No easy walk to freedom
Posted: Wed, 21 Oct 2020 18:58
As we reach the mid-point of an extremely challenging term, Mike Bennett looks at the ethos and faith that gets a Catholic teacher through, in a career that's never easy at the best of times.
I looked at myself this morning on the screen of yet another Zoom meeting; it was not pretty! The bags under my eyes, for one, let me know that I had not slept well. And I as looked at colleagues, each face seemed to tell a similar tale. Who in education has not had the most turbulent of times from March until now? Half-term is calling—and we will need it.
In my career I have had tough times; haven't we all? At each of these stages in my journey I have often reminded myself of the prophetic words of Nelson Mandela:
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.
Maybe I have never taken an easy path, generally working in schools serving communities that face significant disadvantage; but all schools have their own challenges. Those who work in education never have it 'easy'; it's simply not an easy path. The multitude of skills one needs to develop in order to penetrate the hearts and minds of the young is immense. Some days, I'm more counsellor than teacher; others a referee; on yet other days, a delivery driver! All worthy tasks that are part of the daily life of a teacher.
In my darkest moments I often think "What if I were a … butcher, baker or candlestick maker? Maybe life would be easier?" And then I look at the tired eyes of my colleagues, and at the way they lovingly interact with the students in their care, and I know teaching is where I belong, as it is in school where God speaks to me.
The students whom I serve are worth everything I can do for them and more. They keep on giving of themselves in so many ways. God involves himself in the many different encounters I have with my students, and not only the students but the colleagues I work with. The generous and optimistic souls who go above and beyond; who may or may not have the complex theological language to articulate their role as a vocation in the ministry of education; but by their actions, demonstrate that they are building the kingdom of God, brick by brick and yard by yard. The loving kindness of the associate staff, the kitchen staff, the cleaning and site staff, shouts with a loud voice to the students "We love you and we are here for you." And it has been the same if every school I have served in: living saints preaching the Gospel of the chalkface.
The Gospel is not an abstract set of principles but a lived reality, as God is a living God. Jesus reminds us in Mark of the Moses and the Burning Bush encounter: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
God lives in all people, places and things—the spirit of the divine is incarnate in all matter, and that includes in each and every member of the school community. This truth has seen me through many a difficult day. Knowing that the Creator is within each child I teach, in every member of the school, and in the very fibre of all that is school sees me through.
COVID-19 has taught us all many lessons and has made me count my blessings. When I look at myself in Zoom and see my tired eyes and those of my co-workers, I am reminded that there are no easy walks to freedom. Yet with the grace and love of God and the fellowship of my colleagues and students I will reach the mountaintop of my desires.