We Need Virtue and Spiritual Discipline in Our Education
13:18-21: "Then Jesus asked, 'What is the
like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed,
which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and
the birds of the air perched in its branches.' Again he asked, "What
shall I compare the
to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of
flour until it worked all through the dough."
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it
should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be
* * * *
college we often find ourselves saying things like "When I go out
into the real world" or "We need to escape the university
bubble." Such language implies that college is a kind of sheltered
existence which doesn't much apply to the rest of our future lives and
which doesn't ask much of us in the way of true responsibility. Of
course, for some students this is not simply an implication but actually
the case. They work hard at making college a kind of escape from the
ramifications of their actions, and they seem to live in denial that life
can make serious demands on a person. College with its increased
freedoms becomes an invitation to endless distractions or edgy denial. Yet
I suspect that most of us know better: we don't escape in college; instead
we draw back, reflect, and equip ourselves for a complicated world.
Indeed, many of us are working our way through and readily see the
connections on a daily basis. For Christians, the attitude
that college is not the "real world" is especially dangerous
because it tempts us to treat our education as somehow sealed off from our
spiritual lives, our character concerns, and our day-to-day worship.
It seduces us with compartmentalizing the important things as if they
don't really relate. The way we study or the way we pray never meet up
with the way we watch movies or the way we order online, much less the way
we vote or the way we serve others.
heart of the gospel is the good news that Jesus the Messiah is ruler of
all and that all may follow him by faith, entering into a relationship
with God, his eternal and triune life enlivening every aspect of
ourselves. Make not mistake--the
extends to every portion of our lives. This is why Jesus
compared it to yeast that works its way throughout bread. No
academic subject, be it literature, accounting, or trigonometry, can be
said to be shut off from God's influence and instruction. As
Christians, we are called to love God and to glorify him with every aspect
of our lives, including our minds. Unfortunately, what believers in
Jesus often fail to learn is how their mental lives are bound tightly to
their emotional lives, to their choices, to their bodily existence, and to
their social networks. We cannot separate out easily what we think and
learn from our ethical and spiritual lives. In the same way, what we learn
in the classroom has direct implications on our work, our politics, our
consumer choices, our friends, and our play.
you ever spent the day observing why
you do things?? It is often harder than you first might think. You might
find that you tend to react (or overreact) to certain people who annoy
you. The person down the hall sings shrilly in a certain way, and you want
to punch the person. But why? When you begin to consider, there may not
even be an obvious or apparent reason at hand. Or maybe, you find yourself
craving certain foods at certain times--chocolate, caffeine, fresh
blueberries, you become sleepy or subject to depression on a regular
basis, and again, even if you can identify the trend, you're not sure why
it's there or what to do about it. What can be even more challenging is
when you decide you want to change the way you respond. Most of us can
attest that willpower is not enough alone to change us. This is because
our settled character is a pattern of habits that are spiritual, mental,
emotional, bodily, and social. Habits aren't easily altered nor are they
always on the surface of our self-awareness. We learn, love, and relax in
certain tested patterns. Sometimes these are good and true; just as often
they are disturbing, addictive, even downright wicked.
course, we shouldn't despair, for by the grace of God, real change can
come to us. Grace is God's gift to us; not something we deserve, and the
power that it brings is not finally found in ourselves. However,
recognizing that we are utterly dependent upon God's power should not
encourage us to be passive. Paul puts it this way:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the
mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship. Do not be conformed
to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that
you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and
perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to
think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with
sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has
are called to mind renewal, to a life of sacrifice to the will of God, to
a humble service of others. We must learn that our various gifts, if
accepted for their strengths and limitations, lead us to mutually
upholding what is good and appropriate and mature. We are to set aside
ungodly ways of using our minds and bodies for better ones-ones full of
life and incredible satisfaction. Glen H. Stassen &
Gushee in their book Kingdom
Ethics put it this way:
Grace is Christomorphic,
not amorphic; it has a specific shape, a shape revealed in Christ. […]
The shape of grace is Christ taking form in us.
