Skip to main content


Wow... I knew that posting was going to slow down once the school year began, but I had no idea twelve days had gone by since my most recent post. On the other hand, I've been very busy indeed at my classroom website and blogs. The teaching is starting to feel more manageable this year, and the tweaks and adjustments I've made to the weekly assignments seem, so far, to be keeping the grading load down to a manageable one.

I suppose that isn't a very "spiritual" line of thought, in some ways. On the other hand, the biggest challenge I've faced, since becoming a teacher, is managing the business of daily life and still having time for friends, family, solitude, and exercise. For the last two years, it was time in Pagan ritual and in Meeting that got cut, a luxury I don't think I have this year, having agreed to serve on Ministry and Worship. This is the part that scares me most about having said yes--everything else can be learned, but keeping up with planning and grading for my classes just takes an awful lot of time if I'm to do it well.

I am always fretted by Quaker testimonies against excessive busy-ness, that challenge me to live simply enough to be able to come unhurried to my spiritual practices. I get that making spiritual life a prioritiy matters. But I also believe that some kinds of work are inherently busy--but, when you're led to them, they're also what you're supposed to be doing with your spirituality. I mean, a spiritual life isn't about what you do at Beltain and Samhain, or on First Day in worship--it's where you take those experiences the rest of the week, month, and year. Surely people who, say, are trying to make a difference in war zones or on the scene at great humanitarian disasters are sometimes behind in racking up hours of meditation. You can't always build that time in (though I know many people do find ways to build in a surprising amount of time to Be with spirit).

I think my discomfort means that I feel the tension between spiritual needs and spiritual actions. I've accumulated a net "debt" to myself in a number of areas of life in the last few years, as I became a teacher. I'm seriously behind on getting regular exercise, staying connected to friends whom I love, and finding time for spiritual practices. (The Pagan practices have suffered most, as Pagan ritual tends to need more setup, when done with others, than does Quaker worship... and is easier to procrastinate on when done alone.) But just as a runner can build up an oxygen debt in the course of a long race, and must then rely on glycogen to carry him onward, so, surely, a man or woman trying to build something out of spiritual leadings will sometimes find themselves drawing on their reserves for a time. That _can't_ be doing it "wrong."

But I do feel uneasy. Not because it's a mistake to have become a teacher, or because I think I'm out of line with the amount of passion and energy I devote to my work. That feels right. But I think it's that I'm aware of how little safety margin there is built into this new life of mine. I think I could easily lose touch with either my spiritual hungers or forget how to feed them. It's as if I'm a distance swimmer, and I'm aware that I'm an awfully long way from land. I know I could drown here. I don't like the feeling.

If the politicians ever do carry through with the noises they make about extending the school day or the school year, I'm out. I can't give more; I'll sell shoes or something, but I'll have to leave teaching.

At the same time, I feel like this year there is a kind of synergy, for the first time, between my spiritual life and my life in the classroom. Worship this summer and thus far this fall has been deep and sweet for me, and I'm finding reservoirs of peacefulness inside myself I never thought I would. I'm feeling myself opening in forgiveness to people I had long ago closed the door on (though we'll see how that works itself out in day to day life). And in the classroom, where I have been astonished, since becoming a teacher, at how angry a room full of fifteen year olds can make me, I'm feeling much less bothered.

Partly, that may be the good fortune of having some wonderful students, very few practiced trouble-makers in the mix, and smaller class sizes. Not being hurried and taking the time to listen is all very well, but I challenge anyone to manage it in real time with a fractious room of 30 kids, many of whom have learning or behavioral challenges. Gandhi himself would find himself shouting on occasion!

This year, my total number of students is down by almost a third. And for the first time, I've got two, not one, classes of "advanced" students--students who come in the door ready to sit down and learn; I don't need to begin by competing for their attention before I can begin to teach them. So that is inherently more peaceful.

