On Learnedness: A September Meditation in Light of the Queen’s Reign

This guest blog was written by Global Scholars Canada’s Administrative and Communications Coordinator, Dr. Brenda Goranson. She has a long history as a student of the academy: a PhD in History from McMaster, as well masters and bachelor degrees from the University of Toronto. You can read more about her biography here and a previous meditation here. This blog first came as a devotion at the beginning of a GSC staff meeting in September, marking the start of a new semester for our interns, scholars and their students.

Amidst the ancient psalms, songs and reading of God’s word during the Queen’s Memorial Service at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh last week, was the most signal clarion, broadcast worldwide, that the Queen’s Christian and very personal faith was a profound measure on all that she thought, did and said over the longest reign in British history. Gleaned from this constant thread, deftly interwoven throughout the entire fabric of the solemn ceremony, is the reminder that we as Christian scholars are more than just faithful people in academia, we are actually called to be good at what we do. We are to be steeped in knowledge when it comes to our disciplines – to be above reproach in the practice of our fields – as well as in the conduct of our character as Christians in the Academy. 

Poster of Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham Cathedral. Courtesy of Metrogogo Flickr.

Not only do we do this through those time-tested methods of long hours of study:  libraries, laboratories, peer reviews, historiography, repeatability, controls, formulae, hypotheses, and placebos; we do this by seeking God first. According to the Bible, God wants us to come to him; he wants us to ask for more wisdom and guidance so that we are in turn, more inclined to understanding. Wisdom isn’t just knowing a wide breadth of study, it is having and practicing quality in what you know and being steadfast in that commitment; something that the Queen has been repeatedly praised for, in recent days.

Global Scholar David Koyzis confirms that over the last two weeks: “public officeholders were effectively proclaiming the gospel to scores of millions of people tuned into the proceedings. This is quite evidently what the Queen had wanted.  … … what we experienced… was not some bland tribute to a head of state, dressed in the ornamentation of office or personal status, but the church at worship of the Triune God”.[i]

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:5-7

In other words, the writer of Proverbs says we begin in our knowledge when we honour God. This is the foundation of wisdom and it is from here that we can most properly and productively explore the avenues of our various disciplines. The gift is of God, and when we use it to honour him first, then we grow in our wisdom and understanding, revealed to us, as we work. If we remove God from the equation, the Bible calls it foolishness. When we seek to learn who God is first, he blesses us with the knowledge and wisdom we need to become beacons in our fields. We need to study God’s word in order to know his face, and it is in this intimacy that we are freed to truly become students of other things. This is how we invite God to walk in our vocation with us.

As Global Scholars Canada, we expect that faith infuses our findings and that our love of the Lord tempers our work. When we become masters at putting God first, he blesses our endeavours beyond measure. Publications, appointments, awards and prizes, scholarships, bursaries and residencies may be the proofs of proficiencies in our worldly academic domains, but the gifts of good judgement, thoughtful restraint, humble presence, the seeking of truth, compromise, self-sacrifice, perseverance and mutual respect in the clamouring – at times, now contentious – hallways of the academy are still the most tangible ways we can share God. 

“Lady Reading” is a needlepoint. Historically, education and leisure were a sign of privilege, especially for women. Yet as a woman, there would be other opportunities denied her.

Indeed, in spite of new questions and conflicts, of set-in stains, and the residual stink that may linger and yet fester for some time out of this second Elizabethan age; where the old concepts of Imperialism and Empire-building, of Commonwealth uncommon, and where Conquest and Discovery over already-known places are now stripped to a more stark and painful reality, we at least know that this rarity among rarities: long-term, significantly influential female leadership, acknowledged for its example, service and power, for the better part of the 20th century and on into the next, was perhaps emboldened and at times, even successful, for not leaning on her own understanding, but rather, seeking God’s first. The Queen’s much lauded learnedness, tempered through test of turmoil, tradition and time, and so enticingly, the third in a triumvirate of England’s most influential rulers – all women – was clearly rooted in Christian understanding, and as it has now paraded, along the slow march of The Long Walk for the world to see, may it remind us that we are our most accomplished when we first seek the riches of the Crown that has Thorns.

[i] David Koyzis, The Seeds of the Gospel: Remembering the Queen, Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist, September 21, 2022. http://byzantinecalvinist.blogspot.com/2022/09/the-seeds-of-gospel-remembering-queen.html

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