Sabbath Tuesday: Work and Rest

fullsizeoutput_701As you may know, the idea of Sabbath Tuesdays began in the classroom– a quick weekly break during our AP classes every Tuesday afternoon before we began new lessons every Wednesday.

Today, I am remembering the power of those Sabbath moments. The beauty of taking that deep breath, of resting, only occurred to us because we needed to breathe, and we were tired. So we rested, and were renewed.

Sabbath is full of grace because the rest of the week is full of work. Over break, I had difficulty thinking in terms of Sabbath. But today, I’m rejoicing in the beauty of work, as it is something we were all created for. Each day we have the privilege of being sub-creators, producers, participators in this grand scheme of redemption. And it is only after ordering our lives in this pattern of work and rest that we experience the Sabbath grace in its fullness.

During our Sabbath Tuesdays at school, we would read a Wendell Berry poem. I’ll leave you with one to consider today as you contemplate the joy of work.

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Must be lived out from day to day,

Vision held open in the dark

By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that

The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

 

And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace. That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re asleep.

 

When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day, and finds it good.

-Wendell Berry, from This Day collection

Interrobangs, Smartphones, & Education 1.20.17

My reading list this week consists of some things I read over the Christmas break. fullsizeoutput_6f0

  1. Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation by Keith Houston. One of my professors challenged me one afternoon on my excessive use of colons, and somehow that conversation culminated in his recommendation of this book. Simply put, it’s a detective story about punctuation marks. This may sound boring to you, but if you’re a history buff, or a punctuation nerd like me, this book should be on your list. Did you know that the # sign comes from the Latin term libra, referring to a pound of weight? Do you know what the interrobang looks like? I’m telling you–this book is surprisingly intriguing. It also has some interesting information on how interpretation of text (and biblical text) has been affected by punctuation use over the centuries.
  2. “Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction” by Alan Jacobs. I found this article in the summer, but revisited it in honor of the new year. In the midst of resolution craze, we often forget how our habits and surroundings shape many of our actions and decisions. Jacobs discusses technology’s affect on self-awareness, especially related to sin. Is our day merely a string of distractions, brought on by our technological age? How can we contemplate long enough to dwell on our fallenness and Christ’s redemption if any awkward social situation is responded to by picking up our iPhones? Jacobs gives an account for what distraction is, why it is our social ill, and possible responses of the church.
  3. Philosophy and Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspective by George R. Knight.This is an excellent overview and comparison of different educational philosophies. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in the book is one on the philosophies that have shaped 20th century education. Though I have spent much time discovering a Christian philosophy of education, and more particularly a classical philosophy, it is helpful to know what is shaping the culture’s view of education, and just what makes a Christian perspective so different.
  4. “The Muse” by Anna Akhmatova. I can’t get Russian literature out of my head, and it particularly haunts me during breaks in school. Obviously, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the masters of the Russian novel, but Akhmatova, a poet, was my first Russian love. Her poetry is the cry of the Russian people during the tumultuous years of the 1920s-1950s. I’ll leave you with one of her more lighthearted poems.

 

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight 

as I wait for her whom no one can command. 

Whatever I cherish most–youth, freedom, glory–

fades before her who bears the flute in her hand. 

 

And look! she comes… she tosses back her veil,

staring me down, serene and pitiless.

“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate 

the lines of his Inferno?” She answers: “Yes.” 

-The Muse, 1924

Sabbath Tuesday: Studies in Frailty

Keep our frailty before us, Lord : that we might set our hearts on you.

This was the prayer today in my Sacred Ordinary Days planner  (a review on this coming soon). And what a perfect way to begin a semester.

Today is the first day back at school for many university students, myself included. Students usually have one of the following reactions:

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But my relationship with the first day back to school—as both student and teacher—has always been a complicated one. Even in my fourth year of teaching, I was nervous to go back not only after summer break, but Christmas break, and even the one-week-long spring break. And I wasn’t nervous because I don’t like teaching. I love teaching, I love spending time with students, I love preparing lessons, I even love reading students’ work. Now, in my seventeenth year of being a student, and fifth year at the university level, I’m still restless and nervous to start a new semester. Obviously, loathing school isn’t my problem. So why the apprehension?

The first day of school—in August or January—reminds me of my frailty. I often asked myself as a teacher, especially on these first days of school, how I’m entrusted to guide ninety students through their humanities education, or why anyone thought I was capable of commanding an entire classroom. I may look confident in my heels with my journal of lesson plans and extra copies of handouts, but the first day of school has always been one of my weakest. As I return to school as a student, I have many of the same doubts and fears.

