Let Me Be One Standing

Travel anywhere on the Internet, and you will come across conversations about opening/closing doors to Syrian refugees. Discussions abound about whether opening doors will bring about an influx of terror, as well as about whether closing doors will negate our sense of social justice and responsibility. These are heavy discussions for difficult times in history. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

Jean Vanier, of L’Arche Daybreak, had this to say about the recent attack on Paris:

“I think this event urges us to follow Jesus humbly, by daring to ask us for small gestures of love and forgiveness. We can begin in our daily lives, being more present to others, so that together we remain standing.”

So then. What do I feel is my calling right now? How can I remain one standing? I think Micah 6:8 sums it up pretty succinctly:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Act Justly: when faces of weary, worn and haggard refugees stream across my Facebook feed, I am reminded again and again that these are people. They have needs and desires. They require air to breathe, the same as do I. They have families and loved ones. They have felt love- feel love. Have been loved. Have known love. In justice, I must show love as well, offering what I have. Even though what I have might be small. It might be as small as a prayer. It might be even as faint as a fleeting thought or as fragile as the whisper of an image striking my mind in quiet, speaking to my soul. But to do justice, I must seek for the best for all human beings across this globe.

Acting justly starts small. If I cannot act justly to those I know and care for, how can I act justly for others in far-flung regions? It starts here. It starts now. It starts with me.

Love Mercy: I must cleave to compassion, strive to be kind, urgently aim toward benevolence. If I have, I must give. If I can share, I must allocate. If I can offer, so I must do. In considering others better than myself, I am showing that I love mercy. In placing others needs above my own, I am showing that I love mercy. In offering my life for the betterment of another life, I am showing mercy.

Our lives are not our own. Do we not believe that we have a Father that protects us? Is He not bigger than terror? Are we not held in the hollow of His hand? Whom shall I fear?

Chris Tomlin has so beautifully written the following words:

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?
You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield, Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

Walk Humbly: when we refrain from extending ourselves, there can be issues of pride involved. But so can they become intertwined in our motives when we give. We must continuously contend for humility in all aspects of our life. If we have been chastened, accept and move forward. If we have been convicted, act on our convictions. If we feel strongly, question the motive that has brought about the feeling. If we do not feel strongly, we can then ask ourselves: why not? In humility, we are made more in His image. We are more of what we could be. More of what we should be.

I ask each of us—myself included—when considering what our role is in the unfolding story of world history (whether that be a story told close to home or farther abroad: what would Jesus do?

Let it be what I would do too.

Advertisements

Wonderings

I wonder—what the world would be like if we were only able to see the best in the people around us. If we could just see through to the good that lies within.

Wonder what it would be like if we were truly able to forgive. Truly able to let go. Able to release and then move on.

I would love to understand what it means to really love someone— love done flawlessly. Perfectly and whole.

I wonder— what it feels like to live life free of resentment. Free of offense and insult.

Wonder what it would be like to have no enemies, no rivals, opponents or adversaries.

What would my life be like if I was able to deeply understand other people and their story? Able to know why they are the way they are, know what makes them tick. Would it make me a more caring, compassionate person?

I wonder what it feels like to desire nothing. To feel secure, content and grateful for exactly what I have been given.

I wonder what it feels like to be free from pride, arrogance, anger, rage, disappointment, fear.

I wonder.
******************************************************************************
Recently, I witnessed a breakdown in a relationship that brought pain to those involved. Someone had been emotionally hurt and wounded within a circle of connection due to an offense instigated by another individual, a transgression which occurred many years previous. That one injury, when spoken of, led to confession of many more offenses felt by those involved, all serving to complicate things by bringing extraneous issues and ‘wrongs done’ into the story not connected to the original problem.

Things quickly became very messy, and the ripple effect of this experience was quite troubling. Not only were the individuals directly involved affronted; many others not even connected to the original problem quickly began to take sides. This sadly is so typical of the human experience—in our fragility, we are so easily wounded. So easily are we divided.

Vanier (1998) suggests another way, a path journeyed with consciousness, if you will. He maintains that we have freedom to orientate our lives in one direction or another. He states that “this freedom can lead us into anguish and a fear of becoming, or it can lead us into growth and new life” (Vanier , 1998, p. 3). For me, the new life Vanier speaks of has been a way of seeing differently. A way of understanding differently. Of knowing differently. Of experiencing differently. It is thus a spiritual awareness of who I am in relation to God and the various others that come across my path. For in becoming human, and recognizing both my weaknesses as well as my strengths, I am coming to see that I am not the only one entitled to care. There are people with whom I share this human experience, for whom I must care; further, these fellow beings I exist and grow alongside in this process of becoming are deserving of my care by virtue of their own humanness. Understanding this enables me to consciously see that this way of living is the only way for me, in which to grow and become all I was meant to be.

