The BEST THING happened to me the other day at school.
You know, it’s the end of the year. Everyone’s tired. Burnt out. Ready for summer. The kids are struggling through hell… Dante’s hell, that is… and I have been so proud of them for working so hard with such a challenging work.
We had a fishbowl discussion the other day in class. Two students raised their hands and asked me, “Hey, Ms. Shea. Are we going to be reading The Purgatorio and The Paradiso?”
“Sadly, no,” I said. “But I love The Purgatorio. It’s my favorite part of Dante’s poem.”
“Man,” one of them sighed. “I really want to know what happens next!”
“Yeah. So, if we buy a copy of those two books and read them this summer, and we email you with questions, would you email us back?”
I was so happy I almost fell off the desk I was sitting on. AND THESE WERE NOT MY HONORS STUDENTS. These were not my “I love to read” students. These were my struggling kids, who used to say The Inferno was way too hard… but who had decided to try. Sticky notes and annotations colored the pages of their books. They had come in for extra help a few times — completely voluntarily.
And now they want to read The Purgatorio and The Paradiso this summer… well, just because.
Psh. Who says teaching kids skills and reading strategies and how to “interact with challenging text” Common Core style cannot also, at the same time, encourage a love for goodness, truth and beauty?
“Yes!” I said. “Yes!”
So, I may or may not have played this video in all of my sophomore classes today…
My friend Katie, also a UD grad, has a great post for Teacher Appreciation Week (yes, that was this week!):
[…] here we are, two years into my unexpected teaching career and 165 students call me “Miss Prejean” every day and I’m slowly learning the ups and downs of the job.
Here’s what I’ve figured out: I hate being a teacher. I love teaching.
Go read the rest!
So I have been trying to pray St. Ignatius’ Examen every night before bed, and I had a really strange experience with it.
For those of you who don’t know, the steps of the Examen are roughly these:
1. Place yourself in God’s presence.
2. Think of the ways, both big and small, that He has been present to you. Thank Him for these gifts of the day.
3. Review your day slowly from beginning to end. Think about the ways that you loved God and others or failed to.
4. Ask for forgiveness / Act of Contrition.
5. Make resolutions and ask for help tomorrow.
On Tuesday I was having one of those not-so-great days. I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. I did not feel like praying. But I tried anyway. And I was a little shocked by the fact that as I tried to review my day for the gifts God had given me, and the ways that He had been present to me, I keep feeling worse and worse.
I thought of my students, and how I love them, and immediately two students came to mind who have not been getting along, and I realized how negligent I had been. I hadn’t even moved their seats away from each other. I was just letting the comments and the annoying interruptions continue. One of the students has a lot of emotional issues, and the other student bullies him because it is easy. The former student has begun saying really concerning things under his breath. And I have done nothing about it. I am a horrible teacher. How can I say I really love them when I let something like that continue? What if something happens? What if they get into a fight — or one of them seeks revenge in some way? And I could have stopped it?
I felt horrible.
I thought about lots of other gifts too – good things sprinkled throughout my day – but each time, I immediately thought about a way I had failed.
I stopped in the middle of prayer and was like, “Whoah. This isn’t supposed to be happening, is it?”
I tried again. But it happened again, almost immediately.
After a while, I finally said, “Okay, God. I’m sorry. I’m going to just go to sleep now.”
It was strange and kind of disturbing.
A few days later, during our bimonthly bible study, I brought this up to my friends. One of them came up to me right before leaving and said the exact same thing has happened to her while trying to pray the Examen. And she said quite simply, “That’s not God, Maura. That’s the Accuser.”
The Accuser? Oh yeah, right. The devil. Really?
She continued, “God is gentleman, and he is very kind with us. Often I just say, ‘Lord, please show me where I could have served you better today. Where do you want me to improve?’ It’s often in places I never expected. And he is always gentle. That other feeling — that does not come from Him. Discouragement, despair — that’s not God.”
Her words were so helpful to me. I prayed that night, and the same thing started happening again, but then I just redirected my attention to God. “God, you are a gentleman, and you are much more merciful to me than I could ever be.” It was kind of a struggle, but it helped to realize that some of those thoughts weren’t coming from God.
Funny how I’m teaching my students about The Inferno, and yet forgetting that the evil one is real and wants to sabotage our efforts and discourage us.
Pope Francis says the same. All the time. He’s always referring to the devil and how tricky he is. None of our bad, self-abasing thoughts come from God. Many of them may come from ourselves. But sometimes they come from the outside.
On that note:
That night I couldn’t (or didn’t) finish my Examen, I picked up a book to get my mind off of it.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
I finished it that night because I couldn’t sleep.
It’s so good. So, so good. Please do yourself a favor and read it.
I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing. I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve. (Robinson, Gilead)
“A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.” (Ibid)
Lastly, a great article over at Ignatius Insight about suffering and art: