Walking lightly back to school

This summer I spent some time in the light filled province of Andalucia, Spain.  I was intrigued by the name since I knew that ‘lucia’ meant ‘light’, and was even more intrigued when I discovered that Andalucia can mean ‘walking lightly’.  The idea of being in the land of ‘walking lightly’ was quite a wonderful thing to contemplate and I took this thought to the next part of my journey, a small pilgrimage in the Hebrides Islands, Scotland.  I wanted to think more about what it might mean to ‘walk lightly’ or live in a land of ‘walking lightly’.  The metaphor has stayed with me and continues to inspire.  I am hopeful that it may inspire all of my colleagues who are walking back into schools this week and next.

We walk lightly out of consideration for others, a sleeping child, or a person needing healing rest.  There is an inherent stilling of our own agenda in walking lightly, the ability to attend to the needs of others and respond appropriately.  Teachers need this attention to the particular. Techniques, ideas, policies and principles are important, but we hold them lightly against the greater horizon of the particular needs of our students.

We walk lightly when we are aware of the sacred, when we take off our shoes and turn towards the Holy.  In fact it is quite difficult to stomp around without shoes.  Stomping brings to mind the little toddlers in my parish whose parents take their shoes off so that their movements are more appropriate for a sacred space.  Teachers take off their shoes when they realize that their calling is to ‘turn souls’, to see those souls as sacred ground, to evoke a heart and mind response to the beautiful, the good and the true, to help others see and hear within and beyond themselves.

We walk lightly when we hold means and ends together.  Walking lightly is a way of being, of knowing that it is just as important how we walk as it is to get to the destination.  The being is the end, the inn on the road and the inn at end of the road. Teachers hold means and ends together when they care about the kind of existence they create for their students and when they push back on paradigms that harm their students:  punishment and reward paradigms, consumer paradigms, individualism paradigms, disenchanted paradigms…to name just a few.

We walk lightly when we are aware of our own brokenness.  Our pain causes us to limp, and to refrain from putting too much pressure on the painful limb. Teachers walk lightly when they remember that they, too, need healing and help, that their brokenness has an impact on their students.  Watchfulness, guarding your heart to minimize the spilling out of your pain, is only possible when walking lightly.

We walk lightly when we are on treacherous ground, knowing we might slip over the edge of a cliff, knowing the ground might open in front of us, knowing we might trigger an unexpected explosion.  Teachers walk lightly because they know that they don’t have all of the answers and that there is much hidden in the contexts of their work.  There is especially much hidden in their students, hiddenness that causes unexpected reactions flowing from trauma below the behaviour. Teachers consider their steps carefully in building relationships with their students and school communities and seek fruitful, life-giving paths around barriers and dangers.

We walk lightly when we are more interested in being acted upon than acting on, when we gaze rather than glance, when we seek to love a place rather than tour a place, when we are a guest rather than an owner, when we seek encounter rather than control.  Teachers walk lightly when they walk with patience, humility, openness and care.  Lightness brings stillness, stillness brings transformation and revelation.

We walk lightly when we want to leave a place more beautiful than we found it.

We walk lightly when we walk with others as companions, helpers, supporters, encouragers.  We aren’t running so far ahead that we can’t be present, we aren’t stamping our feet with impatience when others are not where we think they should be.

We walk lightly when we create space for detours of delight and rest, when we are walking with joy and gratitude. It is not possible to walk lightly without a lightness of spirit.

We walk lightly when the only way to deeper water is over rocky stones and barnacles.  Teachers accept the difficulty of the journey and keep their vision renewed. They also help their students capture a vision of the deep water.

We walk lightly when we are on our knees, the place where we can see and hear best.

Most of all, we walk lightly when we walk in faith with Christ, the one who makes it possible for us to walk lightly, to stop our ego-stomping all over the world.  He is the one who walked so lightly He walked on water, the one whose feet did not even touch the ground when He gave His life for the world.  We are His light fragrance, the ones who also walk lightly in love. (Eph. 5:2)

Walk lightly, walk in the land of Andalucia, walk in the light, walk with the light, back to school, towards your students.  Help them walk lightly.   May God bless your walking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Turning the page

Recently, a reader asked me to post on something we had talked about – that, as teachers, we have to get really good at ‘turning the page’. The reader was hoping the post would coincide with the beginning of the new semester, recognizing this as a time when we do get that chance to ‘turn the page’. In fact, in the cyclical pattern of education, we get that chance, again and again – each year, each semester, each new curriculum focus, each Monday, each day, a new page to write on. This is a great mercy because we all know how infrequently we live up to our ideals as teachers, how most of the time our vocation is so much bigger than our abilities, how often we wish for a redo. So God gives us new beginnings, ones mainly beyond our control, so that we have to turn that page. These new beginnings teach us to remember that time is not ours, that it is always a gift to be received with gratitude and humility. They also teach us to have compassion on our students, who also need fresh beginnings and the willingness of teachers to refuse to categorize them and, therefore, give up on them. Instead, they need teachers who invite their students into a new day, a new beginning, forgetting what is past and pressing on to what lies ahead. We are all beloved children of God. He doesn’t give up on us, He just keeps calling us forward in our purpose to become more like Him. We don’t yet know who any of us will become. 1 John 3:2

So this is my posting for that reader and for all high school teachers beginning their second semester. It is one day late. But I am ‘turning the page’ on that lateness, admitting my weakness, yet still offering, with hope, the words that re-member me, bring life to me.  As usual they are not my words, but words that are a pattern of truth from those much further along the path than me.

