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Comenius – Living in Changing Times
Do you get the feeling like the earth is shaking beneath you? Daily I experience folks who express feelings and act as if life is quickly diminishing as we’ve known it. I observe so many who are angry and ready to argue. Hardly a month goes by where there are no reports of outbursts on airplanes and news of a mental health pandemic in the wake of Covid-19. This says nothing about jumping energy costs, increasing inflation, and political scandals that enters our minds from every bit of noise we hear through virtually every source.
Do these details raise your blood pressure? I know I am affected that way.
In re-reading Labyrinth of the World in order to adapt it for a broader readership, I was reminded of how contemporary this book is and what lessons can be learned. One of the many takeaways was how to live in changing times. Living today means we need to learn how to live in a different reality.
History doesn’t have to be the story of what we didn’t learn:
John Amos Comenius lived in times of significant change. From before the times on Jan Huss, Czech lands had been contested: militarily, philosophically, politically, religiously, and between ideas of eastern and western perspectives.
During Comenius’s early years (1618-1623), he was saddled with radical change in the culture around him. In addition, he lost his wife and two children to the plague. The pontiff in Rome brought in troops of mercenaries to support his vassal—who in this case was—Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor. Ferdinand ended up winning the battle of White Mountain, which ultimately sent Comenius and his fellowship of the Bohemian Brethren into exile in Poland.
Think of what it would have been like to be uprooted and sent packing to a place you do not know?
Suppose one is saddled with meeting dependents’ needs and keeping community. How does one do so when everything has been taken away from them?
Key points to consider:
You may need to move
By 1628 Comenius was forced to move with a mass of Bohemian Brethren. He personally suffered the burning of his library and manuscripts. Existence in Czech lands proved to be a dangerous way to live if you were not Catholic. The beleaguered Brethren went to Leszno, Poland, where earlier groups of religious exiles went nearly a century before.
The happenings of your life may be the seeds to a new beginning.
Poland was held to be a place where the Brethren hoped that the Catholic power would be broken in their homeland, which would allow them to return. While he educated in Poland, he prepared for the day when it might be possible to rebuild the homeland through a reformed schooling system. Between 1628-1641 this focus turned into a life-long endeavor for keeping the Bohemian fellowship together as a people—through the stipends he received for services rendered—and because Comenius had an aha moment in education.
Relationships are critical help in the most incredible times of need.
Comenius was an avid writer, not only of volumes on subjects, but letters to friends and acquaintances he wished to develop. Today, much of these correspondence resides in 49 different institutions totaling 566 documents. Between the 1630s and 1670, he was particularly active this way. This effort paved his going into eight countries across Europe, both for purposes of education reform and to keep the coffers able to support the Bohemian Brethren.
Be an innovator.
The innovation of Comenius served him well. As a great learner, he became a great teacher. Learning often leads to development. Comenius was a dreamer who believed that the combination of all knowledge could be cataloged and organized to better present it and teach it in a way he termed as pansophy. His ideas and developments led to the foundation of the Royal Society of England, a “think tank” if you will of the day, which affected society for centuries. Scripture refers to the man skilled in his work that will be taken before rulers to help them.
Under promise and over-deliver.
At times we could be over-qualified and think a job is beneath us. But in changing times, this attitude can hurt us. Comenius was given opportunities in America—through John Winthrop the younger to be the first president of Harvard College (now Harvard University) or to work in France for Cardinal Richelieu. When he met a fork in the road in England, he turned both down to instead write primary and secondary school primers for Sweden.
While we cannot guarantee tomorrow, we have enough concerns for today. There is no sense in wondering what “if” and troubling ourselves over the if only(s). Will Rogers once quipped, “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.” We get dependent upon things being like they always seem to have been. However, we are in a fluid of change all the time. How we perceive things may not be how they really were in the grand scheme. So why sweat it?
Even ugly and evil change, like what is going on in Ukraine, is not the end of the world. We have resiliency and hope outside of the physical world realities we see—or hear about. We can only control ourselves, and what we do with the card we are dealt. This summating thought is perhaps the most significant lesson about Comenius’s life. He saw God’s hand in everything and committed himself to God’s care no matter how tough it got.
Comenius knew challenging circumstances and grief—having lost his entire family to the plague, his manuscripts burned twice, having to live in exile 42 years, and constantly on the move. Yet, he still affected the world around him and survived 78 years in times when many did not live to 50.
We can take cues from a fellow like Comenius on so many levels. He shares much of his life in his allegory, The Labyrinth of the World -and- The Paradise of the Heart, and what can be understood from his life.
We have covered five critical points to living in changing times, all of which are illustrated in the life and work of John Amos Comenius:
- You may need to move
- The happenings of your life may be the seeds to a new beginning
- Relationships are critical help in the most incredible times of need
- Be an innovator
- Under promise and over-deliver
Another teaching point is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Life, in following Christ, is not about just surviving. In all likelihood, some, perhaps many, will not survive naturally in the world we live in because it is full of sin and run by sinners. But we can be a light and affect the dark world where we live. Jesus taught that we can bring the kingdom of God near or upon people those who are not of the kingdom of God, Luke 11:14-20. Comenius saw this as his job.
Has this article helped strengthen and encourage you?
You can read more about Comenius in the appendix of the new edition of Labyrinth of the World, which you can find here: