Sunday, October 19, 2008

Teacher Grace

Teaching has been both easier and harder than ever for me this year. It has been a really tiring year; I don't remember having such long days since my first year in the classroom. Probably that's because I'm teaching a course I've never taught before, and I'm putting in enough extra time developing my own approach to it that I'm just putting in more time day by day.
It's been satisfying, though. In three out of my four classes, I basically never have a bad day—once the kids are there in front of me, I'm having fun. The fourth of my preps is more challenging, but not in any horrible, what's-wrong-with-our-civilization way. They're just kids who aren't always wild about being in English class by the end of the day. But not a one of them is mean, and not a one of them is without an endearing trait or two. There's always a class or two that's tougher to teach than the rest—that's the law of averages, I think. But though we have had our rocky days and moments, even that class is fairly satisfying to teach. And (as is often the case with the more difficult classes to manage) some of the relationships with kids in that class already look likely to be the kind that make teaching a satisfying profession; the connections that sometimes take the most work (on both sides) to forge can wind up being the most meaningful in the end.
That's the day to day situation. But every now and then, I'm feeling something new. I don't quite know how to describe it without sounding stuck on myself, and that's honestly not how I'm feeling about it. But what I'm feeling is a kind of shift or change in myself, owing in part to having been a teacher long enough now that I can approach my work with humor and calm instead of self-consciousness. I am able to be more present, and that is a big part of what is making this a good year to teach.
But I'm also, I think, enjoying some of the fruits of actively working to become more open to and more guided by Spirit in my life. The sweetness of meeting for worship has begun to flow outward into my 9 to 5. (Well... my 7 to 5. But who's counting?) I believe that I have begun to experience some moments of something I might call “teacher grace.”
I need to back-track a little to explain. Bear with me.
New England Yearly Meeting was a particularly deep and powerful spiritual journey for me this year. I'm not sure how it happened, but from our opening worship, I found myself open to, almost drenched in, the experience of God.
I have come to treasure this experience—those moments when I know: I don't have to be wise, I don't have to be good, I don't have to be smart. While I'm sitting in the Light, all I have to be is open and faithful, and it will all be OK.
Peter C-- remarked to me at NEYM this summer that Quaker worship is a deeply sensual experience, and I knew exactly what he meant. That sensation of being cherished and held up is as direct and physical a sensation as any I can imagine. It's not about thinking about God--it's about being with God. It's warm and strong and deep. And I had a lot of it at NEYM this year. Which was wonderful.
I had a lot of something else, too, that was a little staggering, though I have had glimmerings of it in Pagan contexts from time to time. I was not particularly led to vocal ministry... but I did have a sense, much of the time, that Spirit was right there, sort of sitting just over my shoulder, and from time to time giving me a nudge this way or that way... kind of gently tugging me into the places and company where I needed to be. Sometimes there would be a conversation, and I would find that I knew how to listen and what to say. Sometimes it would be a moment of connection in passing—maybe not more than eye contact—but I knew that it was what I was Supposed to be doing.
Sometimes it was for my sake. Sometimes for someone else's. A lot of the time, it would have been hard to break it down like that. I don't think you call that “ministry”, exactly. In my Pagan life, I might term it being “cloaked.” But I also think, perhaps, you could call it “grace.”

It makes me remember a science experiment I read about (but never did) as a kid: where you take a needle, magnetize it, and use it to pierce a bit of cork you float on the surface of a bowl of water. The idea is that the magnet will be drawn to point North, and the cork, floating so lightly on the surface of the water, will create little resistance to that needle, and the whole thing will act as a compass.

I can't vouch for it as a science experiment, but I've felt it as a spiritual experience. Sometimes, if I can become light enough, bouyant enough in my trust in Spirit, I can be pierced, for a moment or a day, by something that knows how to find True North. Sometimes, when I am pierced this way, my hands are not entirely or only my own hands, my heart is not only my own heart, and the kindness and concern I feel for others runs just a little bit cleaner and purer than it normally does. And I find myself drawn to wherever it is I am supposed to be.