We participate by answering Jesus' gracious call:
come follow me. This is
not cheap grace, nor is it works-righteousness, in which we try to earn
our way into the kingdom by our righteous deeds.
This grace is a gift of deliverance, given only by God in his only
Son, Jesus Christ, fully Lord and fully Savior.
It comes through faith in Jesus Christ, worked in our hearts by the
Holy Spirit. (36-37)
of this is to suggest that we do need to pay attention to the way our
intellectual and moral habits of heart and mind impact our learning in the
college years. It is important, for example, that we not be blind to the
effects of sin even in our intellectual pursuits. Sin can affect our
studies, our ideas, and our classroom participation. Pride or
rage can close us off to certain weaknesses in our thinking, perhaps even
tempt us to hold a view less than the complete truth. A desire for
personal power and affluence can set us on a course of life that seeks
knowledge and skill in order to master and control others, rather than to
love God, understand his creation, and serve others. Laziness
(sloth) entices us to avoid the rigor and hard work that excellent study
requires. On the other hand, a failure to take seriously God's
command to rest (Sabbath) can lead to exhaustion, despair, and poor
work as well.
then, might we go about seeking the virtue and spiritual discipline we
need to be effective students for the glory of God? Below are some
considerations that I have garnered from a number of writers. Together,
they suggest that paying particular attention to the habits of character
we need should encourage us to turn to the classic spiritual disciplines
of the faith as a way to daily experience Holy Spirit-directed formation.
I do confess that the following two lists are meant to neither be
exhaustive or self-sufficient. What I hope they do is peak your interest
enough to seek out what more can be done in your life to truly change
according to the will of God.
For Christians, college should be a place where we pursue truth, beauty,
and holiness. All these are God's. We are called to the
university for far more than training and accreditation leading to a job
(or better job). We are called to know God more completely, and this
means panting after all the truth we can take in. Perhaps you've never
thought that a "sense of calling" is actually a virtue, but it
is. When you are convinced that you are chosen by God to do something,
then you are more prone to stay committed to it. This commitment should be
true whether you feel like sticking with it or not, but honestly, more
often, you end up feeling like it because your emotions are shaped by the
goal instead of vice-versa. You are also able to decide how important
something is--whether it’s a central concern or one on the periphery. We
all know persons who are incredibly focused on the task at hand. Imagine
what happens when that focus also has the big picture in mind, when it can
look ahead to God's larger purpose for something. Real conviction of life
To know truth is to be accountable for it. We should ask
ourselves on a fairly regular basis: "Having been convinced of this
(theorem, physiological principle, ethical precept, poem), what does God
require of me?" To not do so is to live in a kind of
schizophrenia. Because we are sinners born into a fallen world, consistent
living does not come naturally. We too often confess to believe something
that we do not follow through upon. Perhaps, this is in part because we
don't truly believe it, or we are (to use the Apostle James' words)
"double-minded" in our impulses, desires, and thoughts. The
habit of obeying the truth has to be cultivated. Having being grasped by a
vision of things as they are and should be, we still need the intention
and the means to live differently. Of course, the question remains as to
what truth, what vision, we can safely give ourselves to obey. John Henry
Newman labeled the "illative sense" that ability to discern
which sources to trust and then to be willing to risk obeying. Good
learning requires this settled habit of investigation and action. Without
the second, the first tends to dry up. A life of disobedience brings a
drought to the hearing of the commands of God for each of us.
Humility means recognizing that we are not God and that we do not know
everything. It takes humility to learn from others and to put what
we do learn into practice. This has particular application to the
way we treat our fellow students and instructors in class as well as the
texts we are required to read. Schwehn notes that a balanced,
critical humility doesn't mean we always naively accept everything we hear
or read without question, but it does imply "in practical terms, the presumption
of wisdom and authority in the author" (48). And I would add,
in the speaker. We willingly give others a hearing because they may
have something to impart to us. When we do this, we are also growing in
the important ability to stay dependent upon the grace of God as that
which exceeds us in everyway.
