In #catholicedchat yesterday morning, the topic of gifts was on the docket. Gifts given and received. Not an unusual or surprising topic given the season and the audience. It just happens my personal Advent journey this year includes reading James Martin SJ's book Between Heaven and Mirth . Again, not terribly surprising given my day job and personality. In Fr. Martin’s introduction “Excessive Levity”, he gives several reasons for the seriousness of religion. He writes, “…the aim of religion is sometimes seen as one of overriding seriousness.” Basically, we don't laugh, dance or make a joyful noise to the Lord because... by goodness... Church is Serious!! In light of recent news stories in Indiana (check out State Impact Indiana for dramatic details) and nationally (The Answer Sheet is always good for a depressing glimpse of the state of education reform), I think it’s safe to say the aim of education is sometimes seen as one of overriding seriousness. And heaven help those of us in both realms.
Lately, the seriousness has been bringing me down.
Right now, if you are like me, the joy comes back after a day or two of 8+ hours of sleep and not obsessively checking email waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joy is slowing down, spending time with friends and family and laughing. I realize we don’t laugh enough in education. We tell students to quiet down and we frown upon frivolity of Ugly Sweater Day as we busily read the state data reports to see if our school is on The Nice List or The Naughty List. And we are unhappy. And those students we seek to serve are unhappy. We create locked down atmosphere of serious study - every activity aligned to a standard and every classroom silent. We lose sight of the focus … children. Broadening their horizons with messy experiences and time for reflection. Children laugh… sometimes a lot… sometimes loudly, messily, obnoxiously and for no reason. They are seldom full of overriding seriousness.
I found myself journalling yesterday on this concept of joy and my vocation. The path I found myself on looks similar to what I write below and I thought some others might be interested so I offer you this Examen for Teachers. (What's an Examen you ask?)
- Take a few moments to sit in silence – in a place that gives you comfort.
- In this silence, see in your mind those laughing faces that made you want to be a teacher. Bring to mind faces of former teachers, colleagues, students and parents. Anyone who walks with you on your journey as an educator.
- Fr. Martin writes that “Joy…. is what we’ll experience when we are welcomed into heaven.” Recall the people and places where you were welcomed. What did you see? Hear? Feel?
- Reflect on what stops you from being joyful - those barriers which hinder feelings of welcome, comfort or laughter.
- Overwhelm those barriers with earlier faces of joy. If you are so inclined - pray for strength and patience overcoming these barriers.
- Be grateful for the faces which overcome the barriers. Enjoy the welcoming calm.