I remember when I first read The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci and realize I must have pulled that copy from Daddio's personal collection after I married him in 2000. At the time he owned a used bookstore, and for years before had collected a decidedly eccentric collection of books. Books about “pure belief” like the biography of George Mueller and Forgive Me, Natasha; alternative science texts by Wilhelm Reich, Nicola Tesla, Yevgeny Podkletnov and many others; philosophy texts from arcane works on sacred geometry or calendaring systems to Plato and modern alternative psychology; music texts about bel-canto singing and intuitive methods of musical instruction; the list was unconventional and diverse.
Daddio would pass over large sections of any book to find that one paragraph where the author would state the observations from which he had drawn his conclusions, and examine that premise. The idea of teaching his children through observation was something he had begun to formulate in his own mind, and practice in his own learning long before I ever met the man who became “Daddio” to our seven children.
The Da Vinci Road is truly an expression of he and I, together; without him I may never have written it. But, of course, it did not start here. He is quick to point out, “the observation method of learning is something we have only rediscovered, it is as ancient as it is perfect.”
Leonardo da Vinci was considered “a freak” by many people in his day. Locked away “living the night hours in the company of those corpses, quartered and flayed…” he would carefully remove the skin of a body and then open the musculature to draw the placement of each organ and how it appeared to be connected to the other organs.
He often began a notebook entry with “dimmi, dimmi,” (tell me, tell me) as he got the ink to flow through the tip of his pen and the images of things he had studied to flow through his brain. Thus he filled some 120 notebooks with drawings and notes on his observations, saying “I have been hindered neither by avarice nor negligence, but simply by lack of time.”
Da Vinci was not formally educated as were his peers, and when he was hounded by this seeming lack, he responded,
“They will say that I, having no literary skill, cannot properly express that which I desire to treat of, but they do not know that my subjects are to be dealt with by experience rather than by words. And [experience] has been the mistress of those who wrote well. And so, as mistress, I will cite her in all cases. Though I may not, like them, be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on that which is much greater and more worthy: on experience, the mistress of their Masters.”
Although it was Da Vinci who inspired the title of this book, it was not Da Vinci who first recommended observation as the path to learning. There was a Jewish man named Paul from the Mediterranean costal city of Tarsus who was highly respected for his extensive education and devotion to the Hebrew sacred writings. But when he wrote a letter to his people in Rome, Paul said something very unexpected:
“Everything that can be known about God is obvious because he has shown himself to everyone. Even the invisible things about God can be clearly seen in creation. In fact, you can even understand his eternal power and divinity by simply observing the things that have been made by him. So then everyone, by this alone, is without excuse.” (paraphrased from Romans 1:19-20)
Jesus also continually used nature to begin a lesson: “Consider the lilies,” and “behold the fig tree,” and “a man planted a vineyard.”
According to the stories, Jesus, having healed a man born blind and stating that his sins were forgiven, was accosted by the religious leaders of the day. They insisted that either the man had never been blind, or he was lying and could not really see, or Jesus or the parents were lying. The healed man himself denied these accusations, and was immediately “excommunicated” from his religion.
The religious leaders must have feared their congregations would want to know if they could heal the blind and forgive sins. Suddenly their paychecks and authority were at stake. So it was necessary to discredit the healer and the healed.
Jesus responded to them, saying,
“If you would admit that you are blind, I'd heal you too. But you are so convinced you can see there is no hope for you. You really are blind.” (paraphrased from John 9)
But go back even farther than Paul and Jesus, go back, back to the beginning of the human race. On a planet covered with water and darkness God moved and spoke, “Let there be…” Later, having perfected a new creation he “…saw every thing that he had made, and behold (read: “look—yeah, you, look—at creation”) it was good.”
In a book written by a prophet named Isaiah, God is recorded saying,
“To whom will you compare me, and to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
“Look up and see who has created these stars, who brings out the host of heaven by great number, who calls them by their names, by the greatness of his might? He is strong in power and not one that fails. […]”
[About the descendants of Jacob, He continues:] “Hear you deaf, and look you blind, that you might see. Who is blind? My own servant. Who is deaf? My own messenger. Who is as blind as he that is perfect, the servant of the Existing One? Seeing many things, you fail to observe. Having ears that could hear, you hear not. […] You are a people robbed and spoiled; all of you snared in traps, or locked in prisons, all of you hunted down and with no one to deliver you, and no one even to cry out for help. But who among you will hear this? Is there any among you that will listen now and hear in the time to come?” (paraphrase from Isaiah 40:25 - 42:23)
I believe that one cannot know the creator God any other way than by observing him. Religion will fail you every time. Second hand information will fail you. But your own eyes and ears, your own vulnerability to the elements, these things do not lie. They are the path to knowledge no one can take from you.
In hope that you will take that road, the creator has put himself on display literally everywhere you look. In the red rock canyons I see him unchanging though varied in expression. In the tall pine forest I breath deep and know that he is beautiful and satisfying. In the frightening dive of the hawk upon it's prey I see him warn me that he is swift and sharp.
Then when I go to the city I am tempted by the comforts and distractions that money can buy. Blinders and earplugs.
Whoever you are, I hope that you will leave behind the theologies that stand around like so many wax dummies, and instead go looking for God in the forest, on the mountain, and in the rain. He is hiding there, hoping that you will come look for him. He is more real and wonderful than I can describe.