Monday, March 09, 2015

Pax

Troubled by an upsetting situation and worried about the future it may lead to, I paced my way home, trying to pray.

I used to be good at prayer. Back in those rose-tainted days that probably never existed. But these days prayer is hard and can feel like a kind of fraud. Like I'm pretending to be spiritual. Someone has said 'Why is it that when I talk to God they call it praying, but when God talks to me they call it paranoid schizophrenia?' Well, frankly, I find even the former can feel schizophrenic (and the latter impossible).

I managed, however, to order my thoughts and present them to Christ, whom I trust was listening - realising at the some time (as often happens) that my concerns are slight indeed compared to Syrian refugees, the Ebola victims or myriad other real sufferers.

Petition mixed with penitence; my usual spiritual procedure.

It wasn't life-changing. Yet I arrived home with an approximate peace.

Then, after dinner, I read a poem by DH Lawrence (I like his poems better than his prose, partly because Last Lesson in the Afternoon is such a brilliant depiction of an experience all teachers will recognise!) as part of my poem-a-day Lenten discipline:

Pax
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire. 
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

I like this 'hymn to contented creatureliness', as Janet Morley calls it, combining something very down-to-earth - a snoozing cat - with mystical ecstasy. It reminded me that prayer - in fact, life itself - is not a call to resigned drudgery, but to contentment with the peace of present and full enjoyment of the wildfire that is life: 'yawning at home before the fire of life'.

There's plenty to worry about. Always. But permit me to stretch out like a cat full-length, long-bellied, exposed and ecstatic and hope for a better day - because I'm at one with the master of the house and I can still feel his fire.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A poem borrowed for Lent

I'm marking Lent in two ways. Firstly, traditionally, I'm parting company with a less-than-healthy habit or two. Secondly, I'm reading a poem, slowly, every day, and pondering it. It's part of an effort to live more deliberately; to inhabit the present.

Which is, in fact, precisely the theme of yesterday's poem. This beauty by RS Thomas (one of my fave ever poets) is a meditation on how the easily missed present is in reality our only connection with eternity.

Enjoy...

The Bright Field by RS Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Teacher feature

"So, what made you want to go back to teaching after nine years out?"

It's a question I've been asked quite a few times since I made the decision to leave my employment by a charity connected to the Jesus Fellowship and return to the chalk face (or whatever we call it now it's all white boards, and interactive ones, no less).

When I made the decision, those years ago, to leave teaching it was absolutely not because I didn't like teaching. I loved it; I flowed in it; it was "me". I walked out of Blue Coat School that day with my tears blowing on the wind. But there was a need for my skills in the church's charity, and I sensed a call to do that. I loved teaching, but the church of Jesus was - and still is - my first love. I don't regret that decision, and I can reflect with some satisfaction on what I and my team have achieved in those years, in areas as diverse as media communications, through biblical theology, to safeguarding and policy.

But I never stopped dreaming of teaching. Literally. Dreaming. At night. I'd wake up and feel gutted as the dream faded. Because I wasn't really in the classroom; I was heading for the office.

"In the night my heart instructs me," wrote the psalmist. There was a teacher inside me, in my heart. If that sounds a bit over-precious, a touch pretentious, all I can say is that it didn't stop - all those years.

I kept going at the charity job out of, among other factors, loyalty to its leaders - and the leaders of the Jesus Fellowship are, quite simply, some of the finest, purest, noblest human beings you could ever meet - and because I still had plenty to offer. But I was starting to dry up. And now there's a time of considerable change coming for the charitable side of what we do - some of it driven by the straitened financial climate - and after careful, prayerful consideration, I decided it was time for me to move on.

I pushed gently at the door of the school at which I used to teach - basically just asking for a reference - only to find that door fly open and propel me into a job. I'm already back in the classroom. As it says in the same psalm quoted above, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places". I'm grateful to the Blue Coat leadership for giving me that chance - and I'm grateful to God.

And just to make this clear - because some people have taken away the wrong impression - I'm as committed to my beautiful church, the Jesus Fellowship, the heroic, brave, colourful, outrageous, exciting Jesus Army, as I ever have been. Indeed, one of the other factors in my recent decision was to enable me be more available to the local, Coventry arm of that church than I was when I had a central role.

So it's back to the classroom for me. Back to analysing WWI poetry, back to Leo Dicaprio's Romeo, back to Animal Farm, back to assemblies and marker pens, and reports (shudder), and parents evenings. And I'm running hard to get up to speed on Quality First Teaching, and SEND reforms, and cross-curricular literacy, and Controlled Assessments, and, and, and...

But I'm flowing. And God is in it.

An ex-student piped up on Facebook the other day with these remarkable and encouraging words (all the more remarkable when I consider how hard it was to get written work out of him back in the day!) With them, I'll sign off:
"If you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of reprobates like myself, you can make a difference in anyone's life. Blue Coat just got back one of their greatest ever assets of all time. I'm certain that there are some stressed out, depressed young people already there now that will look back and thank God for the day that they were taught by Mr Stacey."