But praise Him for insecurities, because it gives me an opportunity to receive the grace I need each day. Teaching is the loveliest, most frightening, most exhausting, and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and that daily dose of grace reminded me to welcome Christ into the classroom, where I saw Him work through my weakness.

It is the same here in my graduate studies. My graduate degree is important to my development as a teacher and as a human being—not for the piece of paper that could help with a job search, but because it is helping me to understand education in a way that will affect my vocation and the numerous students I will teach in the future, and giving me time to think through the connections between theology, literature, and reading practices. And these days of frailty remind me that without Christ, it is all for naught. My own strength may result in a graduate degree, but my weakness gives opportunity for Christ to guide me in my studies. Above all, I want him to be present as I contemplate education, literature, and pedagogy.

So here’s to the first day of school, to insecurities, and to grace that daily provides.

Keep our frailty before us, Lord : that we might set our hearts on you.

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First day back to school, me in my natural habitat- i.e. my study. 

Sabbath Tuesday: Thoughts on a Funeral

Today I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. This post—and the event itself—seems quite out of season: we just celebrated the birth of Christ, and two days later I find myself, along with many others, mourning the death of a faithful woman taken all too soon from her family.

Funerals are awkward gatherings, full of timid reunions and casual hellos as attendees search for conversation that falls between furthering pain and introducing triviality; for a Christian funeral, there also seems to be a constant, unwieldy tug-of-war between sorrow and hope. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher goes so far as to claim “It is better to go to a house of mourning / than to go to a house of feasting, / for death is the destiny of everyone; / the living should take this to heart.” As the Preacher suggests, funerals remind us of our mortality and the brevity of life, a mememto mori in action. But the mourning reminds us of something else, too: the tension between what is and what should be.

It is most unnatural for us humans to die—despite popular belief—because we were created to live forever in relationship with God. When the first humans met sin, and sin introduced death, it was not the natural way of life given to us by the Creator. Thankfully, Christ restored our relationship with the Father through his sacrifice, but we’re still living in the consequences of sin. It is the reality of our world that death takes away those closest to us, but it is not the intended reality.

Though we celebrated a well-lived life today, and the culmination of her relationship with Christ as she joins the heavenly feast, we also mourned her loss, and the presence of death itself in the world. And that is why it is entirely appropriate for funerals to be a place of mourning, a time that feels surreal and awkward and unnatural and out-of-season. Funerals were not intended to exist. They are a reminder of the human condition of fallenness as we wait for Him to come again.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.fullsizeoutput_6e0

Sabbath Tuesday: Advent, Week 3

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Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy, peace, and cheer. Everyone and everything around you will remind you of this—from Starbucks cups to Christmas music to the simple greeting, “Merry Christmas!”, we are bombarded with the seasonal cheer.

But some find this to be season of doubt, or fear, or confusion. Perhaps it is because of the loss of a loved one who no longer sits with you at the Christmas feast. It could be unanswered questions about the Incarnation itself. But here is something to consider: you are in good company.

Though we criticize those who don’t express joy and peace during this season, doubt and fear are very much part of the Advent story. Joseph doubted Mary, and feared the angel that appeared to him. Mary feared the angel, and questioned “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Zechariah doubted the angel’s words, and was made mute for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And John the Baptist—even after imprisonment—still wasn’t sure if this was the Messiah, and sent his own disciples to inquire.

Yet even those who doubted and feared were invited to be part of the Advent narrative. And as they began to observe and listen and participate, something incredible happened. Joseph obeyed, protecting Mary. Mary sang a song of praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Zechariah prophesied: “The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah, even baptizing him.

As we await our Lord, remember this—He comes for all, doubters and afraid included. Rest in the knowledge that Advent tells your story, too—watch, listen, and participate.

Finals, Studying, and Survival Tips 12.9.16

img_5938I love finals week. Wait, don’t click off this page in disdain… Hear me out. It is a planner’s dream to approach finals week—for one week out of the semester, time seems suspended as classes don’t meet and you have these arbitrary times when tests are to be taken. Suddenly, it seems as if you’re in control of your destiny. And the words “finals week” gets you out of pretty much any event whatsoever. So in a way, time stops while millions of students the world across sit and study.

But really, I know that most students hate finals week. So without further ado, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about studying.

1) Map it out.

The first thing to do for any finals week (or upcoming test) is to plan out the time you’re going to devote to it. This is helpful for all of us. If you are the type to not spend enough time studying, this holds you to a standard; if you are the type that spends every hour awake studying, this makes you stick to a schedule and not turn into a zombie during finals week.

