Enter into your rest

For my colleagues just finishing the school year, it is that joyous (even if overshadowed by job-action) time of year. There is actually nothing better than the very beginning of a summer that stretches out in front of you filled with longed for and well-deserved rest, time to breathe, to be, to reconnect with your friends and family.

Rest is absolutely necessary, even for God, even for Christ. And there are many kinds of rest, but all require an intentional entering in or a putting down, or a letting go. I wish all kinds of sanctifying and healing rest for you.

When I think about rest, I am reminded of two yoga poses – the warrior pose and the child pose. The warrior pose has every limb extended and pointed, and every muscle tightened – it a pose that is alert, in control, ready to attack and defend. It is the antithesis of rest. The child pose is the epitome of rest. The body is folded and prostrated. The head is lowered, defenseless, arms are outstretched and every muscle is softened. It is a welcome relief, even if only entered into for a moment. Humility, offering, and gratitude are present in this pose.

We experience both poses metaphorically in our lives and both are necessary, but I think we sometimes misunderstand them and misuse them (or at least I do). We tend to use the warrior pose in our interactions with others and the child pose towards our false selves – the self-indulgent prideful self. Our work lives are often experienced as a battle, a place where we have to prove ourselves, be alert, be strategic, be organized and efficient, be powerful. Our personal lives often lack discipline and we enter into a rest that isn’t really rest, it is usually merely escape and can’t possibly be sanctifying and healing.

I think the opposite is true. The warrior pose is really for battles with our ego and passions, for guarding our hearts with alertness, and the child pose is best used in our interactions with God and all others. I wonder what would change in our work lives if we entered into the rest of being a child while at work, if we let go of the need to be “over and against” all others, to fix and to figure out and to prove? What would our personal lives look if we took this time of summer rest to attend to our inner lives and war against the desire to prostrate before ourselves and sustain our selfishness and pride. If used this way the warrior pose may actually bring us the rest of inner peace at all times, and the child pose may actually bring us the strength made perfect weakness – the strength needed to heal a broken world.

Enter into your rest. If not yet ready for the warrior pose, the child pose towards God and others is a perfect way to begin.

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The hope of glory

I’ve written previously about the dangers of being an idealist, but today I want to focus on a related illness – that of being a perfectionist.  I write as someone who is still recovering from this illness and as someone who has great concern for the way this illness is developed (often unintentionally) and manifested in educational settings.  My hope is that these words will somehow break through the perception that perfectionism is an any way good for educators or for students.  I have heard too many beginning teachers say, “I’m a perfectionist“, with the assumption that this is good news to me, that I somehow hope that they are perfectionists.   I don’t.   Instead, I want to do all I can to interrupt this discourse because these words can reveal a hope that outer light/glory will conceal inner darkness and can become a road that is eventually very damaging.

My experience as a perfectionist has taught me the following:

Perfectionists come to believe in their own capabilities.  They are so strong in themselves, they have no need of God.  If they are Christians, they are Christian atheists.

Perfectionists are preoccupied with their own glory and crave recognition for that glory.  Their greed for glory is never satiated.

Perfectionists think about their own accomplishments – a lot!  They dwell/live in their accomplishments.

Perfectionists hate hearing about any glory given to another (although they would never admit this).

Perfectionists are irritated by imperfection and those less perfect than them.  That irritation can easily explode into anger.

Perfectionists are usually not content or grateful or joyful or peaceful or gentle…They don’t have the fruit of the spirit because they haven’t actually recognized their need for the Holy Spirit.  They may be good at pretending these things in order to preserve an image they have of themselves, but their mask keeps slipping.

Perfectionists see only what is imperfect in others or in circumstances.  They obsess about fixing things.  Their lives are full of ‘picture frames that need straightening‘.

Perfectionists are frustrated with any ambiguity or complexity that prevents them from getting the right answer quickly and then getting recognition for having gotten the right answer quickly.  They want to know what and how more than what if or why.

Perfectionists use others to make themselves look more perfect.  They are the opposite of relational and personal human beings.  They are atomistic, fragmented, self-centered individuals.

Perfectionists crumble when they are shaken by circumstances beyond their control.  They have no inner strength, no unity between their inner and outer lives, no way of reaching beyond themselves.  They are often deeply sad.

Perfectionists don’t teach, they impose, control and manipulate and then produce mini-perfectionists.  We always offer who we are.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we are confused about the aims of education.  We confuse learning to live well with God and all others, with correctness and rewards.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we start to view them as ‘pictures needing straightening‘.

