A Word from Our Chaplain

Word From Our ChaplainThere is much beauty in life, and much of it available for each of us to behold. However, I suppose it depends on what you believe whether or not you see much, or even any, of it. Personally, I believe that as the days come, accumulating into months, then years, they have within them more beauty than we can possibly perceive, which beauty, in my truth, includes me and you. But that’s another story for another time…

Anyway, as I’ve continued in this mortal experience, now well into my 64th year of living, there is much joy within me as I remember, much beauty within and without that has enhanced and significantly formed me into my particular “whoness” (it’s not really a word, except it’s a word that I decided I needed to express my sense of just who each of us is, so I use it now like it’s a word). Now, not all incidents or memories carry the same weight, have the same significance. Some are sentinel; that is, they stand out as indelible markers of a life-changing, life-forming philosophy that consciously and subconsciously guide us.

One of those happened for me back in high school. It was my senior year and I’d needed one more science class to fulfill graduation requirements so I enrolled in the chemistry class. (It was a small school, about 250 in grades 9-12; I think I had 38 in my senior class!) We had nine students, four who were taking the class for honors (I was not one of those!). It was a state-of-the-art classroom with tables and stations all around wherein we could do experiments, either alone or with others.

On this particular day we were working with electricity and its conductivity, what substances made for good conductors of current and which did not. We’d just learned that a solid form of salt conducts well, but I wanted to know if many grains of salt gathered together would conduct electricity. So I asked the teacher, Mr. Engbrecht, who’d come to stand next to me to observe, what would happen. (And here comes my sentinel moment…) He replied, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

Do you see what he did? He didn’t answer my question. He didn’t do something to solve my problem. He invited me to learn for myself by joining him in discovery. The expert, the authority, the teacher portrayed himself as a person still learning and still teaching, but he did it by inviting me “up” to his level; or, even better, he joined me at “my” level, after which we learned something together.

By not answering my question, by not assuming the role of a dominant figure (which in the classroom was certainly his position as teacher) but recognizing that he was still a student, a learner, I learned that it was less necessary to answer questions than it was to join others in learning, to invite others to discover together.

That was 45 years ago and I don’t know if Mr. Engbrecht is still living. But this I know: he’s alive in me every time I wonder about something, and every time someone wonders a thing to me.

And those moments are beautiful.

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