Here is an article I wrote for the Presbyterian Outlook reflecting on a prayer that has shaped me and continues to shape me into someone who looks for beauty, truth and goodness.
This is the most important lesson I learned, and taught, during my time as the music teacher at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) High School. In an attempt help more teachers, start each class with prayer, a well-meaning religion teacher gave each department a few prayers that he thought would be meaningful to the teachers and students based on the subject being taught. I think he was prompted by the previous teacher in service day, where the principal talked about ways to open class with a ‘bell ringer’ or a way to get students to settle down and be ready for instruction and teachers shared how they started classes.
A different religion teacher said that the fastest way she knew to get quiet attention was to start class, in the name of the father, and the son, and the holy spirit. (I suspect that most readers of The Presbyterian Outlook haven’t been to Catholic school, so for those of you who don’t know, when that phrase is said, no matter where students are, they freeze in place, cross themselves, close their mouths and eyes, and bow their heads and they will stay that way until those words are uttered again to end the prayer. It’s almost like magic.) Other teachers started their classes with writing or reading prompts, and a few who had a commanding presence like Professor Snap could simply say, turn to page 394.
My classes started with noise. Partly because I was shorter than the freshmen and only seven years older than the seniors my first-year teaching and didn’t have much classroom control, and partly because I knew we would be making a lot of noise anyway, I didn’t know how or care to start a class from silence. I knew how to run a rehearsal, start with a concert b flat and the band students will tune as best they can or play a choral warm up and the singers will join in, but starting a music appreciation class that it seemed no one appreciated, was more challenging. I needed prayer, lots of prayer. That first year was very, very, difficult. The second year was very difficult. And the following four years were difficult. But as the cliché goes, teaching was the most difficult thing I ever loved. And that prayer tucked into the teacher’s edition of the music appreciation book, shaped my teaching, my ministry, and everything that I love.
My eyes have been trained to see beauty. I see it in obvious things, like the roses that continue to bloom just above my computer screen as I look out my home office window. And the more I look for beauty, I see it in less obvious places. That tiny sparkle in a teenager’s eyes when his voice finally stopped cracking just in time for the spring concert. A menstrual pad sewn to precisely to gold standard. Stained glass reflections on a cold easter morning before the congregation arrives. These are beautiful, even if no one else sees them.
My mind is always searching for truth. I know dogs don’t eat homework. A person doesn’t need bus fare twice in one month to attend his mother’s funeral. A twelve-year-old girl doesn’t miss a week of school because of a stomachache. But what is true, is that we tell lies to hide our mistakes, our vulnerabilities, and our embarrassments. It’s much harder to say, it’s my fault, I forgot. Or I thought you needed a heartbreaking story to give me twenty dollars and being addicted to cigarettes means I must find ways to buy a carton at a time. Or I was too embarrassed to say I don’t have a way to manage my menstruation at school.
My heart aches. To love what is good is the most difficult lesson of all. God calls all of creation good and very good and she loves and loves and loves…. the sassy teenager, the stranger in need, myself, and all of creation, God loves and calls me to love too.
My hope is that my students remember that I have a beautiful smile and not that I yelled at them to spit out their gum… again. I hope they know I was trying my best and that I made mistakes that I didn’t want to admit to either. And I hope they know I loved them, but more importantly, I hope they are also shaped by the prayer for beauty, goodness, and truth. This prayer is the most important lesson I learned and taught. It has shaped me and continues to shape me, and I pray it does the same for you.
Open my eyes to see what is beautiful, my mind to know what is true, and my heart to love what is good, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.