Pro Tip: If you have a take home final, plan the exact hours you’re going to take it. Even if this is spread out over a few days, it is much better than taking it in the wee hours of the morning because you forgot it was due the next day. I do not appreciate take home finals, but you can create an exam-like situation by turning off your phone, getting dressed for an exam, and having plans afterwards. Oh, and have a teapot full of some caffeine to keep you alert.

The goal here should be to create a realistic schedule in which you are not neglecting any class (or your health). There are two types of study schedules:fullsizeoutput_6dc

  • Time Based

In this sort of schedule, you set a time you want to devote to each subject for each day. This is the schedule I did for this week, so I’m spending about an hour and a half on each class per day. This is helpful if you could spend days studying one subject because of the depth, but need to focus your study on what is most important. Also helpful if you only have so many free hours per day. This prevents cramming for one exam, then cramming for another, etc.But even with this type of schedule, write out what you plan to do each hour, or else you may find yourself staring into space.

  •  Goal Based

For this schedule, break up what you need to study over the days that you have. If you have 7 chapters of Spanish to study for the exam on Wednesday, start on Tuesday the week prior, focusing on one chapter a day (excluding Sunday and the day of the exam). You may like this sort of schedule if you are unsure of how long each subject will take you. The danger in this schedule is studying yourself to death, so be sure to keep tip #4 in mind.

 

2) Shut off the WiFi.

I’ve spent…let’s see…about 17 years in school, and I still get distracted while studying. So don’t beat yourself up about it—find solutions. Something I started doing in college was putting my phone on airplane mode while studying and turning off the WiFi on my computer. If you still need your phone, or the WiFi, there is such a thing as turning off social media notifications or blocking websites that you frequent (yes, many of us have blocked Facebook while studying). And when you get back on social media after studying, think about how much more exciting that will be!

We can talk about the epidemic of distraction another day. It’s a problem.

 

3) Develop your own study habits.

I will go to the grave singing the praises of flashcards and timelines. My students know this (and some don’t appreciate it). Find what works for you and stick to it. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a “study guide” for yourself that includes key terms, definitions, and even diagrams
  • Make a timeline of major movements, people, and events
  • Go back and highlight your notes in different colors based on topics
  •  Study with other people in your class IF all of you are committed to actually studying
  • Make flashcards–there are apps for this, which are great because you can study whenever, wherever! But it is also helpful to be forced to write out the information on physical flashcards, as the act of writing assists in memory. Pick your poison.
  • Have a “location” for each study session. This could be moving from room to room, sitting at a coffee shop for a few hours, or going to the library. Anything that gets you out of a rut!

 

4) Remember the physical world.

Look back at #2. That’s right—if you actually study when you say you’re studying, and not distracted by social media or texting, you’ll be able to get much more sleep than planned. I’m not saying that late nights won’t happen—because they will—but find a schedule and stick to it. Remember that your brain is actually part of your body, and if you aren’t functioning correctly, your thinking will be impaired. Here are some ways to take care of yourself:

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule. For me, during finals, this is 1am. to 9am. You might have an 8am exam, so your schedule should be something more like 11am. to 7am. Take advantage of your natural tendencies–if your brain works best at midnight, like mine, then stay up until then. If you’re a morning person (how do you do it?!) wake up at 6am and get started.
  • Stick to your exercise schedule, if you have one. Don’t create more stress for your body by not following your schedule. And if you don’t workout, this is not the week to start! Just take a stroll every once in a while.
  • Don’t study non-stop all day. I know, this is the best part. You should absolutely take breaks! Get some fresh air, call a friend, cook a meal, exercise. This should also be mapped out in your schedule.
  • Eat well, especially on test days, and especially breakfast. If you’re tempted to indulge in holiday sweets, see my next tip…

 

5) Treat Yourself.

In the abyss of studying, I sometimes promise myself something that acts as motivation. For me, it’s usually food (“Stick to my schedule today and then I’ll go get a pint of chocolate ice cream tonight!”). Now, I don’t plan on gaining weight during finals week (because it will easily snowball into holiday weight) so remember that #4 is also essential. Maintain a generally balanced life while studying and a pint of ice cream won’t kill you. If, however, you’ve been surviving on 3 hours of sleep a night, haven’t showered in four days, and decided to forego your workout for the past two weeks, then sugar is the last thing I’d recommend. You’ll regret it.

