Common sense would seem to suggest that the more one loves one’s subject, the easier it should be to teach it to others. I imagine there are some people for whom this is true. However, I find it exactly the opposite. The more I love my subject, the more difficult it is to teach it to others.
Why is this? I think the best explanation is that when one loves something very deeply, one comes to marvel at it in its whole complexity, at least as far as one can understand it. For instance, if we were to compare, say, pieces of literature to ornate castles, the ones we love best would be the ones in which we are thoroughly familiar with the cracks, passageways, and secret catacombs – the normal, the anomalous, the beautiful, and the vulgar all lumped together; to see any part of it is to see the whole; even the smallest part is the mystic’s synecdoche, bringing before one’s eyes the entirety with which one is so familiar.
And this is exactly the problem for teaching. It becomes hard to remember what it was like to encounter the thing originally, piecemeal – a bit here, and a bit there – and so one forgets that newcomers need a tour. When so many parts of a great and complex work of literature strike one speechless with awe, one forgets that, without help, these parts might seem confusing or meaningless. Our deep love for the thing strikes us speechless, but from the outside, that speechlessness can look like ignorance or indifference. And so I find that those works I have studied most deeply and love most thoroughly come across in exactly the opposite way I intend. I stutter because I am in awe – because I do not want to meddle with the perfect complexity of the thing – but very often this comes across as confusion or disorganization. Poets often speak of love as a kind of madness, and here it is maybe true; deep love for something makes us bad teachers.
Conversely, it is far easier for us to codify and categorize those things we are less attracted to or know less about. For those things we know less about, we become students alongside our students and so make the journey together. For those things we are less attracted to, there may only be a few bits (if any) that are compelling, and so we find it easy to put these subjects in fairly simplistic boxes.
What has this to do with being a Christian? Everything, I think, and I think this because I am in love with Christ and His Word and His Church and the Tradition he has given her and the Holy Spirit etc. And this is precisely why I find it so hard to communicate my faith – the life of my Beloved – to others. It is not something that will be reduced so that it fits in a portable handbag that I can then shuffle off on others. Rather, it is in my flesh and blood, in my very bones. And to communicate it without stuttering and stammering – the thing that actuates my every breath – is as impossible an act as standing outside myself. I find myself in the dazzle of a dynamic silence that probably looks like boredom to those on the outside.
I should be clear; I do not say this with the pretense that this makes everything in my life lovely or bearable or joyful – it doesn’t. Even less do I mean to flaunt this as some kind of spiritual ideal that everyone is called to; different people are called to different things. What it does I hope help explain, maybe, is my awkwardness and silence. I do not speak when I ought to, and I sometimes speak at the wrong time, and it is all haunted by a deep and abiding clumsiness. If you have experienced this, please forgive it if you can as the awkwardness of one who loves deeply, abashed and in awe of Reality and the One who made it. And when you do not hear me shouting words of praise, it is not because I do not wish to praise – it is simply that words are inadequate.