We teach people to be perfectionists when education becomes more about individual hoop jumping and rule following than a shared, joyful and challenging journey.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we tell them that their only hope of glory is to win a competition, to be the best.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we tell them salvation is an event rather than a journey.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we praise them with too many words that they come to understand as defining them – words that eventually enslave them with the pressure to continue to be what others think they are.

We teach people to be perfectionists when we are cruel and merciless, rather than gentle and patient.

We teach people to be perfectionists by immersing them in a culture that focuses on image and presentation of image.  Facebook was made for perfectionists.

Perfectionism can become a serious illness, one that is easily caught and taught, but also one that can be healed – with time and help.  Healing usually requires significant shaking – especially if you’ve been a perfectionist for a long time, and your mask has hardened.  It requires turning away from yourself and towards others.  It requires learning to let go of….well…almost everything.  It requires coming to the end of yourself (and you will) and seeing the abyss in front of you, within you.  It requires a ‘cat’ that will turn your most beautiful piece of ‘furniture’ into its scratching post. It requires recognition of the quality of spirit that is infecting all of the ‘good‘ you do.  It requires seeing how little true life you have to offer others.  It requires gratefulness for your contingency, for your complete reliance on God and others for any good that is given to you to do.  It requires teaching yourself to forget any good you do immediately after you do it.   It requires understanding that the only hope of glory you have is Christ in you, transforming you, helping you become like Him, helping you become human.

To be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect is a good thing to want.  It is not wrong to have a telos, it is wrong to have an idol.  Perfectionists eventually turn themselves into idols.  Our Father is perfect in love, perfect in goodness, perfect in mercy, perfect in peace.  We are judged by His absolute strength, but saved by His willingness to share His perfect life with us.  God is the one who perfects ( 1 Peter 5:10).  To be perfect like our Father, is simply an invitation to keep ourselves in the love of God, before His face, looking for His mercy (Jude, v. 20).

Outstretched hands

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand…Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  (Matt. 12: 9-14)

Fr. Lev Gillet, in his book called, “In thy presence”, writes about the everyday gestures of Christ and their possible meaning for those seeking to become Christ-like – His getting up, His ability to read, His need to wash, eat and drink, His need to leave His home to do His work in the streets and in the fields, His need for rest.  Fr. Lev’s meditation does not go to the place where we often go when we think about imitating or being like Christ, believing that we could imagine what Christ would do if we were Him.  You know, that old WWJD question.  He sees this as a fruitless question, as a question that looks for a difference between us and Christ by focusing on His human abilities rather than examining the way His fully divine nature interacts with His fully human abilities.  “What Would Jesus Do” is a question that cannot possibly be answered outside of our imaginations – a highly unreliable source of truth.  It is a question that seeks a black and white or right and wrong answer, leaving us trapped in our minds going through a discursive process of thinking rather than staying present and embodied in the moment, and in the hope of God’s presence with us.  It also leaves us frozen in paralysis because no one has time to question and think through every gesture or every action.  This is especially true in a classroom setting that demands a quick flow of response to many needs and situations.

Instead, Fr. Lev suggests an alternative question as one that is much more fruitful and inspirational.  Rather than imagining what Christ would do, ask yourself in what spirit he would ALWAYS be performing the gestures that you are actually making or that you will need to make.  In other words, all of our actions have the potential to bring us into union with Christ if we are conscious of how they can and should be qualified by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, long-suffering and self-control.  Out of the heart, the mouth speaks and the hands act.

It is inspiring to think about the many ways Christ used his ‘outstretched hands’.  We are sometimes so focused on His words as recorded in the gospels, that we forget every aspect of His body was in union with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and vital to sharing the good news.  He immediately stretched forth His hand to Peter in the storm, He took the daughter of Jairus by the hand and raised her up, He took a blind man by the hand and touched his eyes, He healed a deaf man by placing his hands into his ears and touching his tongue, He blessed his disciples with his hands, he held young children in his arms.

I don’t get the impression that Christ planned these events or spent a great deal of time thinking or making agonizing decisions about what to do, but His hands were always ready to respond in a way that brought healing, strength, deliverance, peace.  He was so in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit that His hands couldn’t help but be miraculous, couldn’t help sharing eternal life with all He encountered in ways that couldn’t possibly be misunderstood.  Even though His gestures were often enhanced with words, they didn’t need words to communicate truth.  In fact, I think that often the words were more for the observers and mockers than for the ones being healed or saved.  What could words add to the true gift of life, sight, sound?  How could those who were healed or delivered not know that Christ was the Way, the Truth and the Life?

