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.







One should not offer what one has, but what one is

The above title is a phrase from a book called, ‘The sacrament of love’, by Paul Evdokimov (1985, p. 62).  Paul Evdokimov is one of my favourite lay theologians.  He was a Russian immigrant to Paris after the revolution, a Professor of Moral theology at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and the author of several other books that are well worth reading.  I often turn to his writings when I want to be reminded about what it means to be a Christian human being, who we become when we are oriented towards Christ and gradually learn to participate in the life of God, and what we/can we offer our world, so broken and in need of healing?

Today, the words of this title were a timely reminder.  In fact, the words could easily be rephrased to say, “One cannot offer what one has, but only what one is.”  Parker Palmer said the same thing – that the “who of teaching” is the most important question educators should ask and continue to ask.  All acts of teaching are mediated through a person and offered to persons.  This mediation imparts a quality of spirit.  It is not possible to be disengaged in the act of teaching, because even when we are feeling disengaged ourselves,  our disengagement is an engagement.  Who we are being impacts our students and the content we teach.  Our being is revealed in the faces we turn towards our students.  St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Humanity is composed of men with the face of angels and of men wearing the mask of the beast.”  We cannot separate what we have to offer from who we are.

It is good to think about the face you offer your students, your colleagues, your family.  You realize how important faces are when you say good-bye to a loved one straining  for a last glimpse as they walk through security at the airport, or when you sit for long minutes holding the gaze of a newborn child, or when a stranger smiles at you for no particular reason, or when you see the eyes of a beloved parent close for the last time.  You realize that all that matters to you is the ability to see their faces and to know they are seeing you.  Somehow you are saved by that one look and experience great loss when the gaze is absent.  I remember my son saying to me once after he knew that he had done something hurtful, “Mom, please, just look at me.”  He knew that somehow all would be restored if I would look at him with love, see him into being with love.

What is the face of an angel?  Angels are unceasing prayer, they are rejoicing and gladness, they are ‘criers of splendor’ as St. Gregory Nazianzus said.  They exist within a full awareness of eschatological fullness.  They are in communion.  They don’t need reasons to be good or loving, they create their own reasons – their adoration for God and all others.

It is Monday morning, it is dark, it is raining, I am already tired and a little overwhelmed by the week that lies ahead.   I can only offer what I am.  Lord, have mercy.

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