Issue Date: April 14, 2006
Keeping the classroom contemplative
||THE GARDEN AT NIGHT:
BURNOUT AND BREAKDOWN IN THE TEACHING LIFE
Mary Rose OReilley
Heinemann, 80 pages, $14
Reviewed by ANTONIA RYAN
Everyone is too busy these days, and teachers are no exception. Dealing
with too many students, rushing off to faculty meetings and negotiating school
politics can pile on so much stress that once-idealistic teachers find their
enthusiasm eroding as they just try to make it through the day.
Mary Rose OReilley is a Quaker who teaches English at the College
of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. She has also completed certification in the
two-year spiritual guidance program at the Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Md.,
and has studied Buddhism with Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village, Duras, France.
In The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life, she
draws on her background in both Buddhist and Christian spirituality to propose
how teaching can be sustained as a contemplative vocation.
One intriguing area Dr. OReilley explores is the Buddhist idea of
first thoughts, which arise from being attuned to the present
moment, as one would be in meditation. Since much academic communication
is thought about thought, she asks in her prologue to The Garden at
Night, how can we get ourselves, our disciplines, and our students to
retain a hidden freshness?
Dr. OReilley peppers her brief book with stories from her teaching
career, some of which illustrate well what might lead a teacher to break down.
(I have sat in on administrative meetings where promulgations like this
one went unchallenged: Our faculty are like tubes of toothpaste, you can
always get more out of them, she writes in one chapter.)
Ultimately, she says, teachers must not be too wrapped up in materialism or in
accumulating honors, which can take them away from the reason they became
teachers in the first place.
Though the book is aimed specifically at teachers, it is applicable to
the workplace in general. We spend half our waking lives at work, but too
many of us live half-lives while we are there, writes Parker J. Palmer in
his foreword to The Garden at Night. Dr. OReilleys
suggestion that one has to have an inner life and be familiar with its
contours is good advice for anyone looking for a more reflective
experience in the midst of lifes routine.
Benedictine Sr. Antonia Ryan is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Christian quests and questions
In Pilgrim in Time, Episcopalian sculptor Rosanne Keller
meditates on her wide travels around the world -- spending weekends with her
family in Mexico by the Sea of Cortez, making a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland,
and walking along El Camino de Compostela, the 500-mile Way of St.
James, in Spain. She also offers insight she gained closer to home when she
lived on the St. Johns campus in Collegeville, Minn., where she got her
masters degree in monastic studies, and in her native Texas, where she
now lives and has her studio.
||PILGRIM IN TIME
By Rosanne Keller
Liturgical Press, 127 pages, $11.95
Ms. Keller says that at the Mass she attended at the end of her
Compostela pilgrimage, the bishop of Santiago said in his homily to the
gathered pilgrims, Keep the pilgrim spirit always. Now, go and live your
lives without fear. Her little book reminds us that time is sacred,
whether were on pilgrimage or going through our ordinary days.
|WHY DO CATHOLICS EAT FISH ON FRIDAY? THE CATHOLIC ORIGIN TO JUST ABOUT
By Michael P. Foley
Palgrave Macmillan, 214 pages, $12.95
Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? revels in the kinds of
things that the average person would be surprised to learn have a Catholic
meaning behind them, says author Michael P. Foley, who has a doctorate in
Catholic theology and teaches at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
In Chapter 1 on festivals, food and drink, Mr. Foley touches on the
Catholic history of eating fish on Friday -- and how that practice led to the
McDonalds Filet-o-Fish sandwich -- and discusses foods such as the
pretzel and the Polish paczki (a sort of filled donut) that originated
because of the traditional Lenten fast.
Other chapters treat entertainment, science and education, politics and
word etymology. The segment on the arts boasts plenty of well-known Catholic
writers and a few obscure ones; an especially interesting tidbit is about Dame
Juliana Berners, a 15th-century prioress, whose Treatyse of Fysshynge with
an Angle is supposed to be the first manual on angling. Some believe Dame
Juliana is the first woman to publish in English.
||WHAT IS THE POINT OF BEING A CHRISTIAN?
By Timothy Radcliffe
& Oates, 218 pages, $16.95
At the beginning of What Is the Point of Being a Christian?
Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the order, recalls the title
question being put to him by a friend. He could originally see no reason to
explain. A religion that tries to market itself as useful for some other
purpose -- because it helps you to live a stable life, because it gets rid of
stress or makes you wealthy -- is shooting itself in the foot, he writes.
If it has to justify itself by serving some other end, then it cannot be
a religion that one could take seriously. The point of any religion is to point
us to God who is the point of everything.
Later, though, the friends question made Fr. Radcliffe look more
closely at how our professed beliefs manifest themselves in a Christian life.
If we talk about love and fellowship, but there is none, then why should
anyone believe us? His chapters progress through certain characteristics
that Christian faith should bring: freedom, happiness, courage, comfortableness
in our bodies. Drawing on literature, wide theological knowledge and pastoral
experience, he lays out how many people are struggling through the complex
issues of todays world and stresses the importance of listening to others
with whose opinions we may not agree.
-- Antonia Ryan
National Catholic Reporter, April 14,