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Associate Dean Richard Keeley

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Books and articles that matter

This contribution is by associate dean Richard Keeley

In the 12 brief, evocative chapters of Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue (Oxford University Press, 2001) Paul Woodruff explores reverence in religion, in teaching, and in leadership.

A philosopher and classicist who is a dean at the University of Texas at Austin, Woodruff writes that reverence "begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control—God, truth, justice, nature, even death." The Greek tragedians knew about reverence, as did Plato, and so did Confucius, and so does any parent, startled from sleep into night sweats, knowing how little he can do for those he loves most dearly. Reverence has a social counterpart in ceremony, that structuring of relationships around the great issues of love, death, and life in community. When we take our food fast and alone, when we dismiss voting because it doesn't matter, when we grow lazy in language, christening every experience as "awesome," ceremony and reverence are in full flight. And that flight, says Woodruff, can only damage the human community.

In his poem "God's Grandeur," the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins writes "there lives the dearest freshness, deep down things." Despite the dreams of the data miners and planners, there's a mode of living not to be captured in mouse clicks or in the most elegant of algorithms. In contemporary professional education, we may be lulled into forgetfulness of these deep down things. Woodruff, following his beloved Plato, suggests we do so at some peril.