The Bridge Called September

There is a view from
the bridge called September
by which one can see
a road, calling
wayfarers to
turn onto it and so into
themselves:
curious,
brave and
trembling on holy ground.

Many have stepped
onto this path –
some singing,
some swearing,
most sweating –
but all who enter there
never see the world
the same again.

Some of us are given
the grace to walk for a time with
those on this journey. Do
not think I take it
for granted.

With each step of each pilgrim

my heart races and

my soul soars and

my mind burns at a hint of a future.

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Righteous Eire

Here in Eire, poetry
floats in the Guinness
and
is baked in the scones.

Ever emerald green and firm fences
edging the roads
make of me a verse
and yet I’m
not quite there:
sorting through the
grammar of bog and mountain,
coast and cill
working on the
vocabulary of
penny flute and dancing with a broom.

But this island is patient,
schooled in hedges.

Around the Corner Time

The end of August marks a kind of turning point for me, for colleagues, and for our students and their families.  It is a kind of time that might be named a “cusp time” or perhaps an “around the corner time” as per my blog title.  In my world, professors begin to turn their attention from summer research and writing projects to syllabi and committee responsibilities, but more importantly we begin to think about the students that will soon grace our days and classrooms.  They are beginning to show up, now in a hallway, now in an office.  And even the presence of those not yet here is palpable.

 

These are the days in which I think I have one of the best jobs in the world: I get to walk with young, and not so young, adventurers in learning.  Their eager emails tell me that they have great expectations, and they have every right to look forward with longing for the changes, challenges and expansion that come with learning.  Education is aptly named in that its Latin roots mean to lead out.  Education is a process whereby we are led out of our sometimes sheltered lives into a vision of a world hungry for peace, and daily bread, and freedom to believe according to your conscience.  Education is a profound responsibility, both for teacher and learner who together learn that they are both even while we cannot escape the truth that we each have particular responsibilities.

 

The adventure is around the corner.

 

It never ceases to amaze me that what is around the corner cannot remain there.  Rather like the cross and resurrection cast a particular frame, or perhaps light on the life of Jesus, portentous events never quite stay “around the corner” even while they have not yet quite arrived.  The hallways bustle even while they are yet empty.  There is a presence that marks this time.  “Haunted” is not quite the right word, but it catches the “paranormal” sense of this pregnant time.

 

I remember well the excitement with which I anticipated school as a youngster.  The freedom of the summer slowly gave way to the expectation of the fall.  These two “season feelings” were so very different, and yet each important and mutually informative.  These “around the corner” times are times of opening: petal to sun, child to chum and mind to mystery.

Do You Feel the Love?

I just started following the very wise and quotable author, Eugene Peterson, on Twitter. When I was a parish pastor, I found his words to be balm for my soul. He reminded me regularly to say no to distractions that kept the main thing from being the main thing. He spoke eloquently of the pastoral arts as arts – not sciences demanding fool-proof methods. Ministry means instinct and intuition formed by prayer more than data and its distractions. He called me again and again into community. I am happy to make his acquaintance, again.

I look forward to seeing how he makes use of Twitter. I use Twitter in a course I teach this semester. I have my students share experiences and information gleaned from a community service learning module that is a core component of the course. (If you are interested in finding out a bit about their experience, check out #gc102csl). Consequently, I have been observing the perils and possibilities of this mode of communication. Many scoff at the 140 character restriction, preferring the endless ream of characters available on other social media. But I think Twitter has possibility if you work with the idea that it serves to communicate aphorisms and such, or links for further reading. I tell my students that this assigned use of Twitter serves two purposes; first, it challenges them to think about how they might communicate for the sake of the agency where they work. Second, it charges them with the responsibility of intentionally communicating themselves into the social-media-sphere. Many people – especially young people – are unaware that potential employers search your social media self before considering you as an employee. In sum, those who turn to social media develop a public persona. We need to take responsibility for that. This brings me back to Peterson.

When I checked out Peterson’s home page on Twitter, I noticed that he has something like 10.4 K followers, and follows no one. I imagine the Pope and other notable figures have comparable statistics. But this leaves me asking: is this the real purpose of social media? To launch ideas in one direction alone? Of course, for all I know, Peterson may well have another handle wherein he engages others online, but the optics are odd, all the same. It is problematic to have “followers” while following no-one.

