In 1964, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. The summer before, Martin Luther King Jr. had led his famous march on Washington. And in Jackson, Mississippi Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP was shot and killed outside his home. His children were in the house.
Tuesday, I give my junior high ESL classes a simple homework assignment. As you speak English, I say, pay attention to where you fall silent. Notice the words you don’t have English for. Then choose one of those that you think you really ought to know and look up the English definition.
I love my job. I get paid to read and write and have deeply edifying conversations (i.e. teach classes) with talented and motivated fellow truth-seekers. Despite the difficulties that can arise, I live in the space of Frederick Buechner’s well-known definition of calling: “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”The word “job”doesn’t begin to cut it. I can’t speak a whole lot to other kinds of environments, but teaching literature and creative writing at a small Christian liberal arts school is a lifestyle choice. We’ve worked to cultivate a sense of community that extends well beyond the classroom. Sometimes community unfolds in Reade Center, room 241; sometimes it’s in the dining commons, The Jumping Bean, a van ride back from a conference, a hammock at our retreat, Twitter, or my family’s living room floor.
In the city of Padua stands a church; it’s called the Scrovegni Chapel. From the outside the church is not much to look at but the inside is another matter altogether. Every interior wall of the chapel is covered with richly colored frescos. The frescos are the work of the Florentine master Giotto di Bondone. Together they tell the story of Christ.
In the Orthodox Church, from Easter to the Ascension, an ethereal hymn is sung while the faithful partake of Eucharist. The brief lyrics implore all who will, to receive the Body of Christ, drink of the Fountain of Immortality. Assuming this transformation of bread and wine into God-flesh and fluid to be mystically true, one can only wonder why an earthquake doesn’t rupture the flooring or angels crack the rafters wide as we small and salvaged ones string forward like ducks to water to ingest Life itself. I’m reduced to a whisper as I sing, as the beauty, the “high art” of this hymn enmeshed with Eucharist, incrementally saves me.