Horizons and hope

I recently read that there is a very real biological reaction to looking towards the horizon. “Lifting our eyes to the hills” has an actual impact on the endomorphic system which is connected to ways we respond to pain and stress. It seems that we are biologically wired to benefit from a bigger perspective, to focus on more than what is going on in front of us or close around us.

I found this fact so interesting because I have definitely experienced this physical reaction myself and I think it also reflects a spiritual reality so often encouraged by the Psalmist. We are the ones God continually rescues out of the “pit and darkness” of our inability to lift our eyes, to see beyond ourselves and our circumstances. Lifting our eyes reminds us that we are little persons against a great landscape of God’s love and presence. Lifting our eyes renews our hope, helps us breathe, reconnects us to the light that can help us see our situations more clearly and hopefully. Our troubles are not as great as the enemy makes them out to us to be. (St. Anatoly)

I think there are many ways to think about horizons in education, many places we can lift our eyes. There is the horizon of all that is good, beautiful and true in education – the timeless aspects of our practice. I was reminded of this horizon during our graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. Listening to beginning and experienced educators talk about why and how education makes a difference in the lives of others was encouraging and inspiring. These ideals, if not imposed harshly or rigidly, can keep inviting us further up and further in with new energy. They remind us of what could be and sometimes is, in the midst of all that is not. Teacher education programs deliberately teach ideals because they are a vision/horizon that continually beckons.

There is also the horizon of the present moment, when we find the strength to lift our eyes up and out. There is always some little good to do until the rest is revealed. There is always a more gentle or kind way to be with our students and our colleagues. There is always, even in the darkest, saddest moments, evidence of love and some small beauty or joy to celebrate. Being present to the moment is impossible when we are focused on our own needs, locked in our minds in frustration, anxiety, helplessness or sorrow. We may not know exactly what we are doing every day as educators, but moments open wide in front of us and lead us if we are attentive and willing. The kingdom of heaven is found in every microcosm – it isn’t far from us. A turning of our eyes is often all that is required.

Another horizon is the horizon of discipline, or routine or structure. In a sense these observances function like a rhythm, helping us be part of the music even if we can’t sing. Students need these rhythms as much as we do. Peaceful moments become possible against a horizon of discipline. Spiritual disciplines and the liturgical cycle function in the same way, they keep us connected, keep us turning, keep us lifting up our eyes.

The horizon of presence is experienced when we lift our eyes to our students and our colleagues and to the One who sees us and hears us. This lifting is also a lifting of our hearts in love and gratitude. We turn our eyes to the Other and all others because we know where our help comes from. We are reminded that we are not independent, that we need one another and the mercy of God. Gratefulness is always a going up, never a going down.

Each glimpse of a horizon is a gift. Whenever we are experiencing a lack of hope, tightness in our chests, difficulty breathing, when we need rescuing from the pit, may God give us a glimpse of a horizon, renewing our strength and filling our hearts with gladness, setting our feet in a wide place.

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