Having said that, I am also well aware of the burden of following people who tweet their every thought, meeting, encounter, and scratch. I find myself buried in posts that burden my brain. But I still feel some degree of responsibility for reciprocity. If you follow me, I need to think seriously about following you. Of course, that need not equate to a requirement to do this; but at least the thought should cross my mind – or, to but it differently, my mind should be crossed by thought of following you. I need to live into the yoke that is both a burden and a buoy by attending to concrete relationships. People mock social media, and I can appreciate that, but at the end of the day it is another way to communicate, and modes of communication always enable both love and its obverse possibility. I’m hoping you feel the love.

More than Parchment

This last Friday, our school celebrated Convocation.  Students, who have spent two  three, four, perhaps more years with us made their way across the stage, newly hooded and eager to shake the hand of the university President, our seminary’s Principal Dean and then to hold in their hand a piece of parchment.  Now they will be Masters of Divinity, Masters of Arts in Theology, and Doctors of Ministry.  As I stood to congratulate them as they wound their way from the stage back to their seats, I could sense both excitement and a bit of trepidation.  Endings are odd events.  A sense of completion and satisfaction attends them as well as uncertainty and that anomie that accompanies a future not yet crystalized.

 

Convocation is not only an emotionally charged event for the students; staff and faculty too have mixed feelings.  We are so very proud of the hard work that has enabled our graduates to achieve a goal that will hopefully open new doors for them.  But with them, we also experience a little bit of sadness.  Many of these students have shared themselves in hallway conversations and class papers.  While writing on topics of theology, more than a few have poured out their hearts, making me aware of their experiences, their passions, their hopes and fears.  They have shared themselves with me.  I am changed by my students.  I am not being polite in saying this.  I really do feel myself shaped by the encounters that make up my experience as a teacher.  I suppose, I too, share something of myself with them along with the facts about history, theological vistas, and hopefully some passion for our subject matter.  Something happens in this interchange that really includes a change in me.  I am forever being prodded, challenged and stretched.  Many of them have experiences that are foreign to me.  Many of them have interests that are embryonic in me.  They all bring something to the table, and I am the better for it.  So I lament their walk across that stage even as I celebrate it.

 

Students really are in some ways like a book.  They need to be read with both a lot respect and a little bit of appreciative criticism.  Sometimes they want to generalize their experiences, and sometimes they discount their experiences; sometimes they can’t get out of their heads, and sometimes they really don’t want to get into them.  Of course, all of this is true of me as well.  But if I am willing to encounter them with the supposition that they have something to offer me, I will never be disappointed.  I might not like what I learn, but I always learn from them.  Hopefully, I’m able to return the favor.  So in this season of convocation, I’m mindful that two words hide in this synonym for graduation.  “Vocation” is rooted in the Latin word for call (vocare) and the Latin preposition con means “with.”  To convocate is to be “called with.”  No-one convocates on their own because we are all called to learn with others and to teach with others.  Knowledge is only knowledge in its being a shared phenomenon.  I thank God for my students, my teachers, and this gift called learning.  The parchment is important, but what really matters never ends.  Learning feeds that hunger that paradoxically feeds humanity.

Surfacing Tensions

I went to a Mechanical Engineering Class last Thursday on the topic of Surface Tension.  Let me assure you that quite a few tensions surfaced in this experience!

It was teaching day at my university, and professors were given the opportunity to sit in on mini-lectures from a variety of disciplines.  Since my two eldest daughters are in Mechanical Engineering programs, I thought it would be interesting to find out what they find out in their day to day existence.  I quickly learned that they inhabit a different world than I – which was part of my purpose in attending this lecture.

It is good to be a student again, especially a student far afield from areas of ease.  It is good to be uncomfortable: to have that feeling of your feet coming out from underneath as you are carpet bombed with facts, with ideas, with a way of thinking that is not yet habitual.  It is good to be intrigued by a world of possibilities that you have not yet imagined.  It is good to learn, complete with all of the joy, worry, and sense of possibility that learning entails.

It all made me think about my own teaching: what do students experience in my class?  Are they afraid? Intrigued? Bored? Excited?  I suspect they  are all of the above at different times.  But I am mindful that I don’t only address learners in my classroom, but in my writing too.  I wonder: How do readers hear me from the lectern of my letters?  I hope to make people hungry with my writing.  I want to feed them with a famishment for more because the world we write is a wonder. This is what my favourite authors have furnished for me.  All who write and teach do so in an effort to echo what we have experienced in those who inspire us.

Who has inspired and so invited you into the marvel of the novel, the essay, the short story, the poem, the homily, the hymn?