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.







The violence of activism, overwork and speed

We are used to thinking of our world as a violent place and used to doing what we can to make it less violent. But there is a kind of pervasive violence that we either don’t notice or feel hopeless about – a violence that Thomas Merton (1966) says is particularly lethal. He calls it the “violence of activism and overwork“, the “rush and pressure of modern life“, “allowing oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything.” It is a violence that we often don’t notice unless we take a step away from our regular routine, something many of my K-12 colleagues are doing as they are enjoying spring break. This posting is dedicated to them and to all others who find themselves easily succumbing.

To easily succumb means that we aren’t fighting very hard to resist this violence. There are probably a lot of reasons for this – our protestant work ethic culture, our focus on visible results, our understanding of identity as wrapped up in what we do rather than who we are…. We might even believe that we are sacrificing ourselves for the good of others. We all have a “messiah complex” to a certain degree. What we often don’t realize is that the violence of this activism, overwork and speed isn’t just a violence that we suffer – our work suffers and the people around us suffer. We are not sacrificing ourselves at the altar of progress and work for anything that is truly life giving. Merton says that “the frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” (p. 73) We may be successful at rearranging our little worlds, but we won’t be successful at actually changing our world. Someone once said that only people of Spirit actually change the world – people who have the one thing necessary, people who take the time to clothe all that they do with reverence, gentleness, patience and care, people who remember that only God knows what will prosper (Eccl 11:6), that only the things God does shall be forever (Eccl 2:14), people who begin each day remembering God and letting His brightness shine upon the works of our hands (Ps. 89), people who ask God to help them refuse to succumb to the pervasive violence of our time.

This violence seems particularly fierce in the helping professions. We know we are succumbing when we realize we aren’t even seeing the people in front of us anymore, when the people around us become a means to an end we perceive as more important than being fully present to them. St. Porphyrios tells a story about a pediatrician who was supervising an intern. The pediatrician was concerned about the way the intern was interacting with patients and admonishes him for being too busy to do the spiritual work necessary to truly help. “Listen to what I have to say to you. Every time you examine a child you should offer a fervent prayer with love. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant’…God has sent a precious little soul into your hands…place your hand on their heads…Do all these things spiritually and in secret…The routine is getting to you and you are forgetting.” St. Porphyrios also encouraged educators to pray all the way to school and to enter every school as if it were a church.

To remember the precious souls given into our hands, to remember our need for God’s help, to remember that our work is impacting souls – this is good advice. The violence of activism, overwork and speed can’t happen when we are aware of the sacredness of each moment, when we “take off our shoes” and turn away from the well-worn and dusty path to see the life we normally ignore.

We all let the routine get to us. We all suffer as a result. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all breathed a lot more, if communion, beauty, and joy were more important than speed, busyness, measurable change and progress. I think we wouldn’t be living our lives as if we were “thrown stones” as one wise person said about us busy ones. And our students? “Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Merton, T. (1966). Conjectures of a guilty bystander. Doubleday.

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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