Vanier (1998) puts it another way, stating that becoming human implies that we must both “be someone, to have cultivated our gifts, and also (to) be open to others, to look at them not with a feeling of superiority but with eyes of respect” (p. 3). Becoming human, for Vanier (1998), is a process of becoming wise with love. I too desire this form of compassionate wisdom.

Personally, I have come to this juncture in my life with great difficulty, traveling paths both tenderly and (at times) abrasively cultivated by the many supports which lift and hold me. A steadfast faith in God, the good parents given to me, my loving husband, dearly cherished family, those wise mentors who have nurtured me, good literature, steady, caring relationships, my professional work, an education founded in the liberal arts—all these have been among the guiding lights in my life leading me forward on a path of understanding, pointing me to an understanding knowledge of why care is essential to the human experience. Include with this, the unique set of circumstances, preferences, traits and beliefs that make me uniquely who I am: this is why I care. I care because I am human. And I am coming to care more even as I become who I was humanly meant to be, a process realized through living out each of life’s little and monumental moments. I now comprehend: becoming human is all I have ever wanted to be.

I am becoming human in my interactions with my own person-hood, making gains at understanding myself better and caring for myself in more intentional ways. I am becoming human in my interactions with my family, seeing the value in each person I have always loved, whom I love a little more deeply each day I am given breath and life to experience. I am coming to see the joy in sacrifice, the value in surrender. This is part of my calling, part of loving another human being. I am becoming human in my interactions with my students—seeing the meaning in instilling an ethic of care in both my classroom and places of influence. I am becoming human in the ways in which I perceive the world. In the ways in which I understand the human beings with whom I share this planet. I am becoming human in the ways in which I care about both the material and non-material world of which I inhabit.

I am becoming human through my understanding and appreciation of difference, of ideas, of values, of morality, of spirituality. Becoming human through cultivating an appreciation of all that contributes to my human experience.

I am becoming human. And this aspiration is what I believe I have always hoped to be. A person who is living her life to the fullest. A person caring for those around her with joy and passion, maintaining an inner peace and fulfillment from a life of service that defies finite understanding. A person at peace with who she was, who she is and who she eventually will be. A person anticipating her future becoming—even while she appreciates the person she is today.

Vanier’s (1998) words provide a closing thought: “peace will come through dialogue, through trust and respect for others who are different, through inner strength and a spirituality of love, patience, humility, and forgiveness” (p. 4). This kind of peace surrounds those who know what it is they desire to become in this life. It is the very air they breathe.

In this great adventure of becoming human, I am finding peace through caring. In the process, I am becoming all I was ever meant to be.

When We Are At Our Worst

2015-02-03 16.59.13

“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention and tenderness.  To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.” – Jean Vanier

I stand over her, feeling helpless. Hopeless. Maybe even a bit heart-less right now. It goes without saying, really: I am finding it hard to love right now. Finding it really hard to emotionally connect, even as I realize I MUST.  A full temper tantrum has ensued- complete with refusals, stubbornness, crying and whining: a perfect storm.  And she is fixed in front of me, un-moving- immobile, with a sulky frown permeating her features.  Anger is so unbecoming. And this anger- it is reaching inside me, threatening to pull me under.  Tentacles wrapped around my fragile patience. Causing me to find it difficult to keep the calm, cool collected-ness deemed so necessary in these situations.  I can feel the heat rising under my collar- I just don’t know what to do.  How can I persuade her? Convince and assuage her?  Our verbal exchanges having been reduced to a power struggle, I find myself pleading, only to hear the frustrating words retorted back from her mouth:

“NO.”

What do I do with that word?  Can I force a ‘no’ to become a ‘yes’?  Should I?

It is when we are at our worst that we need most to be reminded of how much we are loved.  Of who we are in love. This truth about others and myself helps me to more deeply understand those others I interact with both at home and at work.  When we show what appears to be our “worst sides” to the individuals with whom we are interacting, might it be that we are looking for some small confirmation of our own self-worth?  Looking for a sign that we could indeed be loved even in the midst of our recurring difficulty to exhibit love first?  Vanier (2008) states that love gestures which are filled with respect are often what instigate the belief in one’s own sense of self worth, even when that belief is buried under ‘anger, hatred and madness’.

We need love to show love.

Yesterday, I arrived home with much on my plate.  There is much going on in all our lives, as we can so easily attest to, along with witness via social media, conversational exchanges, electronic messaging, body language and the like; we read via the lines and through the lines coming to the conclusion that life is hard. Life is so, so hard.  Busy, stressful, fraught with trouble and sadness- HARD.  And these words would appear to be an absolute understatement.

I felt the pressure rising and inside me an inaudible ‘NO’ rose to the surface.  I felt the surge of defiance, tasted the bitterness of wrath.  And I lost my cool.  I lost it.

