Warning, rambling thoughts ahead…
I attend a church that is rich in liturgy and I often think of that liturgy as a river that is always flowing and my task as a worshiper is to simply step into it allowing it to flow around me and through me. Since the liturgy is mainly sung, and I am only a beginner in prayer, I don’t always hear or pay attention to every single word that flows, but every once in a while a phrase will lodge in my heart and stay with me for days. I am grateful when that happens because these words are always a blessing and a rich source of meditation. The title of this blog is the phrase that is currently lodged in my heart. The context of the phrase is an affirmation of the importance of icons being ‘fittingly reverenced’ rather than ‘unfittingly banished’.
I bring these words to this blog because I have also been thinking about how a stance of ‘fitting reverence‘ towards the icons of Christ in our practice, those made in God’s image – our students, our colleagues, our extended community participants – enhances a more common but also important intersection of spirituality and education, the stance of ‘care and compassion‘. What happens to our understanding and practice of care and compassion for others if we begin with a stance of reverence towards others? Wouldn’t true care and compassion automatically flow from a stance of reverence? If we really believed Christ’s words were true – that whatever done to the least of these is done to Him, that Christ was present in every single interaction, would we not consider all interactions as ‘holy ground’ which would absolutely compel us to be caring and compassionate? (St. Matt 25:40)
The practice of reverence brings with it a special kind of awareness, attention and care, as well as, vulnerability and humility. A stance of care and compassion could potentially do the same, but in systems that measure and communicate their success through “dashboards” and “impact indicators” it can also allow us to move too quickly to help or to fix. Compassion can become our passion as we develop an agenda and certain understanding of what kind of help or fixing is needed. Compassion seems too focused on the two – the carer and the cared for, rather than the “I am” in our midst. In our efforts to be compassionate, we can trample on souls by making the other an object. Reverence might keep us humble, tentative, aware and open to transformation rather than focused on transforming, doing what looks like less, but creating room for more.
There are things we can’t do when we are being ‘fittingly reverent’. Just think about how a newborn baby is wrapped and held (one of the very consistently reverenced icons in our culture). When holding this precious unrepeatable gift, we can’t possibly move too quickly, speak too loudly, or hold too carelessly. What if each person in our classrooms and schools were held more reverently? What couldn’t we do as educators? I don’t think we could assume the worst about our students – that they are lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined, unruly. I don’t think we could continually critique those who are in leadership, I don’t think we could blame parents or communities. I don’t thing we would be as polarized in our politics and ideals. I don’t think we could focus on punishment and reward rather than on teaching and learning. What if our students understood their interactions with others, the natural world, the content of the curriculum as sacred interactions with honour given to all that is good, beautiful and true? Sometimes it seems like much of what we do in education requires us to ‘unfittingly banish’ reverence, and along with it all mystery and wonder.
What do you reverence? I remember, when I was a child, that my Bible was one icon in our home that was reverenced (maybe THE icon). It seemed like the Bible couldn’t possibly be treated in an ordinary way. You always picked it up like it was a treasure, with two hands, and turned the pages ever so carefully. You used a beautiful silk ribbon bookmark to mark the page and you wouldn’t dream of turning a page corner down! You never touched the Bible with dirty hands and the table would have to be cleared and cleaned before family devotions after dinner. The Bible had a place of honor on a table or shelf, and no one would inadvertently set a cup of coffee on top of it. We understood that somehow the honour given to the the icon of scripture flowed to God.
On the one hand our culture reverences very little that used to be reverenced – things like sacred spaces or objects or people in honoured positions. All things material have become objects or instruments, all things spiritual have become abstract and intellectual. We have become so platonic in our understanding of spirituality, we no longer see the unity of material and spiritual. We forget that this unity is the foundation of our faith and our hope. Christ, fully human and fully divine – each person a material/spiritual unity, each spiritual person in eternity to be reunited with their material body. On the other hand, we are so in need of reverence and so naturally icon makers because we are icons ourselves, we inadvertently make things sacred that are less deserving of reverence – in sports…the Canucks; in education…the teacher’s desk, norm based grading, athletic trophies.
Who or what is ‘fittingly reverenced’ in your classroom or your school? If nothing, what does that say to you about education? Who or what has been ‘unfittingly banished‘? Is it worth thinking about these things?