Riverside Church in NYC provides an opportunity for teachers, students, parents, university and community to have a place where space is provided to nurture and support the people of God. There was a need for a Spiritual Formation for Teachers Program for the Columbia University, Washington Heights and Harlem communities.

Teaching is a spiritual act, and as an educator, most of my references have a biblical and theological framework.

This biblical and theological framework looks at the works from St. John and St. Paul. John was Jesus’ friend and helped to clarify what he was trying to say. Paul revealed the spiritual Jesus and provides the foundation for Christianity. The fourth Gospel, the book of St. John, the writings of St. Paul provide wisdom from the scripture on the mental formation of teachers. The Gospel of John takes us to Jesus, the heart of God and our spiritual role as teachers; Paul takes us to the heart of Jesus as he provides us with guides for coping with the stress of our profession.

Saint Paul wrote more about Jesus the Christ in the New Testament than any disciple. Paul was special, as an apostle. Never meeting Jesus in the physical form, his writings demonstrated a personal relationship with Jesus.. Fourteen letters are credited to Paul. These letters contain the earliest systematic account of Christian teachings, and the life of the infant Church. Paul can also be found in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles, which are usually attributed to Luke. Paul’s letters were written for the churches he founded. He was a traveler, visiting Asia, Cyprus, Greech and Rome and teaching about Jesus. His letters are full of rules and guidelines on what Christians should believe and live. Paul is careful not to tell too much about the life of Jesus, seeking to focus on events surrounding the end of his life:the Last Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; the crucifixion and resurrection; 1 Corinthian15. His reference to Jesus’s teachings 1 Corinthian 7: 10-11, 9: 14 only provide a limited look into the life and teachings.

The Fourth Gospel differs from the other Gospels in content. John Gospel does not have any exorcisms. John has no parables or confusing short sayings. John’s Gospel focuses on major events and Jesus Public Ministry. Jesus praises God for keeping things hidden from the minds of men. Jesus gives ministers resource materials from which to explain and teach the meanings of His sayings.

 

  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “the bread of Life” (6:35-48)
  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “the light of the world.”
  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “the good shepherd.’
  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “ the resurrection and the life.”
  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “the way, the truth and the life.”
  • Ÿ Jesus calls Himself “ The true vine (15:1) or simply “the vine” (15:5)

More importantly, all of the Biblical verses listed speak to the need of the teacher.

.           The fourth Gospel gives us the image of Jesus the teacher. Jesus helped the troubled to open their eyes to a new way of thinking. The poor must believe they are rich. The powerless must believe they have power. The “healing of the man born blind” in John (John 9:1-41) suggests that the blind must learn to see the world as it is and can be. The parable of turning water to wine (John 2:1-2:25) suggested, for this project, that teachers who were burned out could obtain the vision to see themselves as restored, strong, and armed with the spiritual strength to continue to answer the call to teach.

This is the guidance that educators and individuals working to bring change to the human condition should reference. The ability to see the “god reality” in situations that may suggest failure was the theological framework of this chapter. John teaches us that we have the skills to call things the way they should be rather than the way they present themselves. Teachers working in challenging school environments need to learn to surrender to an all-powerful God who has the power to multiply the powers and abilities of both the teacher and the students. Perhaps we see them as challenging and we need to see them through new eyes as in John 9: 1:41.

            In the feeding of the 5,000 with the two fish and five loaves of bread, it is not about the miracle of feeding. It calls on a society to provide an equal form of quality education for all of its citizens. The feeding of the five thousands also suggested, that Jesus was aware of the fact that people had come to hear the spiritual words of nourishment, but there was also a call to take care of the physical needs.

If the spiritual formation for teachers just invited teachers to come and hear a word of comfort, it would not solve the question of their physical needs. Teachers were concerned about the skill levels they were bringing into the classroom. It was necessary to feed them with the knowledge of policies and procedures necessary to sustain them in the classroom. The loaves of bread would be instructional preparation and instructional delivery. Teachers learn about the content and methods of teaching but actually need the spiritual support as well.

