Wednesday, August 29, 2012

God is in the room

I read a short essay by Jill Carattini, an editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and I wanted to write about it here.

She begins by telling the story of picking up a dictionary to look up a word and being "stopped in [her] tracks by a piece of paper that fell out."

In his familiar mechanical script (block lettering and always in pencil) my dad had carefully scratched a word on a torn off corner of paper. His handwriting immediately caught my eye, but it was he himself that seemed to leap off the page. I had forgotten the dictionary was even his, landing on my shelves posthumously. But I was immediately filled with a sense of somber mystery: What was he up to? Why was this word on his mind? Did he hear it somewhere and quickly scribble it down to look up later? Was he researching something or was he just curious? His thoughts, however ordinary they may have been, seemed wonderful, fueled by the sense that I was somehow on his trail; or at least a trail he had once been on. The word was one I'd never heard before. As I looked it up, it felt as if he was peering over my shoulder.
I have been stopped in my tracks similarly by the presence of God. Like a forgotten slip of paper that lands in my hands, God's handwriting suddenly appears in unlikely places, reminding me of the Spirit's presence, the Son's hand in a difficult situation. These are the kind of moments that wake me up. Stumbling across evidence that God is in the room, spaces in my minds long anesthetized by sin or stuff or self are given a sobering thought: God is here, and I didn't even know it.
I have also been stopped in my tracks by the sudden awareness of God's presence. Often it comes as I reflect on the circumstances of my life, the way things fell into place -- or fell apart so that they could later fall together. I see God in "coincidences" and serendipity and good "luck" -- and I've come to rely on the way He manifests himself to me through these things as one of the guiding forces in my decision making. 

It's the times that He reminds me that He is in control, when things work out in unexpected or undesired ways, that I am forced to step back and look for what He is trying to teach me, what it is He wants me to do and become. He is always there, always shaping; "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isaiah 64:8).

I am realizing that it is the accumulations of those experiences, of recognizing God's presence in my life and feeling His Spirit in my heart that keeps me secure in my faith. 

D&C 121:45 mentions our "confidence wax[ing] strong in the presence of God." In her essay Carattini references the account in Genesis of Jacob's dream explaining that, "When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.' Then he was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.' In a desperate place, the faith of his fathers' became his own." And Elder Bednar explained in a conference address that "the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ" and that "we should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live."
Ending her essay, Carattini states:
In one word, I was reminded that my father, whose absence is often the mark I see most clearly, has left his signature throughout my life, in this case literally. How much more so God moves through our lives...pursuing us through sin and selfishness, longing for us to see the evidence that God is in the room.

Monday, August 13, 2012

some thoughts about teaching

This past Sunday I taught the lesson for Sunday School, or as was aptly put by someone clever who attended the lesson I "tricked the class" into thinking I taught the lesson.

^This didn't bother me because to a degree, it was true! The lesson was on "the war chapters" of the Book of Mormon, i.e. that cluster of chapters in Alma about the many battles between the Nephites and Lamenites. I knew that in order to teach a good lesson on these chapters I'd really have to dig in and thoroughly research not only the chapters themselves but backstory and commentary. It would have been a very beneficial study (and one I intend on embarking on soon) but it wasn't one I was in a position to begin given my time constraints (I was asked to teach less than a week before) and my busy schedule. So I decided to take "the easy way out" and let the class teach the lesson, i.e. ask a question and have them read and discuss their answers. This is a technique I often used when I was teaching English because:

  1. I've always believed that asking good questions makes a good lesson, so just making the lesson all questions wasn't a huge leap.
  2. I am a big fan of the collaborative learning i.e. group "meaning-making" that comes from good questions + discussion. 
  3. I really believe that trusting the class to make meaningful insights and having the courage to let them propel the discussion (with a little steering from the teacher to keep things on track) can really make for a dynamic lesson. 
  4. It's less work (I am not advocating less work! The more effort you put into study the better off you are, and in gospel teaching more effort on your part means you open yourself up to inspiration and direction from the Spirit in your lesson. I am just saying that sometimes, if context demands it, this is a way to still make the most of a teaching opportunity). 

It works really well for gospel lessons because in means taking the scriptures (THE SOURCE) and using them to answer "our questions" and draw parallels to modern life. So, I started the class explaining that the war chapters are a great resource for understanding how to handle conflict in a Christlike way and that they set a pattern for us -- and that was going to be the focus of the lesson. This was to set the tone/get their minds thinking along the lines of what I ultimately wanted to accomplish with the lesson (That's right! I always have a objective in mind, helps me focus things and hopefully promote a valuable change). So with that goal in mind, I proceeded to have them read groups of versus that illustrated principles "that governed the attitudes and actions of the righteous Nephites in times of war" (from the lesson manual) and asked them to LOOK FOR those principles and then discuss how they each could "apply these principles in dealing with conflict in [their] personal lives" (also from the lesson manual).

So they identified the principles, they applied them, and they thereby created the content for the class in their small groups. All I had to do from that point was open it up for discussion and continue to ask questions to stimulate comments (not the easiest thing, but I think the trick is to actually listen to comments and then respond as if just you and that person were talking together).

So, even though I was "the teacher" it was definitely the class that taught the lesson (and I learned a LOT). It required little of me preparation-wise, or as the class facilitator (I use that word purposefully there), but I felt that it went really well. It's a technique I would love to see more teachers use (especially introverts like me) which is why I decided to write this post. Hopefully I'll be able to share what I've learned about teaching to someone who can use it too!