Monday, April 11, 2011

My last post was too long. It's an occupational hazard, I suppose: detailed description and storytelling simply goes along with being an English teacher. But I have tried to scale back today's post, breaking it up into two short stories:

My 11th grade students just finished a unit on Modern Poetry, which including readings of Eliot and cummings and Auden and other old favourites. But what we closed the unit out with was the best: an abridged version of T.S. Eliot's post-conversion 'Four Quartets'. As I read the poem aloud, my students listened in silence. It was silent a moment more when I'd finished, and then Jessica raised her head and announced that 'Four Quartets' was her new favourite poem.

Gorgeous as it is, the poem is even better when clearly understood, and we took more than twenty minutes to walk through some of Eliot's rich imagery and allusive style, in passages like this one:
Prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
As I pointed out to my students, the 'fire' here alludes to the fire of Pentecost, the moment in which the Holy
Spirit descended on humans; the moment in which God communicates Himself directly to the individual believing heart. And so, this 'communication . . . tongued with fire' pictures the believer's hope: that God will steadily reveal Himself to them personally, unexpectedly.

All this is really deep stuff (I swear, I haven't told you the half), and I wasn't sure how my students would react to it. Later that night, though, I got on Facebook and discovered that Jessica had updated her status, with this quote, which pictures the eventual reunion between God and the church in Heaven:
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
I was thrilled for the rest of the night. Partly, it's exciting to see them falling in love with a poem that I loved in graduated school.

But it's also exciting to see them falling in love with a poem that is so spiritually rich. As they identify with quotes such as the one above, so they will retain and identify with the deeper truth of the poem: that as we human beings let go of human logic and error and rely on God, so He will eventually reveal His truth to us.


In July, our middle school teacher Kate is getting married, and so we who are at the school and the Bible study threw a brunch shower for her. A bunch of girls pitched in with the food (egg bake, tea, coffee, mini scones with lemon curd), everyone brought a gift, and we had a really great ninety minutes of chatting and eating and opening gifts.

About ten of us were there; all together, we fit nicely into my living room:

The shower started with recipes (I gave Kate my recipe for Potato Soup). I asked her to read the titles aloud, which means that now I have to lay hands on the 'Banana-Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache' recipe or on the 'Yummy Mexican Thingies with Cheese' recipe.

And we talked a lot, particularly about our students. One of the 11th grade students has been very clearly growing in her faith (so exciting!), so that dominated the conversation before gifts.

Kate received a number of useful gifts, including this potholder that says 'I Love Prague' on it. Obvious, but very fun!

With the wrapping paper scattered around the floor, the women started to give advice for the upcoming marriage: enjoy each others' interests; keep your marital fights to yourself, instead of talking about them with friends; resolve differences before going to bed, devote the first year to your marriage and to each other, instead of taking on lots of extra responsibilities. Honestly, I think some of us single people could have started taking notes! As the shower finished up, we prayed for their marriage and for their move back to the Czech Republic as a couple in the fall. And here, I think, is the real ministry of a shower like this: All of us teachers and Bible study people came together as a community, supporting each other (and particularly Kate) with tangible gifts such as oven mitts and prayers and spiritual advice.

As I look back on this post, I realize how different the two stories are that I've shared: a classroom experience, formal and teacherly on the one hand; on the other, three hours spent comfortably among friends, encouraging each other. And yet, both experiences are equally part of my ministry here in the Czech Republic. Perhaps these differences are the crux of Christian service, for each of us (not just for those overseas): Real ministry happens in the blend, the boundary between formal and informal; between personal and professional; it happens both as we deliberately instruct each other in God's truth and also as we demonstrate His love to others.

Even with my students, I walk this line. A few days ago, I was their teacher reminding them that forgetting to do homework is unacceptable. Sunday night, though, I put on my informal hat and attended an evangelistic concert in which another student was performing (my version of attending the school football game). And as we build that relationship, we (both students and teachers, and teacher with teachers), have the privilege of ministering Christ to one another, as members of His body.

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