Lance Scranton — Words of wisdom from poet Sor Juana during the Christmas season
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz writes in one of her most brilliant poems that her better and truer way of life is not to throw it away on vanity. Students understand the poem as a reaction to the worldliness she was concerned about in the 1600s. We have come a long way, historically, but the words she uses to express the pull this world exerts on each of us is one of the reasons she is included in our compilation of important authors.
We’ve moved well beyond the issues that Sor Juana was forced to contend with, including a powerful patriarchy (she was a lady-in-waiting for four years until she decided to enter the convent at age 20), criticism from her superiors for her shrewd sense of business and investing and religious disdain for her acknowledgement of the importance of secular learning.
But the words that are most relevant during the Christmas season are her thoughts about the temporal nature of beauty, wealth and investments. We put a high pricetag on accruing the secrets to eternal beauty, riches and youth. Sor Juana understood our fleeting physicality and believed one could keep life in perspective by the advancement of intellectual curiosity.
Pleasure was derived not by the cost of something or the wealth she had built, rather, by setting her mind on the treasures she derived from the things around her each and every day. Throwing our lives away on the vanities of life would simply doom us to a life of misery and discontentment, as she explains in a compelling statement about how “all things pay to time, the victor, their appointed fee and treasure cheats even the practiced eye.
Try passing this profound bit of knowledge off to a group of young, hearty teenagers who are on the cusp of going out into the world and conquering all. It’s a pretty hard sell, but they do recognize the importance of what is most valuable during this year-end season. I can get their attention when we talk about gifts and presents, but most of them get that twinkle in their eye when we discuss memories, childhood and favorite times during Christmas.
Yeah, it’s kind of corny and not-at-all cool, but the season really is about our presence and not really about the presents. The world will hound us about it being something different, but the fact that we invest in those who are most important to us will pay dividends no stock can ever match nor beauty compare.
Thanks Sor Juana for your words of wisdom.
Lance Scranton is a teacher and coach at Moffat County High School.