I loved reading Laura Swan’s blog, “What I’ve Learned from Traveling with Students – Part 1”. I’m a big fan of learning life lessons from our everyday experiences (not that Laura’s experiences were in any way “everyday”). I designed my first business card with the descriptor, “Finding the extraordinary in the everyday”.
The genre of “Everything I Learned About ____ I learned From ____” became popular after Robert Fulghum published the #1 New York Times bestseller in 1986, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. Many authors have replicated his simple format. Lesley Ivory learned everything about life from cats. Clare Staples learned everything she knows about men from dogs. Not to be outdone, Robert Welsch learned everything he knows about women from tractors. The Grateful Dead, Betty White, the garden, the Godfather, prison, even bartending, to name a few, have been the inspiration for teaching some of us all we need to know.
William Blake put it more eloquently in Auguries of Innocence.
It was a verse I always invited my students to write as we learned calligraphy:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Sonya, 4th grade, Bowman School William Carlos Williams put it more provocatively:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
besides the white
I want all our students to practice thinking in this way. From the particular to the universal. Walter Brueggemann called the principle of concrete-to-universal knowing “the scandal of the particular.” He claims the entire Biblical revelation is built on it. “Get it in one ordinary, concrete moment. Struggle with it there, fight with it there, resist it there, fall in love with it there. It’s a scandal precisely because it’s so ordinary. What is true in one place finally ends up being true everywhere. It is the kind of thinking that opens our imagination to see the everlasting Father from one life of the particular - Jesus.” (Richard Rohr, Daily meditations, 6/24/2015)
How about those who listened to Jesus preach? They learned everything (well, not everything) about the Kingdom of Heaven from farming, baking, treasure hunting, fishing, hiking, accounting, landowners, and laborers. We recently made chocolate chip cookies with a youth group and debriefed with the question, “How might Jesus tell the parable of “baking the chocolate chip cookies”? In what ways does baking reveal some aspect of the kingdom of heaven?” Thinking like Jesus.
A bit corny? Maybe. But I think this is one way we invite our students to develop the habit, the practice, of looking for deeper meaning in the narrative of their daily lives. When I was in the classroom (public school) I tried to develop a habit of reflecting on learning and experience with my students from the point of view of the different subjects. Math asks, “What is there to count and measure?” Science, “What are the variables?” Writing and the arts, “What do I want to communicate about my experience?” Reading, “Who else has had this experience? What did they have to say about it?” Social Studies, “Who is telling the story? How have others told it?” Or sometimes social studies asks, “What have I learned about myself? About human community?” And then my favorite was always, “What does this experience remind you of in your own life? To other experiences you have had? To other topics we have explored?” In a Christian school, I would add, “What does this experience reveal about God and God’s creation?”
We don’t know what passions or work they will find as adults, but whatever it is, I want them to be able to find transcendent meaning in their everyday experiences.
Reflecting on how our everyday experiences can reveal deeper principles is good practice for discerning God’s presence in the everyday moments of our lives. I’m reading a book by Stephen Macchia called “The Discerning Life,” where he makes the point that we usually speak about discernment when we are considering a big decision – should I take road A or B. But Macchia suggests that real discernment is a commitment to noticing God in everything. Laura’s reflections on her travels demonstrate this orientation to seeing God’s presence, the pattern of God’s word, the blueprint of God’s logos in our daily lives.
I had a friend, in response to a devastating diagnosis of cancer, begin carrying a Siddur (Jewish prayerbook) around with him everywhere. It had prayers for waking up, washing hands, even for going to the bathroom. It helped remind him of God’s presence in the mundane events of his days. “On earth, as it is in Heaven”.
In schools, the “particulars” of our classroom, the “concrete” embodied practices can reflect divine truths. How we greet our kids, the assignments we give them to do, the way we invite them to engage, the way we discipline them - all particulars with divine implications.
In the early days of EL Education it was called Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound. We took teachers on Outward Bound adventures to build character and community. I was often teased for never having been on an Outward Bound trip. Finally, the opportunity arose (dog-sledding in Minnesota or kayaking in Baha - duh!).
Here are "Lessons from the Sea" I learned on my Kayak adventure.
1. Never be complacent: a lapse of attention, even for a moment, can have dire, or at least unpleasant consequences.
2. Travel light: take care of what you have. Things last a lot longer than you ever imagined. I treasured the plastic spoon (I would have thrown away immediately on land) for two weeks.
3. Comfort is relative: we adjust to our surroundings like the sense of smell. Monday's dirty laundry might be the cleanest thing you have on Thursday. Or, who would have guessed you could rejoice at finding that perfectly contoured shell or velvet-smooth stick in the absence of toilet paper?
4. Beauty has nothing to do with Madison Avenue or Hollywood.
5. You have absolutely no control over the circumstances around you: all you can control is how you react. Plan carefully, read the signs, and adjust your course.
6. There is no such thing as standing still. If you are not active, you
will drift off course.
7. To find your way to shore, line up the bow (your day-to-day actions) with a tree or hill on the shore (your long-range goals).
8. Use your big muscles. Go with your strength.
9. But finesse over strength, whenever you can.
10. Some effort on the right turns you left. Some effort on the right turns you right. Know when to use your hands and when to use your feet.
I look forward to Laura Swan’s “traveling with student adventures - part 2”.