Teaching Religion

For Caitlin Lowe:

I find myself, at this point in the semester, once again taking stock.  Anxiety about grades has increased for some in my introductory class of 85; many worry about a lack of concrete information for which they will be held responsible; they have had to read a number of books — Moby Dick, Basho’s Narrow Road,  Dickinson poems, Thoreau’s ‘Walking,’ Norris’ Cloister Walk — and wrestle with them.  But what does that mean?  I can show them my wrestling, week by week, and about half get it and do not a bad job of wrestling in their papers, and in responding vocally in class.  Of course, I can have hours wondering if even I know what this wrestling is all about.  Then I come across a passage typed out for another class late last spring.  In class. we threw it onto a screen and discussed it together.  It reminds me of my, of our, rich and challenging venture, moving through the bright and misted and dark landscape of spirit, self, and soul, as it arrives through words left us as life-giving legacy.

Tarrying with the passage, I was reminded that I had it up on my blog last June 2, when I was just getting the hang of blogging.  Here it is, a confession of vocation for we who hold in our hands the souls and selves of those learners ready to learn, and the selves and souls of those beyond cynical laughter at or dismissal of the idea that they and their friends might have souls.  Her words in this passage are still as fresh as an evening breeze before things turn cold:

  • I cared about their literacy, but I came to care more about their sense of what a religious attitude might be.  We talked about ends and means, what it would mean for an activity to be its own fulfillment (for example running, dancing, playing, praying).  What is a caress? I would ask.  How does it differ from other ways of touching?  And now look at how you bend over your book, giving yourself to each word in succession, patiently allowing it to impress its meaning on you, meaning you didn’t author.  See how each word is set down as a memorial, and how you take your leave of it, possibly transformed.  See how the text works like a revelation?  See how it commands obedience (from obey: to hear)?  With what authority does it command you?  And with what joy and thanksgiving do you respond to its call?  We talked about awe, and we talked about shame, and together we wondered why it hurts (so good) to look at something or someone very, very beautiful.
  • It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that perhaps the greatest gift any of us give one another is the provocative invitation to take up one’s own life as an object worthy of faithful attention, to encourage one another to bend over that book, to submit oneself to its rigors.

And so my spirit lifts.

[Words from Distinctly Praise the Years, http://catlinlowe.wordpress.com/%5D

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One comment on “Teaching Religion

  1. dmfant says:

    yes that’s heartening to see and one hopes such an appreciation finds continued sustenance beyond your good shepherding. In these trying times people will certainly need deep resources that aren’t tied to more material and or political forms of success.

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