A Lenten Practice: Engagement

Steven LevyDevotional, The CACE Roundtable, The Teachers' Lounge2 Comments

Don’t move on—move in!

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
–John the Apostle, from the Gospel of John

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
–John the Beatle, from I am the Walrus

My wife and I have spent many hours contemplating the mysteries of who we are in Christ, who Christ is in us, and who are our brothers and sisters, all sons and daughters of “Adam who was the son of God” (Luke the Physician).

Before the creation of the world, where were we, and how were we together with God, with heaven and earth, with spirit and matter? And for what purpose? 

I must confess that most of our deep and meandering conversations, especially if Richard Rohr comes up, end with “I guess we are the walrus after all.”

Here is what the Scriptures tell us:

  • The whole world, and everything in it, is filled with the presence of Christ: he “fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23).
  • His plan is to reunite all things, that were one from the beginning–to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

Even now, Christ is in everything, holding it all together, filling all things with his presence (Colossians 1:17). And the Father’s longing is to bring everything together again in Christ’s name, under his authority.

During this Lenten season, I have been contemplating this wonder, trying to pay attention to the divine presence and what my role is in God’s plan to bring all things together in Christ. How do we actually experience God’s presence beyond an intellectual affirmation?

One thing I have sensed is a desire, deeper than my natural impulse to “move on,” a desire to reconnect with everything that once was ONE before the foundation of time. In Christian terms, this longing to connect, originating deep in my spiritual DNA, is what we call love.

My small-self tendency is to separate, to escape into my own secluded world, to get back home to my private self. I avoid connection when I can, like at the gym: there is a back door I can exit without encountering the woman at the desk. Or at the supermarket: I can use the self-checkout. During this season of online church services, I do not miss the mingling following worship.

But in this season of Lent, with the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I am practicing engagement, connecting, coming together rather than moving apart.

The moment when I feel the pressure or anxiety to move on, I feel a prompting from God: “Move in—engage—come together. That is my plan for you and the world—to bring all things together in Christ.” I am actually going out of my way now to walk by the woman at the gym desk, the check-out man at the grocery store, the neighbor and strangers I meet on the street—to not only walk by, but to engage, with more than small pleasantries. I even join the social hour on zoom after the service.

Because when we are engaged and connected, the door opens for God to do his work. We don’t have to explicitly talk about God to our neighbor for his presence to manifest. As Jesus says about the farmer in the parable of the growing seed, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain” (Mark 4:26-29). When we are engaged with our neighbor, our colleagues, our students, their parents, and with the elements of the creation, God can open the door to produce his fruit, in his time.

In your school, with whom is God calling you to engage? Certainly, the glory and majesty of the subject you teach, your colleagues, and most of all, your students, particularly the ones who give you the most trouble, who know just how to push the buttons of your “small self.”

As an elementary teacher, I could usually find a way to connect with all my students . . . until I met Willie. This fourth grader knew where all my buttons were . . . and the buttons of his classmates. He was haughty, arrogant, and entirely without empathy. Speaking with an affected British accent, he knew the answer to every question (or thought he did). If I ever tried to put him in a group, he would last no more than a minute, huffing away, “Those shteeew-pid kids!”

One night while praying for Willie, I had a vision of him sitting on a throne donning a crown and holding a scepter. That was it! He was meant to be a king! And here he was stuck in the body of a nine-year-old boy. How frustrating that must be!

The next morning when I saw him, I invited him to join me in the hall. “Willie, I’m so sorry for the way I have been treating you these last few months. But now I understand. You were made to be a king, and here you are having to listen to your parents and your teacher, and worst of all, these other little kids! You can be sure I will treat you differently from now on.”

I headed back toward the classroom, but stopped and walked back to him. “But Willie, there’s just one thing.” And I told him about the beheading of Charles I and Louis XVI. “I worry, Willie, that if you don’t learn to be a good leader, the people might rise up against you.” We talked about what it meant to be a good leader. You had to show justice and mercy, to be humble and wise, and to bring out the best in your subjects. Later, we made a list of leadership qualities he would practice then taped it inside his desktop.

Willie was definitely changed through this encounter. But I was too! Seeing Willie through God’s glasses, I was able to delight in him, despite his imperfections. And delight–that is one facet of love that is concrete, experiential, and much more identifiable than the generic concept of love. We would all say that we love our students, but probably not that we delight in them the way God delights in us, despite our imperfections and sins.

Thank God that he engages with us, even delights in us no matter what state we are in. And when we are engaged with those around us, with his creation,we reflect his glory and are available for God to use in his story.

The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

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2 Comments on “A Lenten Practice: Engagement”

  1. Your description of delight, as a concrete and experiential facet of love touched me today. Thank you.

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