Effective education requires that we manifest a certain level of belief
and trust in what we hold and in what we are given. It requires a
level of biblical discernment to learn what we can depend on and what we
should more deeply probe and question. It is a mistake to go to
either extreme--questioning and doubting all we hear or blithely
questioning none. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire offers a sustained
reflection on this:
Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world,
in order to name the world . . . Because dialogue is an encounter among
men who name the world, it must not be a situation where some men name on
behalf of others. It is an act
of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination
of one man by another . . . Dialogue cannot exist however, in the absence
of a profound love for the world and for men . . . If I do not love the
world -- if I do not love life -- if I do not love men -- I cannot enter
On the other hand, dialogue cannot exist without humility . .
. Dialogue, as an encounter of men addressed to the common task of
learning and acting, is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack
humility. How can I dialogue
if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own? . . .
Dialogue further requires an intense faith in man, faith in his power to
make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in his vocation to be more
fully human . . . Nor yet can dialogue exist without hope . . . If the
dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounter will
be empty and sterile, bureaucratic and tedious.
Finally, true dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers
engage in critical thinking -- thinking which discerns an indivisible
solidarity between the world and men and admits of no dichotomy between
them -- thinking which perceives reality as process, as transformation,
rather than as a static entity . . . Only dialogue, which requires
critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking.
Without dialogue there is no communication, and without
communication there can be no true education.
course, from a Christian perspective, one might critique Freire as having
a little too much faith in the
human capacity to reason and reason well, but nonetheless, he makes some
profound points about the necessary ethical conditions of good
learning--an environment of mistrust and arrogance will not finally assist
us in discovering the truth, much less in serving it.
Equally, we need true courage to express openly what we do hold to.
Admittedly, some of us are more outspoken than others, but we can all
learn to express more faithfully what we believe either in writing or in a
classroom discussion. The temptation for some of us is to doubt we
have anything to contribute, while for others of us, the temptation is to
"score points" rather than set forth what we hold honestly.
As Parker Palmer suggests, "[T]he practice of intellectual rigor in
the classroom requires an ethos of trust and acceptance.
Intellectual rigor depends on things like honest dissent and the
willingness to change our minds" (xvii). Consider what happens when
you begin to treat course content as something imposed upon you, as a
chore, or as a drudge with no purpose or meaning to your life. The things
we are studying become obstacles rather than sources of value. As such, we
end by dealing with them dishonestly--denying their power to challenge us
or to remake what we already have.
Mark Schwehn defines the two in the following manner: "Self-denial is
just this disposition to surrender ourselves for the sake of the better
opinion; wisdom is the discernment of when it is reasonable to do so"
(49). If we truly love God and God's truth more than our own
perceptions, we may discover at times that some of our most deeply
cherished beliefs are not only called into question (after all, we expect
that at college) but are also shown to be wrong. This can be
difficult, but we should take heart because God's truth, even when it is
painful, can also lead to greater joy, fulfillment, and more effective
service for his kingdom. The Christian faith has traditionally stressed
the value of self-denial not as a kind of self-hatred but rather as an
invitation to liberation--when our life is turned outward towards others,
when we are free to be self-forgetful, to give ourselves over to loving
others and learning well with them, we are often set free from our own
blindness and enslaved passions.
Hospitality makes us welcome. It does not mean creating an
environment where no one is willing to challenge someone else, but it is
about making a place where each person knows that he or she is valued and
of great worth. It means that we should grow in recognizing that all
humans are created in the image of God and are therefore of immense
importance to Christ. Hospitality in an intellectual context may include
tension, even cognitive strife, but it should conclude with reaffirming
the mutual dependence on each person in the class on the process. We do
not learn onto ourselves; we are always indebted to others--the authors we
read, the professors who lead, the fellow students who assist us.
Around finals week, these are virtues most of us pray for, but they apply
to the entire semester. A university education is often difficult
and requires that we practice patient endurance. At times, it
requires that we go to God seeking for hope that looks in expectation to
what God has promised us. When it seems as if nothing of truth,
beauty, or goodness is coming to us (and we will all have these times in
our college career), we cling to the hope that it will again.
