him again at the end of the year, he would have enthusiastically included anatomy in his list of his most loved subjects. Why? Well, now, he had begun to know it. So, he had also begun to love it. This principle has played out over and over again both in my public school classroom and in my home schoolroom.
How is it that I had occasion to revisit this idea? This morning (Palm Sunday) after church, a friend commented, “So, you have been Lutheran from the cradle on, I assume?” I answered that, in fact, our family were relatively new to the Lutheran Church. This Easter will be our sixth one in the Church. My husband and I were raised more-or-less Methodist and staunchly Southern Baptist, respectively.
“Oh. Is that so? How is it, then, that you seem to know all the hymns then? I noticed you were singing at the rail this morning.”
I thought for a moment, and said, “Well, I love that particular hymn. But, I also suppose I study a lot. Like…a lot. It is one of my favorite thing to do. To study the hymnal.”
I went on to explain that when we first converted, I was already familiar-ish with the catechism because that was what I was looking for in the first place. I wanted a communion with really strong catechesis and had sought that out. But, what I had been unprepared for was exactly how different the hymnody was. None of the songs were familiar – not the tunes, not the words, and certainly not the doctrine. It was disorienting; and, to be honest, ruffled my feathers a bit at first. Ok, it really bothered me a lot. It was uncomfortable never to hear any of the songs that I grew up having such a fondness for. I often felt lost in the service in those first several weeks. But, I also knew that in this context familiarity does not breed contempt. Quite the opposite, in fact. It breeds love.
I knew that if I ever wanted to love this hymnody, I had to know it. So, I set out to learn. In singing and memorizing, in committing the tunes and words to heart, a deep and abiding friendship developed. I was greeted on every single page and in every single line by the doctrine I was learning. I began to understand why we sing the way we do, and I grew to love it. We love what we know. So, if we desire to love something, we must first get to know it.
If we want to love the faith we confess, we must first know it. We must spend time with it as with a dear friend. We cannot love what we do not know. If we want our children to have a lifelong love for what we believe, teach, and confess, they must first know it. They must also learn to walk hand in hand with this teaching as close friends.
We pray in the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy name.” This is a kind of short hand for praying that God’s word to be taught rightly among us, that we would hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it (i.e. that we would love it), and that we would then live holy lives in accordance with this Word we have learned and love. We pray that the Lord would “grant, while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure, throughout all generations” (LSB 582 / God’s Word is Our Great Heritage).
Addressing the IUCN, Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum warned, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” (1968). Although this was originally applied within the context of addressing problems in agriculture and natural resource management, it is applicable to so many contexts – most especially in catechesis. We sing, “Lord, helps us ever to retain the catechism’s doctrine plain” (LSB 865 / Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain). We conserve what we love. We love what we know. If this hymn is actually our earnest prayer, we must ever remain students of the catechism. “And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, 8] but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain” (LC, Introduction)