Jesus called to Him all races of men and women. Gathered on that hill was a diverse multicultural population. We are to call all teachers of students, minority and majority, and feed them with the bread of expectations. Jesus as a teacher experienced challenges; the people who he expected to support him were not always available. He however continued with his task of teaching. Jesus came to fulfill the law, and not to break it.

Though this project was about working with the called teachers who were experiencing stress, even before they became teachers this writer suggests that if an individual is feeling any stirring in their hearts and mind concerning entering into the teaching field, that they go to their own faith house of worship or local church, and volunteer to work in the religious education department. As hard as an individual may think the profession of teaching is the reality is that it is even harder. Individuals considering entering the profession must go through a spiritual transformation and a reconditioning of the mind before even considering entering the field. This may go a long way to prevent initial stress.

St. Paul speaks of a type of transformation, which must take place if teachers are going to be able to stay in their professions. St. Paul also provides a guide for those involved in a spiritual transformation program and seeking to change conditions in their lives. He speaks of the renewing of the mind in Rom. 12:818, 21. When he speaks of the renewal of the mind – “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” what does St. Paul mean by renewing the mind? From the theological point of view, it is important to point out that the “renewal of the mind” that St. Paul speaks about is actually the “renewal of the soul.” In Romans, chapter 12. St. Paul discusses the marks of transformation. He tells us we are to show mercy with cheerfulness, to let love be without hypocrisy, to be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Paul goes on to say, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Set not your mind on high things, but associate with the lowly. Be not wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:818, 21).

As educators, we stray far from our purpose in life, which is union with God. If we are to begin to transform our lives as instruments of God, it is necessary to know how to heal ourselves. Thoughts of failure lead to feelings of frustration and despair, and then more thoughts of failure. A continuation of this process can lead to burnout. That is why we must cut off the sickness where it starts, in our thoughts. To cut off negative thoughts, we first must recognize such thoughts are not right, and not from God. We must realize that they can separate us from God.

Prayer is an affective means of cutting off negative thoughts. The effects of prayer help us to cut off and turn away from negative thoughts that help us to stop and turn to Christ our Savior. In prayer, we open our soul to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, which transforms us .We are calling upon Christ to have mercy on our darkened souls, to dwell within us more fully, to fill us with His unending Life, with the Light of the Holy Spirit whom He has sent from the Father (John 15:26). In transformation, we should develop the habit of calling out to God throughout the day. We can call out to Him either verbally or mentally, depending on the situation. This project suggested that the first call of the day should be at a church or faith- based center to renew the strength necessary to handle challenges. Put on the armor of God before entering the classroom, and walk into the classroom with a spiritual friend. This could help prevent the feelings of being alone in a classroom surrounded by problems. We should call out to Him when temptations assail us, but we should by no means wait for such moments before we speak to Him. Daily encounters with people would be changed, and our lives would be different. Teachers should say short prayers before entering a classroom each day. As a teacher, this writer would say before entering a school building, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart are acceptable to you, my God and my redeemer” (Psalms 19: 14)

Teachers must learn to give students over to God, and pray for guidance and patience to do the job with skill and professionalism. In order to grow in the spiritual life and have the fruit of the spirit, they need to put down roots, as in Christ’s parable of the sewer. In order to put down roots, they need to have purpose, consistency, and spiritual centering. In this way they can renew themselves from day to day.

           St. Paul tells us we are to show mercy with cheerfulness, to let love be without hypocrisy, to be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Then the Apostle goes on to say:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Set not your mind on high things, but associate with the lowly. Be not wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:818, 21).