Thanksgiving: Study, even when difficult, doesn't have to be drudgery.
We should rejoice when we discover some new truth, learn something more
about what is good and just, or encounter something truly beautiful we
have not known before. God has spread before us a feast of riches.
And because of this, we should be grateful each time we receive something
good. Cultivating these habits of emotion has enormous benefits for us-not
only in our bodily health but in the inspiration we need so often to
continue in the difficult task. Gratitude as habit of response renders us
less likely to claim our own rights at the expense of another's; it
softens us in a way that makes us more gentle, kind, and good-hearted. It
teaches us that the whole world doesn't rest on our shoulders and that we
are part of something beyond ourselves. These are marks of healing. Dallas
Willard observes that this truth is at the heart of our social existence:
This "relating" quality reaches into every
dimension of human existence. It characterizes the basic nature of all
thought and feeling, which is always a thought of
or feeling of something other
than itself. It pervades the deepest reaches of our body, soul, and world,
where our very identity--who we really are--is always intermingled (if
sometimes negatively, by reaction) with others who have given us life,
sustained us, or walked with us--or perhaps have deeply injured us. The
call of "the other" on our lives is a constant for everyone. It
is a basic reality of a moral existence, which we retreat from only into a
living death of isolation (Renovation
Above all, then, we need true charity when we read, listen, speak, write,
act, and study. We need this to shape how we treat others and what
they have to offer. We literally interpret others differently when
we do so in love. Ask yourself for a moment: how differently will I
treat my professor or fellow student if I believe that she or he really
cares about me? If I am offended by his or her actions, how more likely am
I to see them as well-intended? In the same way, how differently will I
treat him or her if my goal is to help that person fulfill his calling
rather than see it as some kind of hindrance or imposition on my own
course, much more could be said about virtue and learning. James Sire
provides a helpful chart, based on work by W. Jay Wood, of some of the
virtues of education. As you look over his list of necessary habits,
notice how each of them makes learning more than just the acquiring of new
information; each one increases us as people with purpose and intrinsic
worth to act as God created us to be:
virtues: passion for truth
virtues: passion for holiness
- will to do what one knows
virtues: passion for consistency
virtues: compassion for others
- clarity of expression
- orderliness of presentation
- aptness of illustration
I suggested above, these settled habits of action and response don't
appear in a person overnight just because he or she decides that day to
choose them, though a commitment to choosing them is an important aspect
of the process. Once we understand that we are beings who are made up of a
complex of mind, emotion, will, bodily responses, and so on, we have to
come to terms with the gradual conversion of ourselves. Christians call
this painful process, sanctification. As Paul says in his epistle to the
since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which
we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not
only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering
produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character
produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has
been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to
"endurance," and "character" all describe a process.
This process includes every aspect of your life. What you think about
impacts your emotions; what you spend your time focused on in terms of
images, exercise, musical sound-scapes, ideas, and so on does work its way
into your total response to life--both consciously and unconsciously. Not
that this process is a simple "garbage in-garbage out" one; we
are discerning beings who can critique what we absorb. Nonetheless, there
is real truth in realizing that we are being educated by all that we are
learning, whatever its sources. In the same way your loyalties, family
background, and friendships have a deep impact on whether you truly stay
accountable to what you know to be true. This is one reason why the
way we worship is so important--our worship teaches us. It imparts the
Christian truths with the language of scripture, with prayer, with
tangible things like bread and water, with the bowing of our knees and the
raising of our hands. And we do them together with others. We literally
begin to be molded-mind and body--by the acts of submitted worship. This,
however, has to continue in our individual lives. We have to decide to
cooperate with what God is doing in the classroom, residence hall, church,
history has a lot to teach us on how to go about this kind of change,
beginning with the Bible itself. Dallas Willard in his book The
Divine Conspiracy notes that a discipline is "any activity within
our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct
effort;" and thus, a spiritual discipline is one "designed to
help us be active and effective in the spiritual realm of our own heart,
now spiritually alive by grace, in relation to God and his kingdom"
(352). We practice the guitar
or a curve ball or an aerobic step or a formula for linear algebra because
it doesn't come to us easily. The same is true of the spiritual
disciplines. We engage in them because we desire a habit of virtuous
response. We want to naturally act more as Jesus would.
are a number of ways to divide up the subject of spiritual formation.