I won't lie. I enjoy the feeling of giving vocal ministry. I like feeling like a string of a great piano or guitar, continuing to quiver or vibrate when the Spirit is done and I sit down again. I love that the depth and brilliance I sometimes feel in worship can spread outward due to something I spoke, when the words were real and spirit-filled ministry. (I'm also insecure enough and needy enough that I am beyond grateful when seasoned Friends confirm to me after such experiences that I have been faithful. I am still very new in ministry, however seasoned I may have been in priest-craft, and I need my eldering!)

I admit it--I enjoy giving vocal ministry.

But beyond that, I am grateful for those moments of grace. Perhaps they are invisible to others. They are certainly quiet. And I don't know which sounds less humble, to pretend that I really am able to be as present and what-was-needed on my own, or to impute that extra measure of synchronicity and compassion to, not just any old spirit, but the Holy Spirit.

But I know it's not me. Presumptuous or not, I think I have been favored.

That's hard to admit out loud (or in print). I get a little nervous claiming this gift.

But what is blindingly, breathtakingly, and very, very quietly glorious is that it is starting to happen--a little--outside of worship.

Teacher grace.

Simple stuff, like knowing when to laugh, when to walk up to a kid and start a conversation at break, when to be silly and when to be quiet.

It doesn't last, and it doesn't happen a whole lot. There have maybe been two or three days all year this year that I've felt it. But it makes the openings that somebody--maybe me, maybe a kid who wasn't even part of the original interaction, or some other teacher entirely--will get to move through to create hope and change.

Vocal ministry is cool.

This is cooler.

Even if it never happens to me again, it has happened this year. There are no words for how grateful I am for that.

8 comments:

Heather Madrone said...

Cat,

Thanks for lifting this up. One of my personal spiritual quests is to live my entire life open the the nudges of the Spirit, to live each moment open to God as if in worship.

You describe this so beautifully. It touched me, and I thought, "Yes! That is exactly what it means to be a Quaker, to follow the Inner Guide (or Christ or Light), to be faithful, to embody the indwelling Spirit."

Thank you

William said...

Cat,

This is wonderful. I especially like the magnet / cork / needle image.

I wonder if we at Mt. Toby would do well to reflect in writing (like you do) together after meeting every week.

In any case, thank you for sharing your spirit life.

Love, William

Pitch313 said...

From the Pagan side--You say "almost drenched in the experience of God..."

Bhakti poets sometimes talk about the Divine, the Love, Joy, Or Ecstasy of God or Goddess cascading down on them, drenching them in devotion or the heavenly counterpart to human devotion.

Light, maybe. Or maybe a drenching with a raunchier substance (if substance it might be) that creates Light in Dark places.

Drenched. Yeah, Gods and Goddesses will drench us. And we just sop with the Divine!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

After making this post,I found the E.M. Forster quote on ecstasy. I know that we don't encounter Spirit simply for the fun of it (though it is fun--joyful in fact)but in order to be changed.

I'm encouraged at the signs, however subtle they may be, that I'm allowing those changes to settle into the rhythms of my daily life. I'm glad to think that the time I spend with Spirit is going deeper than spiritual sight-seeing... something I sometimes worry about, simply because I enjoy it so much (and because it's not as if I'm getting leadings from Spirit to "walk on my knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.")

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oooh--William: that might be good. A Mt. Toby spiritual journaling/reflective writing practice? Wow.

Pitch--you remind me of a message that came to a Quaker-Pagan friend of mine from Mt. Toby and to me in meeting for worship one week; we talked about it afterwards, and were entertained that the same image had been with both of us. Remember Madge the Manicurist?

"Spirit--you're soaking in it!"

There is a world of such Grace around us all the time. The amazing thing is how good we all can be at forgetting it...

kevin roberts said...

Cat, you must always verify conventional wisdom science experiments. I have personally watched lighter objects fall more slowly than heavier ones (tennis balls and baseballs--of course they have different velocities. Who has a giant vacumn chamber?

kevin roberts said...

Also, ever heard the one about the Coriolis Effect and whether water goes clockwise or counterclockwise down the plug hole in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres?

It goes down whichever way it started.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hey, Kevin,
I had heard about the Coriolis Force myth.

And you are absolutely right about the need to replicate even simple experiments! Which is why, though pressed for time, I did own up front that I had not done so with the home-made compass trick, which I have only replicated in its spiritual version. ;->

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