I got angry.

And suddenly, I was that little girl again that stormed the house and left over supper hour.  I was that little girl who later came home and went into hiding for a while (albeit, this time in her daughter’s room).  And I was that little girl who lay silent when the calling voices inquired where she might be.

When he finally found me, I was motionless, with a hand over my face.  And his tender tone brought me to tears.

I cried.

And the ‘no’ inside me melted away- along with the anger and rage and fear and worry and anxiety and all that threatened to pull me under.

Love has that kind of way with me.

For it is when we are at our worst that we need most to be reminded of how very much we are loved.

The Seven Tenents of Love Put into Practice

I am seeking to make my own journey in education one that is characterized by love.  By empathy and kindness.  By an overriding influence of Care.  In order to have a Curriculum of Love as the guiding light within our classrooms, we must acknowledge that we are part of a vast connection of interconnections- even within the borders and boundaries of our own four walls.  That is, within our classrooms there are children and students representing much diversity and much difference.  We are very much the same even while we are uniquely different and special. As educators, we must never lose sight of this tension: the fine line between similarity and difference.  While I am similar to you by virtue of the fact that we are human beings, I am different from you by the very same token- no two human beings has ever been- nor ever will be- exactly the same.  We hold this tension carefully in our hands as educators, never losing sight of the awesome responsibility it is to recognize our students for their individuality and complexity.  Along with their connected humanness.

In Becoming Human, by Christian philosopher Jean Vanier’s (1998), he proposes seven aspects of love for educators that will transform the heart.  This kind of love that he speaks of is an antidote for fear (those fears expressed by both teachers and students) that are found inside our classrooms. Curriculum theorist and poet Carl Leggo, writing in his relevatory essay called Living Love- Confessions of Fearful Teacher, echoes this sentiment that educators need to address and understand these aspects of love so that they might in turn transform their classrooms from the inside out.  In Leggo’s paper, he outlines Vanier’s tenets of a curriculum founded on love, for he sees them as the guiding hand of direction.  Those aspects are: revelation, understanding, communication, celebration, empowerment, communion and forgiveness.  I will include Leggo’s thoughts on each tenet as well as attempt to explain them in brief by way of elaborating on how I see them personally expressed within my own classroom.

To love is to reveal.

Leggo asserts that we need to tell each other our secrets because all the human family has the same secrets.  In being transparent, we seek to live out a text of openness that is based on love.  As teachers, we need to show our students our frailties. We are not always feeling happy. Not always feeling joy.  A few months ago, after a particularly difficult morning getting away from the house, I was on my way to school with my four daughters in tow when I broke a tooth eating a piece of raisin bread toast.  And I did so because I have a habitual problem with grinding out all my concerns on my poor permanent teeth throughout the course of my sleep.  This was the fourth tooth to break in two years.  Breaking that tooth was the proverbial last straw for me that morning, even at the early hour of 8:30 a.m.  Everything came crashing down on me: the stressors of work and home and school.  The difficulties I was having in a few key relationships.  The tensions of raising four children.  The stress of everyday living.  And when I got to school and met the principal at the door, I just lost it.  In front of all the children.  In front of every one.  And while I quickly ushered myself into a far corner of the school to “cry it out”, out of the view of curious eyes, I still had to face the children one last time before taking the day off on “stress-leave;” I had to face them so as to explain to them why Mrs. Gard was losing her marbles.  I told them in as simple terms as I could muster that Mrs. Gard would be taking the day off work because she had broke her tooth.  And unlike five and six-year olds who want to lose their teeth, Mrs. Gard herself did not wish to lose any more teeth than she already had.  At a most alarming rate, nonetheless.  This was most definitely not a celebration for the tooth fairy but a time for recuperation. They got that- it was not lost on them.  And in time, they would remind me of the day I broke my tooth- and all because I was willing to reveal to them my humanness.

To love is to understand.

Canadian poet Margaret Avison (2002) says “there’s too much of us/for us to know.”  We thus open our minds and we open our hearts to understanding each other so that we can begin to know and be aware of our complexity as human beings.  We must begin somewhere.  bell hooks (2003)  says love in the classroom calls teachers and students to open their hearts and minds.  As a teacher, one of my greatest challenges and privileges has been to understand my students.  I am drawn to understanding like a moth is drawn to light.  I think it is one of life’s greatest mysteries- the unfolding of our personality and character through conversation and shared life experiences.  Each of my students is unique and whole, and the challenge lies in uncovering their gifts and capacities.  My recent blog about one student I’ve named K. is a great illustration of my own discovery of his person.  It is through understanding that we truly come to love one another.

To love is to communicate.