If you are not motivated by food, we can’t be friends. Just kidding, but I’m not sure who isn’t. Here are some other possible motivations to get your studying done:

  • Go see a movie
  • Invite a friend over
  • Start that novel you keep saying you don’t have time to read
  • Buy a sweater
  • I really can’t think of anything else that doesn’t involve food.

 

Happy Studying!

Sabbath Tuesday: Advent, Week 2

We sang this hymn this past Sunday at my church’s Lessons and Carols service, and it perfectly encapsulates the Advent message with its overtones of hope, desire, longing, and deliverance. May you expectantly and joyously await his coming.fullsizeoutput_6d9

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Advent, Sci-Fi, and Safe Spaces 12.2.16

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  1. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. George Orwell critiqued this work for its non-scientific reality, admonishing Lewis for attempting to widen the sci-fi genre. But Orwell critiques exactly what makes Lewis’s work so…well…Lewis. The heavens break through all too often, disrupting the scientific view of material reality. The faerie world keeps appearing, though the characters are facing a technological revolution. It’s sci-fi meets fairy tale, but Lewis pulls it off. Not interested yet? It’s also an updated Arthurian legend–Merlin and all!
  2. Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Advent is fully upon us, and for those of us who didn’t grow up aware of the liturgical calendar, Gross’s guide to the Christian year is indispensable. Gross structures the book around three periods of the year: The Cycle of Light, the Cycle of Life, and the Cycle of Love. Each section contains historical information on each season and is followed by a weekly reading plan. Though I’m often reading The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, Gross’s book is helpful when it comes to particular seasons.
  3. This article from CiRCE. “Safe spaces” has been such a debated phrase, especially during the election, and especially when it comes to students. Some take the idea too far, while others have no respect for the spiritual turmoil that many people are going through–election or not. But this article points out the shallowness of safe spaces, and how the church provides sanctuary and healing.img_2873
  4. What I’m Really Reading Today: I’m writing a paper on modernity according to Edwin Muir and T.S. Eliot. Why those two? They both write about tradition, time, and  myth. Oh, and Eliot said that Muir was the best English poet of his day. This is my first exposure to Muir’s poetry–here’s a taste:

 

That was the day they killed the Son of God

On a squat hill-top by Jerusalem. 

Zion was bare, her children from their maze

Sucked by the demon curiosity 

Clean through the gates. The very halt and blind 

Had somehow got themselves up to the hill. 

-From “The Killing” by Edwin Muir

Sabbath Tuesday: Advent, Week 1

As I was writing an essay yesterday evening, I glanced up from my work and gasped. A brilliant pink had spread across the clouds, the leaves from the nearby oak juxtaposed in black. A few minutes later, the pink had faded to brown, the sun swiftly leaving the sky to be enveloped by darkness.

Advent is like this. It appears for a few fleeting moments, rushing by in all of its glory, and we catch a glimpse that—if we’re paying attention—stirs our imagination and longing. But it is a brief season, shorter than Lent, much shorter than ordinary time.

What is Advent? It is the season of waiting and expectation that precedes the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is the beginning of the liturgical calendar, which marks the cycles that Christians walk through each year in remembrance of Jesus’ time on earth and our calling as His followers.

Perhaps Advent begins the liturgical year because it encourages a particular stance of waiting and expectation, of invitation and hope. Throughout the liturgical year, we are aware of the work being done within us by living through the narrative, but it is not something that can be forced. This season of waiting, of longing, reminds us of that grace that inhabits the liturgical year. And soon, we’ll experience those glimpses of beauty, hope, and light—reminders of His coming.

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

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Sabbath Tuesday: Giving Thanks

img_4960“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”

It is impossible to encounter  a Tuesday without thinking of the students I’ve taught the past three years. They were the inspiration for Sabbath Tuesdays, and they in turn shaped my own experience and concept of Sabbath.

Today, I re-read the letters and poems that some of my students wrote for me this summer. Yes, that’s right–they sent me off to Texas with a letter for each Tuesday of the summer, Sabbath reflections to remind me to rest in God’s grace each week. I’m still amazed at how Christ’s love shone through my students–they are fragments of His grace, and I was honored to teach them.

This Thanksgiving, I have many things to be grateful for, but I want to thank God today for the students that convinced me to remain in education–i.e. every student I taught in the past four years. I’m humbled to have spent the time I did with them. Yes, even the difficult moments. I didn’t teach a host of angels, and there were days when my patience wore thin. But for all of that, the community that we built together is one to remember.

To all my students: fullsizeoutput_556

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make his face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his face toward you

And give you peace.”