Talking Point By Sr Elvera Sesta
THIS year is a special one for me in that some of the students who are in my Year 12 Study of Religion class I had previously taught when they were in either Year 8 or Year 10 and one whom I had taught in both years.
It was fascinating to see how they had grown physically and had matured as well.
On the first day as I was taking the roll I remarked if I had taught them previously. As I came towards the end, I asked one student, Mary (not her real name), “I taught you in Year 8?”
When she replied in the affirmative, I said “You were the one who, when I asked you to visualise an image of God, said you saw a wind blowing with the grass bending in the breeze and the golden flowers swaying. You told me it was not a strong wind but a gentle breeze.”
I remembered linking her description to the scriptural passage from 1 Kings 19:11-12 where the Lord was in the sound of sheer silence. At the time I was fascinated at how these little ones were so scriptural in their descriptions. The Holy Spirit was certainly in our little classroom.
A few days later the class was discussing topical issues in small groups. Mary seemed left out a little. I quietly said to her, “Go and sit in that spare seat so that you will be able to better participate in the discussions.” She told me she was fine and did not need to move.
After a while I asked her if she remembered giving me that description of her God. She gave me a big smile and said she did. She added that she had kept the piece of paper that I had given her the following year.
I had written a column describing the various images of God that the students in that class had given me.
I gave the students whose work I had described a copy of my column as I thought that, as it was their image, they were entitled to read what I had written.
I didn’t think they would be bothered to read my article as I was no longer their teacher and I thought they would find it too heavy.
I was amazed she had kept the article for those three years – a long time for a young person. Then I asked her if she was surprised that I had remembered her story.
Just as I had not forgotten the images that those students gave me, I do not think that I shall forget how her face lit up with this most beautiful smile as she simply replied “Yes!”
As I reflected on this episode it made me think how careful we must be as parents, grandparents and teachers with our words and actions to those little ones entrusted to our care.
As an uninhibited Year 8 she had shared with the class and with me her teacher what was very precious to her.
We did not laugh or ridicule her but showed her by our words and actions that not only was it a very beautiful image, but one that prophets had used as well to find God.
The little Pakistani girl, Malala, is known worldwide, because of her words regarding girls’ education. She was brutally shot by the Taliban thinking they would silence her by their action.
Instead, her words of “one child, one teacher, one book, one pen” (Yousafzai, Malala 2013) caused the spotlight to be centred on girls’ education in those lands.
There is a story told about the Cure d’Ars giving the town gossip a penance of climbing up a bell tower with a feather pillow and then emptying the feathers from the pillow into the street below. He then told her to collect the feathers – an impossible task. Just so our words can be used for good or for evil.
As St Teresa of Avila said:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless people now.”
By our words and our actions, no matter how insignificant, we leave a mark on others.
Years after the words have been said or the action done, long after we have forgotten we said or did that particular action, they are often remembered by someone – for good or for evil.
In John’s Gospel Jesus is called “the Word”. Jesus did not come as the warrior Messiah but as the teacher and the compassionate saviour.
Two-thousand years later we still treasure his words and actions as we try to make the gospels come alive for us in the 21st century.
Sr Elvera Sesta is a Presentation Sister and a teacher at St Rita’s College, Clayfield, Brisbane.