Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First cup—"Do no harm"

What kind of final is appropriate for a course that has been more spiritual journey than about spiritual journey? That’s the challenge.

I love to teach; I think everyone who knows me pretty much gets that. I walk into the classroom with equal parts eager anticipation and dread. Eager anticipation—because something wonderful is likely going to happen, largely, I think, because students bring their stuff, meet great texts and questions and, incidentally, teacher, and something happens. Often unpredictable and wonderful. Dread—well, because these students are real folks, loaded down with stuff, and sometimes I’m wearing these big lumber jack boots when I should be wearing ballet slippers, and there I am galumphing all over the place. Like so many people-serving vocations, the prime directive is “Do no harm.” Sometimes there I am galumphing! Thank God, God often shows up to provide the choreography.

So, what kind of final? The course is Rel 320—spirituality, character, and service. Like Hum 310—Faith, Living, and Learning—it is designed to facilitate remembering and reflecting; it’s a discernment course. We read widely. We pay attention. We review our lives. We remember God. We wonder about our neighbor. We reflect on our vocation.

I’ve never really liked “finals”; the idea of final is so presumptuous. But I do place high value on remembering and reflecting. So, a final for a course that is designed to help student and teacher remember and reflect should provide one more opportunity to remember and reflect.

We left the classroom at WPC’s 205 campus—an appropriate move since so much of what we do is focused on neighbor and neighborhood. We went to Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church—a wonderfully Northwest church on SE Belmont just west of 60th. We started in the sanctuary; it was a cold but well-lighted space. There I talked about journey and the importance of stopping on journeys to reconnoiter and thinking about where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. Spiritual journey, after all, is pilgrimage and pilgrimage requires reconnoitering and reflecting.

I introduced them to the labyrinth, another kind of journey; then, I gave them their “final,” asked them to reflect on the questions before they entered the labyrinth; when that journey was complete, they were to find a comfortable place in the church and “take their final.” When done, find me in TaborSpace (a sacred coffee space in the church), hand me their final—and they are “done.” So, we separated with handshakes and hugs and brief conversations—I think with a sense that something pretty nice had happened this semester in this class. I’m pretty sure, at least, that I did no harm.

The final? I asked them to complete the “Examen,” questions we had lived with all semester: What surprised me? What inspired me? What was life giving? What was life taking? What did I learn about God and/or me? Then, I asked, What are you carrying forward with you from your journey—in the short run and the long? Right, I know, not much of a test. No T-F. No multiple choice or fill in the blank or complete the sentence. I guess it might be defined as a “short essay” test. But, nope, not really. Only another moment to think about who I am, where I am, why I am, whose I am, who I am with, and where I am going. Probably the really important questions, anyway, and we spend a life time trying to get it right, right? (That’s part of why I love teaching—I get to keep working at getting it right—“it” being the classroom, relationships, God, and life.

What were their answers? Well, I’m going to share a few, over the next few days. Anonymously, of course; these are their stories, not mine, and I didn’t ask permission to share. But I love my students and they teach me so much—I want to share. Here are a few:

I learned that I need to be promise focused instead of problem focused. I need to remember that I am not alone; [God] is always present and with me.

The fresh discovery of how much I don’t know. It’s a scary thought. Why have I done the things I have in my life? One understanding that I will carry forward as a governing value in my life is the importance of serving others we share this great Earth with.

The idea that I was so afraid of my past that I was so caught up trying to cover it up that I place that in God’s place….

What surprised me? Jesus—he didn’t do all the right things for the right people. He did all the needed things for the wrong people.

The spiritual self needs to be exercised, challenged, strengthened, and rested. I cannot simply lock it away…. Be like water.

I learned that I’m ready to accept God into my life. I also learned that I don’t have to feel or be alone all the time.

Well, enough for now. I’ll likely share a few more of these over the next several days. Remember: “Not all who wander are lost.”

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