We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us: “I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!” Imagine. Is it possible that our imagination can lead us to the truth of our lives? Yes, it can! The problem is that we allow our past, which becomes longer and longer each year, to say to us: “You know it all: you have seen it all, be realistic; the future will be just another repeat of the past. Try to survive it as best you can.” There are many cunning foxes jumping on our shoulders and whispering in our ears the great lie: “there is nothing new under the sun…don’t let yourself be fooled…”

So what are we to do? First, we must send the foxes back to where they belong: in their foxholes. And then we must open our minds and our hearts to the voice that resounds through the valleys and hills of our life saying: “Let me show you where I live among my people. My name is ‘God-with-you’. I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past is gone.” We must choose to listen to that voice, and every choice will open us a little more to discover the new life hidden in the moment, waiting eagerly to be born. (Nouwen, 1999, p. 84)

God bless your new beginnings and send the cunning foxes away, and may His spirit be upon you, revealing the new life in each moment.

Nouwen, H.J.M. (1999) in Greer, W.G. (ed.) (2014) The only necessary thing: Living a prayerful life. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Time, not our time

It is August 18. The summer is drawing to a close and, for those of us who are educators, September is dawning as a time of new beginnings, new mercies, new possibilities, new realities. It is also a time of renewed rhythms, rhythms of time put on hold during the summer, rhythms that can sometimes seem restrictive or less ours than the rhythms of summer. But as T.S. Elliott so famously wrote, no time is our time.

We like to think that time is ours, that we have some control over time. We are addicted to our planners and calendars. As educators, we feel most peaceful when our dayplans are organized and we have a clear vision for what is going to happen when. Even in summer, a less restrictive season of time, we often plan each moment of the day just as intensely as if we were working in a factory with a clock to punch and a quota of fun to fill. We so easily forget what the Psalmist is constantly reminding us, “Yours (the Lord’s) is the day, yours also the night.” We forget what our experience teaches us — that we have no control over the rising or setting of the sun, the number of our days, the plans we pursue that easily go awry in the time we are given. We ignore the rhythms always present, the rhythms of each day and each season, of everything under heaven. We refuse to listen to these rhythms we know nothing about anymore. We start to take time into our own hands and find ourselves living unnatural and unbalanced lives. We don’t see that our hyper-ordered days are actually disordered and hellish.

Time is a gift, every moment. It is not ours to use, but ours to enliven. Thomas Merton said, “Many lights are burning that ought to be put out. Kindle no new fires. Live in the warmth of the sun.”

I am learning to be thankful for time – for its coming and going, for the joy of the morning and the grief of the evening. I love the brightness of the dawn, the heat of noonday and the beauty of each sunset. When I open my hands and let go of the delusion that I control my time and the time of others, I am more attentive, more grateful, more creatively responsive, and hopefully more loving. I am especially more patient. I have discovered that my desire to control and to plan time arises from a lack of patience with God, with myself and with others. Time can so easily irritate. When time doesn’t go our way we so quickly blame others, we forget that time is God coming to us disguised by our life. God is hidden and revealed in time–in every occurrence and rhythm. Time is given to us to discover we are not God. When we are grateful for each moment, those moments that fill us with joy and those moments that we endure patiently, we find God’s steadfast love and mercy, His beauty, goodness and presence. Better is one day or one moment in the presence of God than a thousand days or moments of absent and fragmented efficiency. May God rescue us from days of evil, days spent forgetful of time as a gift. How lovely it is to be God’s guest!

“From one person He made every nation. That they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should lie. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. for in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26-28)

Time is not ours, but it is ours to enliven through God’s grace, the sharing of His Spirit with us. I am not suggesting that we plan nothing for our days. We do best with a rule of life – the rhythms given to us in time teach us that. But our plans should be held lightly so that we can be surprised by the abundant life God is always sharing with us and so that we learn to see interruptions as gifts of presence. Our plans should be spacious so that there are openings of silence, times when we can hear the present moment, look at the real with a long and loving gaze, and beauty, goodness and truth can take deep root in us. Our plans should be sketches in pencil that we draw and erase in communion with others. Our plans should reveal what is most important because the plans we make become a liturgy and teach us and others what cannot be taught. Our plans should deliberately help us remember God, remember we are not God. “Only hour by hour gratitude can overcome all temptations to resentment.” Our plans should be filled with self-offering and love because “Love makes space into paradise, and brings the timeless and eternal into time.” (Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron)

This day, this September will not come again. Thank God for it. Begin it with prayer, continue with hope, end with thanksgiving.

Deignan, K. (ed.). (2003). Thomas Merton: when the trees say nothing. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.
Rohr, R. (2011). Breathing under water. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Vasiljevic, Bishop Maxim (2014). Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron: The thunderbolt of ever-living fire. Alhambra, CA: Sebastian Press.

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