With communication comes community and communion.  We often think of communion as the breaking of bread around a communal table, and certainly that is part of it.  One of the most relaxing parts of my day as classroom teacher to four, five and six year olds has been our shared lunch time meal.  I’ve arranged our tables to form a block so that we are face-to-face with one another.  The conversation is rich with laughter, conversation and joy.  There is usually lots of silliness- compatible with the sense of humor of this age group!  In learning to live together we must be committed to learning to communicate with one another.  We share the joy and the sorrow, as I have already expressed in the aspect of love that concerns itself with revelation.  Overall, a focus on love is a commitment to living together and learning to communicate with one another.  Communication allows us to understand one another better.

To love is to celebrate.

We celebrate with joy and engagement.  And certainly classrooms need to be places for celebration, laughter, acknowledgement of joys, and commendation of individual self-worth.  When I started teaching kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to develop a writers’ workshop for my students so that they could discover the joy of writing that I have come to love so very much myself.  I worked closely with a Literacy coach to find the best approach.  One thing she felt strongly about was that writing needs to be celebrated.  Even if it is as small as the sharing of stories on the blue rug: there must be time for each student to showcase their work so as to experience that thrill of pride that comes with accomplishment.  I celebrate all of my writers.  In fact, recently I took part in a three day in-service on writing in which I spoke about my writers’ workshop program with teachers from all across the Island.  And the writers that I wanted to acknowledge first and foremost were my struggling writers.  Theirs’ were the stories I shared prominently.  The pages of their books are filled with seemingly in descript scribbles and wordless text- but it is writing to them.  And it is writing to me.  And I enthusiastically celebrate their amazing accomplishments.

To love is to empower:   

Leggo writes that love seeks transformation- an ongoing process of creative change.  Love calls out the gifts in others.  And each of our students comes to school with their own unique talents and abilities. We as teachers must seek opportunity to empower our students- so that they believe all is possible, even from the greatest of possibilities down to the small.  Whether we empower them academically or emotionally, as teachers we find a passion in our calling to make that impactful difference in the lives of our students so that they are then able to leave their own mark on the world.  Often, the most powerful expression of empowerment in my classroom is by way of our words.  I have a five year old student in my classroom right now who came to me with limited speech.  Throughout the course of the year, she has found her voice.  And she uses her voice now as a means of expression, assertion, connection and relationship.  Even for my students who have no ‘voice’, in the conventional sense of the expression, they have still been empowered to speak and relate to others through the methods available to them: communication devices, PECS, sign language and body language.  To communicate is a form of empowerment.  And I am learning to be more aware of each student and how they can access this source of self-expression.

To love is to be in communion with one another. 

We recognize the ‘otherness’ of each person- each unique individual, and we acknowledge the connections we have with each other by way of this recognition.  According to Leggo, we need to learn to tell our stories to one another, practice an ethic of love along with forming loving relationships with one another.  And it is through trust in each other and love of each other that we find the antidote to fear.  Trust and love go hand in hand.  We must not fear each others’  ‘otherness’.  And though trust is harder to come by as we get older and more ‘wordly’, it is often a naturally, effusive response when one is five.  I am often amazed at how trusting- at how innocent their faith in us as adults often is.  They have trusted me with their most private secrets- sometimes outright hilarious, sometimes sweetly sentimental and at other times, heartbreakingly sad.  I will never forget the stories my students have told me and the ways in which they have expanded my thinking about what it means to become human.  The process itself is one which breathes life and love into this accepting heart.

To love is to forgive. 

We think at the same time as we open up our hearts.  And thinking is often what stalls us in the act of forgiveness- we remember.  We have a hard time forgetting.  The mind holds captive secrets that are hidden in deep recesses of the heart. But we learn to forgive – first ourselves, so that we in turn can forgive others.  And in the process, we find that we are able to better understand that love can compensate for a multitude of errors.  In becoming a teacher, I had to learn to forgive those in my past who formed deeply felt impressions of what education was all about- conformation, mind control and thought policing.  I had to forgive the very ones who hurt me most.  And I had to forgive so as to learn to love.  I am convinced that I am the kind of teacher I am today because of the painful experiences I went through as a child and teenager.  I have learned to forgive, and in the process I have come to understand, even if only minutely, what it means to love.

Carl Leggo asserts that in order to live fearlessly, we must learn to live in and with love.  What I love about kindergarten is the fearlessness I find in students learning at this level.  The fears are there, true.  But by and large, there is no shame in fear at this level.  Perhaps that is what it is- a lack of shame.  For there is great belief in one’s ability. How is it that we lose this ethereal quality as we grow in number of years?  There is something so beautiful and hopeful about a five year old mind.  And it is in great part those minds which have taught me much of what I know for sure about love and what it really means for this simple teacher to become human.  To become all I was meant to be.

To be fearless in love.