“There is no massing of men with God.”
— George MacDonald
After the bell rang, I walked into my classroom to face the first herd of the school year. Two dozen still unidentified bodies had been severed in half. The sand-colored laminate blade of a large tabletop saw had made its fresh, horizontal cut into the chest of each of my students — stopping just short of the heart.
And here they thought they were just sitting down in their desks.
Above and below the saw, random body parts sputtered and twitched from the release of pent-up nervous systems. On top, fingers clutched a notebook. Underneath, a pair of feet kicked back and forth.
The faces of these unknown victims presaged at least a million complicated personal histories, though I couldn’t hear any of the breathing. The room was too quiet.
And then, suddenly, a holy wind rushed across my face. I began clapping. Just clapping until they joined me in a loud, rapturous applause. This didn’t make any sense.
“One never knows when the (S)pirit will move,” I told them, shaking my head.
Typically, the first class following summer vacation will carry the skulduggery of a slaughter day. I expected rigid bodies, blank stares, but also cold flashes of fear and resentment among the wise. With bitter clarity, those souls would understand the reason why they had been caged and corralled.
School was no zoo after all.
Yet our hand-clapping must have cut through some fences and iron bars. As my eyes rolled across the bright colors of carefully chosen outfits, their eyes actually invited me to the front of the room. These students were awake and eager to move again.
Thank goodness I hadn’t decided to spend the rest of class reading through a black and white syllabus of class rules, guidelines and expectations.
The first week of school is life or death. At least that’s always been my opinion with respect to students. A teacher can whisper to them –or whip at them. However, experience tells me that, should the prodigal student dare to run toward his desk again, the sight of a taskmaster toting a horsewhip (or, say, a grammar book) will send that boy running back to his old swine quicker than you can say “introductory adverbial clause”.
After a few days of feasting, then we can head back to the fields and get dirty again. But not today.
In my classroom, the first week is all about attendance. Well, not only attendance. But it is about being present. Fully present.
We spent most of our class time on attendance during that first day. Sitting in a squarish circle, I asked students, as I called their names, what they had for breakfast. We ate up many delicious tangents in the process, with much laughing.
I made sure that everyone smiled at least once. Within 40 minutes, I knew each person’s name. The students were happy, impressed. Someone began clapping again, and we all celebrated with more applause, together.
But most importantly, I looked each student in the eye and shared a conversation. It’s so easy for some students to fade into the background and go days, weeks, even months without speaking in class. Some students go years without being present. Let alone fully present.
Learning their names is only the beginning. Names point to something else — something still unseen and undiscovered. Names point to the over-arching presence which will slowly occupy the course of our lives.
Our attendance matters.
George MacDonald writes about the oak which God sees “in the heart of the acorn.” God names us by what we can’t yet see in ourselves. Better than any teacher, God understands the gravity of our attendance, and presence, in His forest.
The very nature of education requires both the learner and teacher to have a faith which sees beyond the smallness of the seed. Appearing inscrutable and insignificant at first, the seed does matter. And every seed has a name.
MacDonald writes, “It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion, that determines the name; and God foresees that from the first, because he made it so; but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear, and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing its own unarrived completeness, named itself. Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name.”
In life, we’re all students of discovery, including teachers. Together, as we learn to inhabit our God-given names, we have much cause for celebration.
“The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Isaiah 55:12 (NASB)