When I think about how important it is to qualify my teaching gestures with the Holy Spirit, I become aware of how often my hands act in unqualified or indifferent or irreverent ways.  My hands are often out of control and graceless even when outstretched, because I forget to stretch my hands out to Christ first.  When my outstretched hands are not conditioned or made whole by the Holy Spirit, I am actually preventing Christ from reaching out to the person I am gesturing towards, my hands become useless to God, withered.  And the opposite is also true.  Stretching out my hands to God is also lifting up my heart for healing.  This is the stance of true prayer – hands lifted up to God bringing our whole bodies in submission to Him.   As God heals my heart, my withered hands become healed.  The gestures of my ‘outstretched hands’ can then share the life of Christ.

Kimberly Franklin

A classroom is a place for life

This weekend I had the privilege of seeing the film Monsieur Lazhar. There is so much to be said about this film, but what has remained with me for the past few days is Monsieur Lazhar’s clear assertion that a classroom or school is a place of “friendship, work, courtesy and life, a place to offer life”.  He says these words to his students on the day he is forced to leave them and in response to the actions of other adults in the school who have “infected the school with their personal despair”.   Monsieur Lazhar, himself, is dealing with significant personal tragedy, as well as, the challenge of being a political refugee in an unfamiliar culture.  However, he shows reverence for the needs of his students and recognizes that he is there for them, that their healing is more important than his.   Monsieur Lazhar is not a perfect teacher, but what comes through to the students are actions and words qualified by a spirit of love, attentiveness, and care.  There is something self-emptying about the role of the teacher that he embraces and a recognition that there is something very dangerous about becoming needy as a teacher.  What was especially remarkable was that Monsieur Lazhar did not fall into the trap of becoming a divided person, who leaves part of himself “at the door” of the classroom in order to fulfill the expected role of teacher.  It was clear that his personal experiences stayed with him, but he didn’t allow those experiences to “infect”. Instead he used his own suffering to understand the suffering of his students, and to pay attention to them in a way that allowed wisdom to arise.  He found life in his suffering and offered that life to his students.

We can’t help carrying ourselves into the classroom.  We offer ourselves as whole persons.  This is our uniqueness and our freedom.  No one can offer me to my students except me, but how or in what manner of spirit I offer myself to my students is my free choice.  I will either “infect” or “inoculate” (and inevitably I will do both because I am not yet healed).  Therefore, I must also pay attention to my heart, and keep examining the use of my freedom, as well as, the manner qualifying my gestures.  Is my practice full of my own agenda, my own needs?  Or am I, at times, able to come to my students with a heart that is empty enough to make room for them and for all of the wisdom that will arise when two or three are gathered in the name of love?

Kimberly Franklin

My eyes need healing

In the 8th chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark, the story of Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida is recorded.  A unique aspect of this story is that the man did not receive an immediate healing.  After the initial spit and touch of Christ’s hands he could only see “men like trees walking“, and then Christ touched his eyes again and he could see clearly.  This story parallels the two stage process of a blind man’s healing recorded in the Gospel of St. MatthewIn this story the man is first touched by Christ and then told to go wash in a pool.  These two stories give me great comfort because I know that my eyes still need healing, that I need frequent touches from Christ and opportunities to wash away the clay of the daily dust that seems to accumulate as a busy educator, wife, mother, and friend.  My eyes don’t see Christ in every student and colleague yet.  My eyes don’t perceive the glimmers of grace in all that comes to me each day.  My eyes are blind to God’s mercy in events that are overwhelming in their difficulty.  My eyes have trouble focusing on the positive.  My eyes are easily distracted by things that are not eternal. My eyes are sometimes closed to beauty, truth and goodness.

I need multiple touches and washings because my eyes are the lamp of my body.  When my eyes are good, my whole body also is full of light.  But when my eyes are bad, my whole body is full of darkness.  (Luke 11:34)  My eyes can only see as well as my heart sees and my heart is in need of great healing.  The Prophet Isaiah also connected our senses with our hearts, saying that all must work together for full perception – we must see with our eyes, hear with our ears and understand with our hearts.

Christ touches my eyes through prayer, Christ washes my eyes with tears of repentance.  I am grateful for His patience and mercy.  Today I might see “men like trees walking”. 

Kimberly Franklin

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