Willard himself in another book, The
Sprit of the Disciplines, divides the spiritual disciplines between
disciplines of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality,
chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and disciplines of engagement (study,
worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession,
submission). The first involves things that we deny ourselves for the
larger end, while the second set involves things we must do to obtain that
end. Here, then, are some of the ways we can go about cooperating with
God's work on our hearts. Each of these is a particular practice
that regularly allows us to be formed by God's operative grace upon us:
These make sense cognitively because quiet places, free of distractions,
often make the best learning environments. But they also make sense
spiritually. God speaks to us in quiet times when we are apart
from others. Of course, he also speaks when we are with others, but
these quiet times prepare us to be more spiritually aware of God's
conviction in all times and places. They help us practice the
attentiveness we need to truly learn from a person, book, or exercise.
Every student needs to establish a place he or she can go to be free of
distractions and noise. And this should be a place of focused
solitude, a seeking after truth. As Sire observes, "Solitude
without attention is somnolence" (130). Note, then, how this
spiritual practice prepares us to answer the virtues of hospitality,
self-denial, and charity. We become less prone to dominate others with our
words as we learn to trust to God in quietness. We becomes listeners.
Solitude teaches us to hear and see reality better.
it is surprising to think of fasting having anything to do with
college-level education, but I would contend that it does. If we accept
that our pedagogical and spiritual growth has a bodily component, then it
follows that what assists us in achieving a more disciplined approach to
our body and its desires will result, in the long run, in clarity of mind
and emotion. Not only because it directly impacts the way we think, but
also because it plays a role in the larger reorientation of the soul from
a life built upon self-gratification to one abandoned to the will of God.
This is more than simply being careful with one's limited financial
resources. It is a mindset and lifestyle of being content with enough,
being at peace with one's clothing, one's body, and one's social status.
It cuts at the root of envy and covetousness and frees us to consider
others' needs in the moment or to love another regardless of these passing
symbols of "success." In the economy of Jesus, achievement is
measured on an entirely different scale. It frees us from distractions
that hinder our education as God would will it. Imagine your day
undistracted by what others think about you or approve. Imagine receiving
people for who they really are, forgiving them for their defenses of body
posture, fashion, sexual allure, and wealth.
the same way, chastity is more than a simple lack of sexual intercourse
outside marriage; it is a life spent in purity, treating others as human
beings made in the image of God and not as objects of mental and physical
gratification. It means embracing modesty and eschewing the erotic
defrauding of another, and in marriage, it means intimate trust and
bearing with each other's imperfect bodies and souls. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
noted "that the essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust
but the total orientation of one's life toward a goal. . .
. Chastity is the sine qua
non of lucidity and concentration" (376). Imagine what this would
mean to one's intellectual and moral life. Consider the focus it might
bring and the slavery it might end in your life. How much rich detail
about people are we missing because of a pornification of them?
Secrecy and Sacrifice: "Secrecy" (Willard's term) might better be titled
"spiritual reticence," that is the quality of not trumping one's
own accomplishments, of doing the good deed with no expectation of reward.
As Jesus commanded: don't let your left hand know what your right is
doing; pray and fast in secret; give in secret. Spiritual reticence has at
its heart the desire to never rob God of his glory, to turn all credit
back to where it is due. In this sense, it's just simple honesty--who of
us can really claim to have accomplished anything without others? Who can
finally hold that nothing is a gift from above? But we are by habit,
self-delusory liars who are prone to never consider the fragile tissue of
life on which we are posed. We need a regular practice of doing things for
God's regard only in secret that we might learn to do all things for his
glory even in the open. Secrecy molds us into more humble and realistic
people. Sacrifice does the same thing, for when we risk giving something
away that truly costs us we discover not only how dear our possessions,
our time, and our props of identity are to us, but also how unnecessary
they really are.