The most essential mark of spiritual transformation is that we have love. Our Lord tells us: “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Spiritual transformation cannot occur without the grace of the Holy Spirit. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Transformation by the grace of God is imperceptible at the time that it occurs. We are being changed, but we do not know it. Spiritual transformation is only perceptible in hindsight. Teachers who are feeling oppressed need to know the freeing power of Jesus as help in stressful times. There are still those who are afraid and will run away, but they can know that Jesus is there for them, and will always be there for the return, no questions asked. There are still those who need to know that there is a shepherd watching over them, and He can hear and know their call even when billions of voices are calling at once. Spiritual transformation enables the individual to transform a spirit of fear and doubt to one of hope and confidence. It is the knowledge that as a teacher they are the hands of God working to release the strings of knowledge within the students so that he or she can take part in this wonderful experiment called life. Teachers must go to spiritual transforming centers, the church, in order to continually renew their call to be the education transformation hands of God. Spiritual formation provides people with a stable core that supports them as they go through challenges – this would mean looking also at how individuals see themselves as men and women made in the image of God, looking at connecting to a higher power source – God, so that we can find inspiration when things are difficult, and how having a strong stable spiritual core enables us to view others differently – more constructively and with respect for others. This would mean then seeing others as we see ourselves. This is at the heart of the theological framework for project.

Our schools are transformation centers and are the places where miracles are performed every day. They are the places where the sons and daughters of slaves and masters, poor and rich, hopeless and hopeful come to drink the new wine of the future. Teachers and all who work in these transformational institutions must themselves be reborn and transformed. They must die to their old life, and be called from the grave of hopelessness and despair and walk in a new awareness and purpose.

 

                                                                  Biblical studies of St. John and St. Paul were selected because they suggest to teachers that there is a way of changing mind and thoughts about events. The literature suggests that some teachers were feeling frustrated and helpless. Scripture tells us that we can control our feelings with a change of attitudes and belief systems. If we are afraid, we can say we have courage. If we are weak, we can say we are strong. It is possible to change life through changing thoughts. Teachers must see themselves as powerful and capable to handling the requirements of the job. John helps us to understand the message of Jesus. Jesus is the help the teachers need and can use in times of stress.

Jesus is our example of the great teacher. Scripture suggests that he selected twelve men and many women to be in his nurturing circle. He did not try to teach all the people alone, he asked for help, when needed, and prepared others to help him to do his work. Teachers must be willing to seek help in completing their task.

Paul helps us to renew our mind with respect to what we can and cannot do. He suggests that we pay attention to our mind or nous, and that we program it with the tools, which can eliminate self-doubt. St. Paul brings us to the mind of Jesus and helps us to understand that there is power and strength in the Word.

John shares the personal Jesus with us. He encourages us to read and understand the message, which Jesus brings with respect to the power within. John helps us to understand the metaphysical nature of Jesus, and the metaphysical messages in his words. Sometimes we are blind to opportunities available to us. We are sometime blind to our own strengths and abilities. We need to remove the scales of blindness from our eyes, and see our endless possibilities.

Jesus tells us to eat and drink of Him so that we will know the source of our strength. John tells us that all that Jesus did, we have the power to also do in our individual lives and classrooms. John suggests in the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John11: 1: 44) that we must not be afraid to die to our old fears and frustrations, that sometimes it is necessary to change our belief systems and our faith systems if we are going to be able to remain at our post as classroom teachers. Perhaps we have been called to bring new ideas and new spiritual awareness in to our lives and classrooms. Perhaps within what we see as failure in the children who we are called to teach, there is a new expectation for those children. Perhaps if we use the fruit of the spirit of joy, peace and patience and new educational experience will arise from the grave of despair. Teachers who stay the course have discovered ways of putting new wines in new skins, and bring young minds into the resurrection of a new life. They will discover that Jesus is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35-48), and a source of all that is needed. Teachers will not be afraid to go through difficult times because there is resurrection and life. The light of the world can be found in churches and relit in teachers.

Delores Harris Harrison is a member of the Riverside Church, and a graduate of Columbia University.

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