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.







Daily acts of faith

I have been reading an inspiring book called, The Reed of God, by Carryl Houselander (2006).  I’ve just discovered her spiritual writings and I’ve been so encouraged by her contemplative and reverent approach to scripture and the Christian tradition.  She was both a writer and a carpenter – interesting pursuits for a single woman who lived in Britain during both World Wars.  Her writing often deals with issues of suffering and loss, and reveals an authentic personal struggle to have a heart that is firmly established in God and His church.  I hesitate to try to summarize any of her writing because it is difficult to remove even one word – each word is chosen so carefully and draws you more deeply into her meditations.  But I’m going to try in this post, with multiple direct quotes (in italics), because I am so intrigued with one aspect of this latest book – something she calls, ‘daily acts of faith.’  I am often in need of strengthened faith and I am hoping that practising these acts will help me and may also help my readers.  I also see these acts of faith as translating easily into the classroom and establishing a sacred space for relationships to flourish.

Houselander describes an ‘act of faith’ in the following way, “…believing something because God has told us that it is so…Faith is something immeasurably more than a sixth sense, more than intuition, more than feeling or knowledge.”  Mary is our example here through her hearing from God that Christ was being formed in her and her acceptance (fiat) of this truth.  Houselander goes on to say that Mary’s daily act of faith, believing that Christ was within her, was part of the nurturing of Christ’s growth within her.  She encourages us to perform the same daily act faith, to believe that Christ is in us – to say, “My God, I believe that you are within me.”  This is an act of faith because,  “It is quite incredible to think that God is really present in me.”   This first act of faith brings us peace, “…it silences the noise of distraction, the loud busyness of fear.  It is the stilling of waters.  It gathers our thoughts into a circle like a crown of flowers; it crowns us with peace…Christ our Lord is within us; there is no room for any other awareness; everything that we see and touch and taste and think must be related to this one fact…It not only enables us to believe in the miracles which throng our lives, but it makes our charity a thousand times more sensitiveAwareness of the presence of Christ in us draws us off from every distracting and destructive preoccupation, such as self-pity, anxiety, irritability with other people, the morbidity which leads us to dwell more upon our own sinfulness than up the beauty of God….In the wonder of the awareness we are able to accept the humiliation of being ourselves.”  It is ok to be me when Christ has entered even me.  

There is also a ‘second daily act of faith’believing that Christ is in others.  “Just as we cannot depend upon feelings to know that Christ is in ourselves, we cannot depend upon appearances to know that He is in others…”  She compares the faith we need to have that Christ is in others to the faith that we have that Christ is present in the Eucharist.  Those who have a sacramental understanding the Eucharist and come to the cup regularly, have no difficulty believing that Christ is present there – our practice has taught us this.  We can have that same reverent orientation to all persons, and we have exactly the same reason for believing in both: the word of Christ.  “Both are miracles of love which, like God’s peace, pass understanding.” Because faith isn’t about rational certainty or intuition or feelings, we are “… like blind people learning, through the touch of caressing fingers, the features of the face that we cannot see.  We discover the Face that we seek in every human face; and just because we must seek with a more sensitive medium than sight, we are not put off by the visible things:  the mutilation, bruises, sweat, dirt, and tears.  Beyond all this we discern the invisible beauty of the Man abiding in mankind...”

There is a caution given in this second daily act of faith.  There is a particular spirit that true faith provides as we seek Christ in others.  “Faith simplifies the search.  We do not have to discover in which of several people Christ is to be found:  we must look for Him in them all.  And not in an experimental spirit, to discover whether He is in them or not, but with the absolute certainty that He is...If we look for Christ only in the saints, we shall miss Him.  If we look for Him only in those people who seem to have the sort of character we personally consider to be Christian, that which we call our ‘ideal,’ we shall miss the whole meaning of His abiding in us.  If we look for Him in ourselves, in what we imagine to be the good in us, we shall being in presumption and end in despair…Our search through faith and courage and love is a great going out into darkness, a reaching out to others in darkness, believing that Christ is there in each one; but not in the way we expect, not in the way that we think He should be, not in the way that we already understand, but in the way that He chooses to be, Who is Himself the Way.”  If we seek with faith, we shall find.  How wonderful to find Christ each day in each person – with charity a thousand times more sensitive!”

Two daily acts of faith – believing Christ is within you, helping Him to be formed in you, and believing Christ is in others and then naturally responding to that image in ways that recognize the suffering of Christ being borne in each person.  The seeing of Christ cannot help but motivate daily acts of kindness and compassion and forgiveness.  And then the love you give generates even more life in you because these daily acts of faith nourish one another.  We respond to Christ in others in the same way that St. John the Baptist responded to Christ in Mary.  It is an inner movement (and then outer).  It is a movement that brings us the same joy it brought Elizabeth and Mary….”a sudden rush of sweetness of life within us.”

Christ is in us, He is in every colleague, every students, every friend, every family member, every person.  We need acts of faith to find Him where we least expect Him, to see beyond appearances and behaviour and expectations, to see Him in the tears and mutilation and suffering, to see Him even in ourselves.  He is hidden, but never absent.  The eyes of our heart just need healing.  I think daily acts of faith can help us heal.  I also think it is interesting that she didn’t suggest that a daily act of faith would be to read more scripture or pray more or become more knowledgeable about doctrine.  I’m sure she wouldn’t suggest that the latter are unimportant or unhelpful, but she seems to be reorienting us – keeping us face to face with each other and Christ, helping us know Christ, helping us experience His presence.  What could encourage our faith more?

A miracle of all miracles

The email quoted in the last post reminded me of this quote (heard once in a sermon and attributed to someone I can’t remember).

The miracle of all miracles is the ability to transform through love the smallest seemingly insignificant detail of the routine drudgery of every day existence into paradise.  The ability to become ourselves at each moment a fresh paradise to those around us.

For those of you at the end of a long day of teaching, you may, like me, feel as far from paradise as it is possible to feel.   Yet, I’m sure, by God’s grace and Spirit in you, you offered a smile, a gesture of care, or found a way to help a learner who was struggling.  Maybe you even did what gives all teachers the most joy –  made something routine and boring, beautiful or interesting and worth learning. It’s lovely to think that in all of your interactions throughout the day you may have been offering a “fresh paradise” to your students.  It’s also probably good not to think about that too much because if you try too hard to offer paradise, the paradise you offer may have too much of you in it.  Offer yourself as freely and lovingly as you can.  Let God take care of the paradise.


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