Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Funeral Sermon for a Teacher

What is a teacher's greatest obstacle?  If you don't mind me wagering an answer among the teachers present here I would say that it's not "learning" or "classroom discipline," as important as those two are.

It's "listening."  Get 'em to listen and they may pay attention (classroom discipline solved) and they may then very well absorb your pearls of wisdom (learning solved.)

I know about listening because it's a priest's greatest liability.  (Boredom and reading the parish bulletin during his 20 minute sermon about his recent trip to Rome.)

How often do we not listen to that inner voice within us before making a major decision?  How often do we dismiss advice from family and friends because we know what's right, all the time.

The gift of listening.  I would also call it a skill especially in our present noisy culture.

Whenever I gave Alice communion, she would open her hand and in the palm of her hand was a telephone number.  I placed the host in her palm and wondered whose number she needed to remember.  Whose number was so important to be inked in the palm of her hand.  (Isn't that where God places us?)

"The Manhattan Transfer" had a hit song that connected us through an Operator, Information, Long Distance, Heaven and finally Jesus Christ.  There's your six degrees of separation from the most important person in your life.  "You, the Operator, Information, Long Distance, Heaven, Jesus Christ."

We seek and yearn for connections throughout our lives.  Some are lost, some forgotten, others ignored, still others cherished and nurtured, and still other others are simply no longer here.  The price of aging and yet the beauty of aging.

Her children told me that Alice said the rosary faithfully many times a day.  In the morning she would look through all her memorial cards of family and friends no longer here and then begin the rosary's repetition.  Repetitive by design, hypnotic by effect.  Alice's memories could only flood back to her during those times.  All the connections, both lost and important, are crisply in front of her. 

How many names, places, dates and recollections Alice relived we will never know but the connections we can surely know.  Those who were lost and forgotten, those people she treasured and those folks who were close friends were now gathered around her and with her during that morning ritual.  Asked why she did that every morning, she replied, "What else can I do?"  Sometimes in your 90's there is no tomorrow but only the yesterdays that are as visible to you as a 10 year old's future dreams.  Both are surreal but both truly can be held in the palm of your hand.

Alice reduced her six degrees of separation by three.  She directly connected to Jesus Christ through family, friends and all her students through her teaching years that she invited and encouraged to listen to her.

How can we listen to the important connectors in our lives, those people who care about us and with whom we have much to share?  Their advice may sometimes be weak but their intentions are pure.  Our advice to them may be feeble but our love for them is sincere. 

Together, then, through our connections we find the Christ that lives within us and the God who holds our telephone number in the palm of His hand.

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