But I think there's more to it than that. I'm a better teacher; I stocked up on centeredness over the summer, and I'm working hard to build it in during the year; and I think I'm learning to be more open spiritually in all situations, including the classroom. Which is definately the prize in the spiritual Crackerjack, after all.

OK. Gotta decide now--right now--if I'm going to make it to meeting this morning, or stay home and nurse my cold. There are, as always, arguments on both sides. Let's see what my inner quiet says about it this morning.

Inner quiet says, "Get real. Stay home. Take zinc. Get well." Not to mention the fact that I would walk over fiery coals before willingly exposing any of Mt. Toby's frailer elders to any uneccessary microbes. (It is amazing how easy it is to love some people--how dear they can become in only a few short years...)

Last thought for this post: I've discovered a webcam, not for Schoodic, the lake I get to visit every summer, but for the next best thing, Sebec Lake, only ten miles away. As I grade papers and do my this-and-that, I've been refreshing the image every hour or so.

It's wonderfully tranquil to look at...


Liz Opp said…
Hey, Cat. This is one of the most articulate pieces I've come across that describe what it is like to "wrestle" with a part of our faith--spiritual contemplation versus faith-based action.

I'm glad you are continuing to listen inwardly as you find your way; and I'm glad you are continuing to stay connected with the Inward Teacher, as best as you can.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
I dunno Liz... I'm not feeling very successfully faith-based in my work life today. Just a handful of kids pushing my buttons today... but pushing them over and over and over and over again.

I hate getting angry. I really try to see it from even the angriest, most provocative kid's side, and to find something to care about. It's not even hard... in the abstract.

But today it was hard in the specific and concrete. And the anger has left a bad taste in my mouth. This is either not what I entered teaching for (the attentive, focused kids who are happy and cared-for enough to learn are so much easier to have fun with) or exactly what I entered teaching for (because who needs a teacher more, anyway) depending on how you look at it.

But the nature of the work itself makes it hard to stay connected to the Inward Teacher, or even my own mortal best, from time to time. I'm just not enough of a bodhisatva to get past myself all the time.

Dammit. Just when I was feeling so nice and peaceful, life had to go and get challenging again.


Popular posts from this blog

Confronting Racism, Yankee Pagan Style

I am a Yankee.  Right down to my Pagan soul.

My understanding of what it means to be a Pagan is to try to live in right relationship with the gods, the land, and the people, including the ancestors.  My gods are those that are comfortable in New England’s woods and hills.  My land is this rocky landscape of New England.  And my people and my ancestors–on Mom’s side, at least–are New Englanders: sea captains and dairy farmers, teachers and laborers.  Whatever granite is in this place or in my ancestors lives on in me and in my Pagan practice.

And that granite is why I am so driven to speak out against racism.
To help me explain what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and borrow an ancestor: my friend Kirk White‘s father.
A Yankee like a Rock Kirk’s ancestors, like mine, were among the first Englishmen to arrive in North America.  Like mine, this landscape was where they found their home.  And like me, my friend Kirk and his family before him has loved New England–Vermont in his c…

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected.

For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical.
A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, looking v…

Bears Eat My Lettuce

I love where I live;  since moving to our new home four years ago, I've been able to build a relationship with a piece of land for the first time since I was a child.  It's everything a dirt-worshipping Pagan could ask for.  I have a garden, and I grow much of my own food, and that is as much a spiritual delight as a taste treat.  And I have woods again as neighbors: glacial boulders, white pines and black birches, owls and white-tailed deer.

And bears.

And the bears eat my lettuce.

I'm not kidding about that.  Oh, it's winter now, and the bears are huddled up in their dens.  But this past spring, I grew lettuce.  Award winning, gorgeous lettuce: three different kinds!  They were nourished to extraordinary size and succulence by the cool, wet weather we had, and each night, I would gather just a few outer leaves, knowing that careful tending would mean tasty salads for months.

And then, over the course of three days, the bears ate every single one of my lettuce plants…