If sunflowers are symbols of obedience, apples, on the other hand, were originally the symbols of disobedience. The apple, for one reason or another, is the fruit typically portrayed in art as what Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the first act of turning from God. This action set in motion the chasm between God and us and handed onto all of us Original Sin. Yet, the apple has a happy ending. Because God did not leave us to our own devices, but instead responded with mercy - first by establishing the covenants with Israel and then by giving us the New and Eternal Covenant in Jesus Christ - the apple was transformed. Now, the apple is linked to learning, which is why we see the iconic picture of an apple on a teacher’s desk. But apples are not just linked to any learning, but learning that leads to Understanding and Wisdom.
Now, after the fall, learning takes work and is not effortless and delightful. However, all learning - even if it is not explicitly and overtly about God - can reveal him and his ways, if pursued with humility and sincerity. St. Pio, for example, used to kneel when he did his studies as he recognized that learning algebra was still glorifying God. He viewed every subject as a necessary stepping stone on the path that God laid out for him.
Apples are also a fruit, so they lend themselves to the idea of fruitfulness. And, of course, we certainly hope that our learning is fruitful, that it gives us a way to provide for ourselves and our families, on a personal, practical level, that it gives us insight into solving problems in the world on the communal level, and that it ultimately leads us to the source of abundance and fruitfulness, God, on a higher, eternal level.
In fact, something as simple as an apple pie fully develops this idea. Think about the process of making a pie: A few apples are plucked from a tree, if you live up north, or bought from the grocery store, if you are down south. They are washed, cored, and chopped, on the way to becoming something new. They are mixed with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and placed with other similarly transformed items; wheat that has become flour, milk that has become butter, to form something new - pastry. Don’t forget - this process is done by someone who has learned how to make a pie, and has practiced it several times. After the pie is baked, those few apples will stretch to minister to several people. It will comfort some, please others and nourish all. The idea of learning at its best- taking one thing and transforming it to serve the common good through our work.
Now that the school year is well under way and thousands of students of all ages have taken up their studies again, in whatever form or fashion that may be, let’s be intentional in why and what we study and look to the sunflower and apple to inspire us to pursue obedience and true knowledge.