Awe. When I stand in front of my classes Tuesday morning for the first time this school year, that is the feeling that I want to permeate my consciousness. Each student bears the very image of God. What does this mean? “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal....[Y]our neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses,” is how C.S. Lewis expresses it in his sermon “The Weight of Glory.”
To drive home to myself just what this means as I deal with my students this year, I copied over most of the final paragraph of the sermon, making a few wording changes:
The load, or weight, or burden of my students’ glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to teach in a classroom of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting student I teach may one day be a creature which, if I saw it now, I would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as I now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long I am, in some degree, helping my students to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that I should conduct all my dealings with students, all teaching, all discipline, all hallway conversations, all consultations with other teachers.
There are no ordinary students. I have never taught a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom I teach, give assignments to, assess, cheer for from the bleachers--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that I am to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And my charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which I love the sinner--no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. My students are the holiest objects presented to my senses. If she is a Christian student, it is a holiness not only of the image of God, but also of the indwelling presence of Christ.
I’m not sure how to properly cite that. I altered a few words and phrases to make it specific to teaching. I Americanized spelling and added a few paragraphs for modern style. And I omitted the bit where my theology of the sacrament diverges. Other than that, it’s Lewis’s thoughts and words. You can read them here--it’s the final 3/4 of the final paragraph.
May we take each other seriously. The first day of school, and throughout the year.