this kind of radical habit of self-denial, God-focused praise, and
deliberate humility can form powerful habits of learning that spread out
into our education. It helps us to delight in truth wherever it arises; it
undercuts false investments in grading as definitions of our self-worth
instead of evaluations and advice for improvement. Compare the student,
who upon receiving a graded exam, goes straight to the final grade and
then never bothers to look closely at the professor's comments with the
one who goes over each comment testing it for what it has to teach. This
later attitude is much easier to take when you are no longer invested in
how others regard your academic standing and when your end desire is to
turn any glory back upon the Creator and Maker of us all.
A regular practice of prayer opens us up to the work of the Holy Spirit on
our hearts. We should pray for our classes, our teachers, fellow
students, and for ourselves. We should ask God to teach us through
our assignments and to refine us in the virtues we need to pursue truth in
our university education. We should ask him to be present in class
lectures, discussions, and tests. Consider just the Lord's Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
prayer, prayed regularly with conviction, commits us to a classroom
experience with the worship of God at its heart, with the kingdom rule of
God as our final end and purpose. It reminds us that we are dependent
beings in need of God's daily provision for our physical and spiritual
lives. It recognizes that we are placed
within the estrangement, loss, forgiveness, and restoration of the gospel.
None of us is self-made or able to stand on our own. And knowing as Paul
warns us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but
against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this
dark world," we should seek to be free of those sins that keep us
from perceiving and obeying what is right. We can only do this with the
infinite mercy of God on our daily, indeed hourly, behalf.
Study is a spiritual discipline. We strive to internalize the
information we need to know, to cultivate a discernment of something's
truth, and to comprehend and evaluate the implications of a matter. For
the Christian, this should never be separate from the work of the Spirit.
In some ways, the study that we practice together in church through
listening to sermons, attending bible studies, and participating in
worship can prepare us for the study we need in every area of life. Kevin
J. Vanhoozer has written that the church is uniquely suited to be a place
where individuals learn the ethics of understanding. He notes:
church is that community in which the interpretive virtues –
intellectual, ethical, and spiritual – are cultivated. For it is not
only a community’s interests but also its virtues that make it an
appropriate environment for obtaining literary knowledge. In short, literary
knowledge is not simply a matter of having the right descriptions but also
of having the right dispositions.
In Vanhoozer's vision,
the local church can be a place where we acquire certain habits essential
for the proper interpretation of others' ideas. We learn how
to deal faithfully, honestly, and rigorously with sermons, discipleship
studies, creeds and confessions, biblical commentaries, systematic
theologies, and of course, most importantly, the Bible itself. As a
result, this kind of regular practice in reading carries over into the way
we deal with all human texts. We seek to avoid distorting the
message; we work to nuance the particulars of wording; we learn to balance
context, background, and genre. It should be obvious that here spiritual
practice and habits of virtue go hand-in-hand.
we need a practice of concentrated, close, spiritually aware reading of
texts. Not everything can be covered quickly. The medieval term for this
is lectio divina. This is especially important in reading
scripture. We need times where we read slowly and closely the words
of the Bible in order to hear what God has to say to us. In a more
limited sense, I believe this practice can be applied to any poem, work of
art, or mathematical formula that offers truth. Admittedly, these
human works don't have the same infallibility that God's word does, but
since all truth is God's truth, we need to practice listening for the
lessons that are in these other works. Indeed, close reading and
meditation upon scripture builds in us the discernment we need to profit
from other, less perfect works. John Baillie prayed,
Leave me not,
O gracious Presence, in such hours as I may to-day devote to the reading
of books or of newspapers. Guide my mind to choose the right books
and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read
for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to thyself.
When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away
from thee. Let all my reading refresh my mind that I may more
eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true. (Sire
Scripture commands us to be in mutual submission to one another.
