Teacher Spirituality and Theophany

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…!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Homily, Teacher Spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Teacher Spirituality and Theophany

  1. Cordon Sanitaire says:

    This [the first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3)] is something which is not only not admired by the world; it is despised by it. You will never find a greater antithesis to the worldly spirit and outlook than that which you find in this verse. What emphasis the world places on its belief in self-reliance, self-confidence and self-expression! Look at its literature. If you want to get on in this world, it says, believe in yourself. That idea is absolutely controlling the life of men at the present time. . . . What, for instance, is the essence of good salesmanship according to modern ideas? It is giving the impression of confidence and assurance. If you want to impress your customer that is the way you must do it. The same idea is put into practice in every realm. If you want to succeed in a profession, the great thing is to give the impression that you are a success, so you suggest that you are more successful than you actually are, and people say ‘ That is the man to go to.’ . . . Self-confidence, assurance, self reliance. And it is in terms of that fundamental belief that men think they can bring in the kingdom; it is the whole basis of the fatal assumption that by Acts of Parliament alone you can produce a perfect society….

    Now in this verse we are confronted by something which is in utter and absolute contrast to that…. You will remember the verse in which Charles Wesley says: “I am all unrighteousness; Vile and full of sin I am …”

    [A few years ago, a man ridiculed this] and asked, ‘What man desiring a post or job would dream of going to an employer and saying [that] to him … ? Ridiculous!’ . . . You see what a complete misunderstanding . . . that reveals . . . if one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him.

    • In my blog, I wasn’t talking about Mt. 5:3, which reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit referred to those who had no one to rely on in this world than God. Finding God through their dependence on him is a blessed thing. People who succeed in the world often don’t find God; that is an unfortunate thing. “Poor in spirit” therefore does not just mean humble or self-effacing, especially if it is just put on; just as “rich in spirit” does not mean proud, self-confident, sovereign, especially if it is just an impression. What is blessed or woeful here seems to depend on how one relates to God, and allows or does not allow God to be God in one’s life. One who is poor in spirit but does not find God is depraved indeed; one who is rich in spirit and does not find God is pathetically poor in blinding pride. In this context your statement, “. . . if one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him” is rather remarkable. I believe in the presence of a God turned towards me in love I can experience an “utter poverty of spirit” – but in such manner that it allows me to be filled with God’s spirit, to discover self-gifted, and the ability to love and take responsibility in the world. If encountering the presence of God one is only left with a self-effacing depravity of spirit, perhaps one has not yet begun to fathom the depths of this privileged encounter, and has yet to take off one’s sandals to enter sacred space.

  2. Cordon Sanitaire says:

    “Hurtful words are not necessary.”

    Ephesians 4:29
    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

    Colossians 4:6
    Let your speech[ be] alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

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