Famed journalist, David Brooks, was the featured speaker at a recent conference at Pepperdine, and much of the conversation focused on an op-ed he wrote a year ago in The New York Times titled, “The Big University.” The thought behind the article is summed up in a single sentence/paragraph:
In short, for the past many decades colleges narrowed down to focus on professional academic disciplines, but now there are a series of forces leading them to widen out so that they leave a mark on the full human being.
Brooks applauded this development and prescribed four tasks for colleges and universities:
- Reveal moral options.
- Foster transcendent experiences.
- Investigate current loves and teach new things to love.
- Apply the humanities.
While all four are worthy of reflective conversation, I am particularly drawn to the call to foster transcendent experiences. Brooks wrote:
If a student spends four years in regular and concentrated contact with beauty—with poetry or music, extended time in a cathedral, serving a child with Down syndrome, waking up with loving friends on a mountain—there’s a good chance something transcendent and imagination-altering will happen.
Yeah, I dig it.
Last week, I was thousands of miles from home in Akron, Ohio, with a couple of unexpected hours and zero plans and somehow ended up hiking through a beautiful park amid the blazing colors of autumn. The very next day, even farther from home in the heart of Manhattan in New York City, I had more unexpected time to spend while awaiting a meeting in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper and wandered into iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral to experience an early afternoon Mass in that stunning venue.
A peaceful forest. A majestic cathedral. Two good choices. And why did I have to travel so far to make such choices?
Brooks’s encouragement may have simply been intended for college students, but seeing that I feel a little thirsty for transcendence myself, my choices in those two moments make me wonder what might happen if I altered my routines to create “regular and concentrated contact with beauty.”
I just might do it. And if nothing else, fostering transcendent experiences in my own life might make me more effective in fostering such moments for others.