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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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.

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.

Horizons and hope

I recently read that there is a very real biological reaction to looking towards the horizon. “Lifting our eyes to the hills” has an actual impact on the endomorphic system which is connected to ways we respond to pain and stress. It seems that we are biologically wired to benefit from a bigger perspective, to focus on more than what is going on in front of us or close around us.

I found this fact so interesting because I have definitely experienced this physical reaction myself and I think it also reflects a spiritual reality so often encouraged by the Psalmist. We are the ones God continually rescues out of the “pit and darkness” of our inability to lift our eyes, to see beyond ourselves and our circumstances. Lifting our eyes reminds us that we are little persons against a great landscape of God’s love and presence. Lifting our eyes renews our hope, helps us breathe, reconnects us to the light that can help us see our situations more clearly and hopefully. Our troubles are not as great as the enemy makes them out to us to be. (St. Anatoly)

I think there are many ways to think about horizons in education, many places we can lift our eyes. There is the horizon of all that is good, beautiful and true in education – the timeless aspects of our practice. I was reminded of this horizon during our graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. Listening to beginning and experienced educators talk about why and how education makes a difference in the lives of others was encouraging and inspiring. These ideals, if not imposed harshly or rigidly, can keep inviting us further up and further in with new energy. They remind us of what could be and sometimes is, in the midst of all that is not. Teacher education programs deliberately teach ideals because they are a vision/horizon that continually beckons.

There is also the horizon of the present moment, when we find the strength to lift our eyes up and out. There is always some little good to do until the rest is revealed. There is always a more gentle or kind way to be with our students and our colleagues. There is always, even in the darkest, saddest moments, evidence of love and some small beauty or joy to celebrate. Being present to the moment is impossible when we are focused on our own needs, locked in our minds in frustration, anxiety, helplessness or sorrow. We may not know exactly what we are doing every day as educators, but moments open wide in front of us and lead us if we are attentive and willing. The kingdom of heaven is found in every microcosm – it isn’t far from us. A turning of our eyes is often all that is required.

Another horizon is the horizon of discipline, or routine or structure. In a sense these observances function like a rhythm, helping us be part of the music even if we can’t sing. Students need these rhythms as much as we do. Peaceful moments become possible against a horizon of discipline. Spiritual disciplines and the liturgical cycle function in the same way, they keep us connected, keep us turning, keep us lifting up our eyes.

The horizon of presence is experienced when we lift our eyes to our students and our colleagues and to the One who sees us and hears us. This lifting is also a lifting of our hearts in love and gratitude. We turn our eyes to the Other and all others because we know where our help comes from. We are reminded that we are not independent, that we need one another and the mercy of God. Gratefulness is always a going up, never a going down.

Each glimpse of a horizon is a gift. Whenever we are experiencing a lack of hope, tightness in our chests, difficulty breathing, when we need rescuing from the pit, may God give us a glimpse of a horizon, renewing our strength and filling our hearts with gladness, setting our feet in a wide place.

The Foundational Power of Abiding

“That they might be with him” – Mark 3:14

In the beginning, the story goes, God spoke a cosmos into being, calling it out of chaos, drawing it with His words. Lifting a finger was needless with such omnipotence. Ironically, rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Incarnation made it possible for the divine to experience physical weariness, but Jesus knew how to abide in rest (a loyal, constant, and perseverant residence or frequent resort) as He had been abiding with His Father since the beginning. Out of this consistent residence with Father God, Jesus drew everything He needed in every circumstance.

With empathy at the core of God’s incarnational project, Jesus draws others into close relationship with him and teaches them all they are willing to hear. One of His most central teachings is abiding. Over and over again, Jesus tells the importance of abiding and models it with His lifestyle.

Mark 3:13-19 narrates the calling of Jesus’ twelve apostles, stating that He wanted them, that He called them, and that He appointed them. Their appointment? First, to be with Him. The original commission of the twelve disciples, like the original commission of Israel, like the original commission of humankind, was to be with God.

Second, Jesus gives all His disciples authority – supernatural power. Power to teach, to heal sickness, and to drive out evil spirits; they receive the power to restore. Much like new teachers, they must be eager to get out into the systems of the world and start putting things right. Indeed, the church has been involved in works of justice from its inception. Yet, rather than turning them loose, notice that Jesus immediately brings them back to their first appointment – to be with him, by going with them into a house. Once again, he underscores a foundation of abiding for all outflow of works.

With God dwelling in me, I am powerful. I have authority over entities in the physical and spiritual realms. Make no mistake about it: unseen power is at work. So, the pertinent question is: what kind of power will I exercise? It depends whether I am becoming like God. If I abide in God, I will become like him (John 15). Without staying close to God, I cannot become like him and will consequently inflict damage as His supposed representative.

Thus, my first mission is to abide. The success of every subsequent mission utterly depends on it.

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