A story is like water
That you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!
Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself,
like a salamander, or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.
A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.
Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.
The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.
Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.
– by Jelaluddin Rumi, taken from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks
When I left my 17 year-long teaching experience of the public schools, I realized a part of my problem was that I had experienced a closing off of who I am: someone who believes in God. Some at my school were vocal about those who believed in God, or who went to church, or who talked about Christ. . . they had derogatory names for us. Some even put down anyone who had ever attended a Christian school. So I grew accustomed to closing the door to that part of my life while I was at work.
Then I began teaching at my current school: a small private school to prepare adult students for the American University experience. My first class included five students–one from Samoa, two from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one from Ethiopia and one from Brazil. In a discussion about persuasive essays and how to approach them, I mentioned hearing the Socratic Debate at Oregon State University. The topic was, “Is there a God and does it matter?” After talking for awhile amongst themselves, one student asked me, “Teacher, do you believe there is a god?”
I looked tentatively at them and said, “Hmmm, I’m not sure I can tell you.” When they asked me why not, I explained that in a public school setting it’s not a topic we can talk about because we want everyone to feel included. They all agreed they thought I was able to at this school. A wonderful moment of freedom and relief followed after I said, “Yes I do.” The students nodded and we moved on. A cloud lifted, a weight that I had been carrying for a very long time was suddenly not there. These students accepted me as a believer in god, religion had nothing to do with it. Two of these students follow Islam’s teaching, two are Mormon and one an Orthodox Christian. I felt welcomed by them in a way I hadn’t ever before.
After this experience, our class discussed many different topics and views, including their wonderful question: why are there so many different Christian churches teacher?” This question prompted a lot of interior dialogue for me. I answered their question at the time by saying just a few sentences about his each denomination holds slightly different views on certain ideas but that they are united by Christ.
Then I wondered if the different Christian groups are just reflections of preferences in worship practices which then led me to wonder: just what is the unifying message? For a long time before this, I thought I knew the answer but to be honest, recent politics in the larger church has me currently wondering whether we are united by a whole Christ, or just see different parts of him. Right now my faith in many things is shattered, including God, in a way it never has been before. My belief in a higher power remains strong, but what I thought I understood about God is constantly shifting.
The TED Talk entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows how one individual’s world can be shaped (or misshapen) by a narrow view of the world or any one particular idea. Chimamanda’s own view of the world was broadened by hearing and knowing different views, especially in literature. I feel as if by teaching English to my incredible students my view of God has been strengthened and broadened. My students have given me multiple stories about God instead of my single story.