This is carried out when we learn to speak and to listen in corporate
settings. We learn to practice a community where we respect, have
patience with, and even love each other in our mutual pursuit of God's
truth. Not all fellowship is the same fellowship. It
might even help to think of the classes we take, the papers and
assignments we complete, and the books we study and read as different
kinds of friends. True friendship survives disagreement and change
because it bases itself on a certain kind of respect and enjoyment united
by common pursuits. True friendships come in various shapes, sizes, and
conditions. Some are bound to be more long-lasting, emotionally engaging,
or evolve at a quicker rate. Our experience of learning is similar. Civic
dialogue-whether face-to-face or online or in print--carries with it
certain ideal qualities of communication, but not every conversation is
the same. Fellowship as a spiritual discipline commits us to continuing in
a relationship even in the face of seemingly negligible results. (This is
why "church hopping" as its sometimes called is such a bad
practice for you--it renders you a consumer rather than a member.)
Fellowship waits not passively but actively for growth to be cultivated,
and it waits in patience. This is an absolute necessary practice to submit
to in the high-pressure environment of college. Otherwise, you are tempted
to cut your losses too soon, before you can reasonably expect to benefit
from the hard task at hand.
Confession of sin to another Christian and submission to someone else's
counsel, even mentorship, are risky acts. They render us vulnerable; they
expose our habits of self-protection; they open us to another's rejection,
misunderstanding, or judgment. Why risk them, then? Because they
also offer us profound possibilities of mature growth. Athletes and
musicians know this well--you have to train with coaches, let yourself be
observed and advised by teachers who know the way ahead. None of us is
self-aware enough to be unable to profit from another's skilled hand, eye,
and ear. The life of the mind and character is no different. It is
important during the college years that you find an older person of faith
that you can trust, someone to mentor you. Admittedly, this person may be
different depending on the task at hand--a project for a Business class, a
particularly different temptation, a problem with your service learning,
an internship in the summer, a set of tough decisions. Yet they all
recognize that we need guidance. (This is true of your professors, too, as
they will all acknowledge. . . . Guidance is needed at every level of
Life is sacramental. "Sacrament" may be a word you find strange,
or that you associate with things like Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but
it's a perfectly good word. It describes the quality of God's power and
presence in tangible things. Karl Rahner once wrote, "Grace is
everywhere," and once you sense that God is truly omnipresent and
omniscient then this truth comes home to you. The lordship of Christ
applies to all of life because he is the Lord and Maker of all things. Yet
this is not simply a legal principle or a theological claim, it is a way
of celebrating the utter goodness of life. The Christian faith teaches us
(and Christian experience bears it out) that we meet God most perfectly in
Jesus Christ and in the revelation of himself in the scriptures, but we
also meet God in creation, in other people, in what we read and watch, and
in the day-to-day of normal living. Like fellowship and submission,
celebration requires us to show up and stick with something--in this case,
the hope and practice of valuing the goodness of what God is up to. Try
going through a week, looking each person silently in the eye while
thinking, "You are the image of God, however broken." Or going
to class with these thoughts: "This is the gift of God for me
today." Or as you study, read, write, or debate with your friends,
vowing, "Here I am to worship." Would not this infuse your life
with real celebration? Just the thought makes me want to dance.
* * * * *
a teacher (and regular student) and as I look over this list, I am mostly
aware of my own failings, but I also look forward with hope. My
prayer for our semester is that we may grow in virtue and discipleship
together, pursuing God's truth and beauty wherever they might take us.
* * * *
Dietrich. Letters & Papers from
Prison. enlarged ed. NY: Touchstone, 1997 (1971).
Debra Dean. Teaching That Transforms:
Worship as the Heart of Christian
Mark. Becoming Good, Becoming Holy:
On the Relationship of Christian Ethics and Spirituality. NY: Paulist,
Parker J. To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.
: Harper Collins, 1993.
The Courage to
Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life.
: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
Mark R. Exiles From
: Religion and the Academic Vocation in
Glen H and David P. Gushee. Kingdom
Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context.
: IVP, 2003.
James W. Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling.
: IVP, 2000.
Dallas. The Spirit of the
Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.
: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988.
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering
Our Hidden Life in God.
: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
Renovation of the Heart: Putting on
the Character of Christ.
: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.