What to do in a fiery furnace

Fiery furnaces seem to abound in education – those circumstances beyond our control, places we get thrown into whether we like it or not, either perceived or real threats we experience if we aren’t in agreement with the current thinking, system or action. And then, just when one fiery furnace is cooled, another seems to take its place – out of the fiery furnace of job action, into the fiery furnace of 30 children with so many needs, curriculum that demands coverage and measurement, and so many dysfunctional relationships. Most intense of all is the fiery furnace beyond our circumstances, the furnace of our inner burning thoughts and ego that are best at leading us where we don’t really want to go – down paths of anger, frustration with ourselves and others, doubt, impatience, righteous indignation, self-satisfying demands, ingratitude… We are always being coerced into worshiping some kind of false idol and those who coerce seem all-powerful. We are taunted by the words of Nebuchadnezzar, “Then what God is there who will deliver you from my hands?” And all seems fearful and hopeless.

What to do?

The three young men say there is no need to answer for there is a God in the heavens, whom they serve and He is able to save them. They don’t take things into their own hands, they don’t even tell God what to do. Their silence speaks volumes.

The three young men treasure their faith, putting their hearts into nothing except God, walking in his commandments, seeking His face continuously, turning towards Him and away from the things that are lifeless. Their faith is precious, practiced, transformative; and, therefore, a source of strength in weakness. They are steadfast.

The three young men pray with their eyes open, solving their riddle (in the midst of the flame) with psalmody, ‘singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.’ (Ps. 49)

The three young men overcome all temptation to resentment with gratitude and worship. Their hymn in the midst of the furnace is remarkable, exhorting every created thing in heaven and on earth to bless the Lord, to see all things and all circumstances as communion with God.

The three young men are the blessed meek, handing over their bodies to be burned. They are like innocent Susanna who said it was better to fall into the hands of evil ones than to sin against God, but who still looked to the heavens because her ‘heart trusted in the Lord’.

And then…the three young men are not destroyed! They find life, they inherit the earth. A theophany occurs! God incarnate is with them! The Angel of the Lord makes the furnace “as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it.” And then others see that the Angel of the Lord is walking with them and realize that no other God can save in this way – sharing His abundant life in the midst of a fiery furnace, participating in their suffering and transforming it, removing even the smell of the fire on their clothes and replacing it with the fragrance of God.

When we wonder what to do in the midst of a fiery furnace, may we be like the three young men. May we see God walking with us and saving us the way no other God can – sharing His life of peace and righteousness in the midst of all of our fiery furnaces. And then…may others experience the healing presence and fragrance of God through us.

Walls coming down

The following is a reflection from one of our 2012 Professional Year Graduates, Anthea Coxon.  I am grateful that she shared this reflection with me and is willing to have me share it here.  I so appreciated her persistence in building relationships with her students, being willing to pay attention to them in ways that assumed love for them as unique persons and faith in their inherent value.  This reflection also represents a reverent quality of spirit in Anthea’s teaching, as well as, a testimony to the miracle that can happen when we pray for our students in a self-emptying way.

I was once told that anything worthwhile is never easy, and that has certainly been true of this year. This year has consisted of countless late nights, daily early mornings, vacations spent planning, and weekends consumed with marking. Yet it is not the difficult things that have define the year, but rather it is the moments spent speaking with a student who is struggling, a flash of understanding about a difficult concept, the times of laughter as a class, and the sharing of successes that really stand out in my mind.

I love people. They are what make me get up in the morning. I love being able to build relationships, share joys and sorrows, and be a part of people’s day-to-day lives. It is this love of people and relationship that brought me to teaching in the first place, and I have certainly seen that teaching is all about relationship.

When I first started teaching I was tired, disappointed, and frustrated in trying to build relationships with students. Students showed up at class, did the bare minimum, and left without me knowing anything about their true selves. I tried to engage, tried to ask good questions, but it seemed as though there were walls between us. I was the teacher, they were the students, I was there to do a job and I wasn’t there to have a relationship with them. I tried to figure it out; did they not want relationship with teachers? Did they not expect to have relationship with teachers? Was I doing something wrong?

Yet every day I decided to choose to love my students, even if I felt as though they were unreceptive. I knew so many of them were so hurting, yet I felt as though I was powerless to do anything about it. So every day I began by praying “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.” And slowly, very slowly, walls began to come down. A young girl shared with me struggles at home; a young boy told me about the recent death of his mother; another young man, after trying unsuccessfully to irritate me asked “why don’t you get mad at us?”; and the list goes on. It was those moments that made it all worth it. I learned that relationships take time, energy and effort. They take patience, persistence, and practical acts of care. I need to see my students as more than just students who need to learn something in my classroom; but as humans, with hopes, dreams, joys and pains. But most of all, we are built for relationship. We need one another.

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