Sunday, April 01, 2018

What I Learned in March

I think I'm not very good at doing these posts, because although I try to keep a list through the month, it never gets much on it.  Still, since I did January and February, I'll try March too.  My March list has only two entries, both names: Annie Dillard and Parker Palmer.

More and more, it feels to me that life is about speed, careening through my life and through history, trying to keep up with the increasingly mystifying news of the world and with the breakneck pace of each school year, changing topics and activities to keep my students engaged, rushing through my work so that I can go to bed and then get up the next morning and do it all again.   Both Annie Dillard and Parker Palmer, though, help me to slow down and to reflect on what it's all about.

In my February post I wrote that I am participating in a discussion group of Palmer's book The Courage to Teach.  This continues to lead to nourishing conversations, the details of which come back to me during my teaching days and during ongoing interactions with friends from the group and sometimes even in dreams.  We've talked about paradox and the nature of knowing, about how our strengths and our weaknesses as teachers are sometimes two sides of the same coin.  Sometimes we envy Palmer the rarefied air of his work at the university level, and compare it ruefully to the flatulence humor of our own workplace, but I've taught college too, so I get that his job isn't all pure learning and shiny enthusiastic students.  I just love the way his thought, put down on paper, facilitates our ability to think in new ways.

Annie Dillard's thought is mind-stretching for me, too.  This month I read an essay of hers that blew my mind in all the best ways, "An Expedition to the Pole."  It can be found in The Abundance and Teaching a Stone to Talk.  Long and discursive, the essay is hard to quote because it is the opposite of sound-bytes.  Annie Dillard's writing is the anti-Twitter.  In this essay she is comparing attending church and participating in its ancient rituals with being a polar explorer.  In both endeavors, we are aiming for the ineffable but sometimes get bogged down by the day-to-day.

Listen to this:

"A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one.  In 2,000 years, we have not worked out the kinks.  We positively glorify them.  Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter.  Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens.  Week after week Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, it is all right - believe it or not - to be people.

Who can believe it?"

Or this:

"Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand - that of finding a workable compromise between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us."

(Come to think of it, that could totally be a Tweet.)

Another essay of Dillard's that I loved was "For the Time Being," which is in a book of the same title and in The Abundance.  This one is about Teilhard de Chardin and his combined vocations as churchman and scientist.  It takes the long view, showing the whole life of this brilliant man and what he accomplished in his work and his friendships, but also the frustrations he faced.

Another way my thoughts were guided in March was by listening to a podcast that I didn't put on my list: this episode of Sandra McCracken's podcast Steadfast, in which she interviews Peter Harris, founder with his wife of A Rocha International, a Christian environmental group based in Portugal.  Harris, too, talked about slowness, and patience, and accomplishing small things over long periods of time.  He talked about the Eucharist, and how its elements are bread and wine, not grain and grapes.  It is made of things which take time to produce.  It can't be rushed, or done at a drive-through.

Slow down, my listening and reading and discussing told me this month.  Be patient.  You really have no idea what is truly going on in your students' minds, or the world around you, or even your own heart.  Be faithful, trust the process, keep getting out of bed and going to work, aiming for the ineffable but plodding through the day-to-day.  Don't be weary in well-doing.

Did I learn those lessons in March?  Well, at least I took a step closer to learning them.  Let's see what April brings. 


Tabatha said...

Those Annie Dillard quotes are food for the spirit. Also that Ruth Hersey quote: "Don't be weary in well-doing."

Ruth said...

Tabatha, actually that's from the Bible, so I can't take credit! :-)