If, as I suggested, “spirituality” can refer to “what makes a person tick,” a teacher may do well to try to become more aware of his or her effective spirituality. A Christian teacher might consciously undertake to insure that “what makes him or her tick” even as a teacher is substantially influenced by his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. There is a difference between teachers who “tick” because they crave the recognition of colleagues and those who “tick” because they have come to a quiet conviction that in teaching they are doing God’s will.
Such teacher spirituality needs to be supported. At least, that is the realization and ardent desire of Christian administrators whose school mission resonates with the Church’s mission to teach and bring light to a confused and darkened world. For them, that support comes in programs of formation that help the teacher grow in Christian spirituality. These may include seminars on spirituality, lectures on Sacred Scripture, inputs on the doctrines of the Church, recollections, retreats and the like. They may be simple or very elaborate. But in the end it boils down to the spiritual activity of the individual teacher.
How does that old saying go? “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!” In the end only the teacher can reflect on what makes him or her tick; only the teacher can look at the Crucified Jesus in the eye and ask, “If this is what you have done for me, what have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?” In the end, only the teacher can pray.
Where there is so much noise in a teacher’s life not only from rowdy students but from demanding administrators, competitive colleagues, endless papers for correction, frustrations in research, complications in outreach, and even the necessity in the end “to make ends meet,” the teacher needs quiet for prayer. In most schools, the chapel or church is there with its special Presence. But it is not easy to enter it really. Sometimes, for all of one’s many concerns, it is not easy to enter sacred space. And pray.
Sometimes, prayer leads to experiences of theophany. These are experiences of God revealing himself in our world. Today’s Feast of the Baptism of Jesus and its major scriptural readings are really about theophany – God’s revealing himself in our world. Jesus allows himself to be baptized by John; it is an act of humility in solidarity with sinful humanity yearning to be liberated from sin. This act ends in a theophany: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3: 16-17). The importance of this passage is brought out beautifully by its complementary reading, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice hear on the streets, a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth…” (Is 42: 1-4, 6-7). The Lucan version of the Baptism ends with a command: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
If the Baptism of our Lord is really about Jesus coming into solidarity with sinners ultimately seeking liberation from sin, its meaning for teachers may be there: Jesus also comes in solidarity with teachers seeking liberation from sin, not only in their professional world, but in their personal life. In the subsequent theophany, the Father himself introduces his Son to the teacher: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The command is also an invitation: Listen to him because he has come “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10.10).
Listen – despite all the noise around. Listen – despite the fear. Enter the sacred space, and allow God to reveal himself to you.
Actually that’s what whole Advent and Christmas season has been about: our waiting for God in neediness, and God’s theophany in his birth, in his Epiphany, and in his Baptism: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Listen to him…!