Thursday, 20 December 2012

So this is what the other half do?

Helpful tip: try to avoid cracks, puddles and cars.

Last night I told my wife I was going Christmas shopping. I have to confess that she has done almost everything on that front. But I console myself with the fact that I'm the hunter/gatherer and she is the...spender; what did cave women do in their spare time?

So I took the advice of an expert, I didn't wear clothing that would make me too warm as I walked around shops (no 'jumper'/'sweater'), took the train (no parking issues), and did a bit of planning before I set off.

But I didn't reckon on it being Thursday night, not a Saturday afternoon. This means two things: I'd been at work all day so I was spent before I was spending and, as only the desperate shop at that time of night it wasn't so busy, and a third thing (which has just popped into my head making this a very long sentence) is that it is colder in the night (didn't you know).

So, I found I was cold, was sent back and forth by sales assistants to their 'other store' across the city, wondered what the rest of the shoppers were doing at home who were supposed to be out there with me, was raining and my shoes were NOT waterproof, it turns out. In fact, I could feel the bit that was coming apart at the sole with every step.
And when I say raining, I mean raining in the West of Scotland kind of way. I looked like a child avoiding the cracks as I tried desperately to find a bit of the pavement without a puddle.
So I got home exhausted at about 13 hours after I'd first left it in the morning.

Now, here's a question: is this really what some women call a hobby?

But I have to concede what a joy a bookstore can be. Let's here it for the Waterstone store that soldiers on against the online onslaught. It seems to be the only major one left in town. You stand there, not a puddle in sight, the assistants approach you to help in a friendly way and you get lost reading a very interesting book in a section and forget what you came for.

I did my bit to support them- but what I did has to remain a surprise!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Extracting Good from Evil

With a class of six-year-olds and five of my own, it's natural that the Newtown tragedy in the US has an impact on my own thoughts.

I looked at my own children and thought 'what if I didn't see them again?' What if something so horrible happened to them- then you have to stop thinking along those lines. But it simply makes you realise the need to value them in preference to the limitless number of things that can get in the way.
"Wouldn't life be great if I did X,Y,Z?" Well, maybe life would seem better. But wouldn't someone else be much happier if I did A,B,C?
In fact, A,B,C is very likely to be my primary duty. And some duties towards my own children only I can do. A,B,C is also staring at me and X,Y,Z is often Walter Mitty or Ideal Dad material.

I worry if I'm a good teacher. All the time. Sometimes I just want to give up. But then I hear another teacher say something similar and I realise I'm not alone. We can't all give up.
But when I posed this to a priest friend of mine months ago he asked me 'do you love them?' And of course I said I did.

The wisdom in this is something for another post. What is it to educate?

Do I love the children I teach? How do I show this? Do I respect their dignity? Do I contribute to them earning a bad reputation by the way I speak to colleagues about them? Am I always acting in their best interests and not just 'spouting off', letting off steam at their expense? Am I sarcastic?

What if one of these children wasn't to turn up the next day? And what if that was it? If I only had memories of our relationship what would it be? What is my relationship with each child in my care?

When they are in my class I am acting 'in loco parentis'. How am I actively working on loving these children before me, modelling myself on the love the Father has for each one of us?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Look at my car, of course there's a God

I was in a rush to work a couple of days ago, made all the more hectic by the winter frost we've been having. But amidst frantic scrubbing of frost off the car windows I was stopped in my tracks, as it were, by the look of my car roof.

I was glad I wasn't having to brush it off, it would have felt cruel. It made me immediately think of the wonder of creation. From a more argumentative perspective, it made me wonder how people could look at the complexity of such small features of beauty and say 'this is all by chance'.
It reminds me of two further points. The first being the complexity of snowflakes, that doesn't need the assertion that 'no two snowflakes are the same' to be true to make you gaze in wonder at these chilled feathers from heaven (don't my car frost patterns resemble feathers so wonderfully?)

The second point is regarding evolution, of all things!
It matters little to Catholics weather God created the world with or without his tool of evolution. Evolution within species has plenty of evidence. Even humans have evolved in time. However, when I recently read that the Theory of Evolution has not one single example to prove it as the explanation of the 'origin of species', this made me wonder again at God's more direct Providence.
Creationists, as I remember from Higher Biology at school, believe God to have created everything at a particular moment in time. Well, that was one extreme view presented to us. Certainly, He is proposed as having created each specie directly, not one from another. Subsequently, another year at university studying Biology still confirmed in my own mind the idea that evolution was the answer to the origins of life.

But there still is an evidence gap I have discovered. So, when I suddenly realised that evolution as the origin of species is a theory that has become an assumption for the order and variety I see around me, I felt slightly duped.
I felt duped that I could have been wondering at God's direct involvement in my life through the material world I saw around me all through my life. Instead I'd been persuaded to see God somewhere distant at the beginning, pushing the big ball of mass off His table to start the Big Bang. He was so far removed, with milions of years of evolution separating us, that God couldn't be realistically perceived, nowhere had He left His mark in my environment.

But now, with evolution back into it's proper scientific status as a theory, I could wonder again at Providence as more immediately graspable. And if evolution as the origin of species, as God's chosen tool of Nature, is proven, so be it. I'm still a Catholic. God is still the Author. God is still the Boss.
One final point. How clever then is God to have thought of evolution, if it is proven to be all some would like to be. In all it's complexity, it's a means of masking his Providence from those who want to deny His existence. It gives a means to ultimate freedom of intellect -to put God at the centre and science as a servant of Truth or Science at the centre and God as just a tool.
Pity you if the latter is all you have, it's a pittance.

Choose the former and be filled with Love and Wonder.

Let's 'ear it for the funny side of things

What I'm about to impart will not perhaps be a universal experience. In fact, maybe you had to be there to appreciate it. But I can't help myself relate it.

My wife and I have deal. I can do her nails because I've lots of experience of keeping mine in trim for playing the classical guitar, and she can trim the hair out of my ears.

So last night she started on the left ear. No problem. Then she did the right one and the fun began. I just couldn't stop laughing. And as she tried to clip the hair as my head moved about she was laughing as well. Have you ever tried to cut something while it moves? I was imagining handing my right ear around friends saying 'never mind the blood, look how hairless it is!'

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Praying in class

I pray with my children in class at school in the morning and, I suppose, I try to do that part of the day well. Being the infant department it may go downhill from there.

One part of it is to prepare children a little so that they're not just doing it as a rote learned exercise. But yes, there is a value even in that. In the short time available at that point in the day I vary which one prayer we use as an offering for our petitions in order that we don't neglect the memorisation of all our basic prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be- they are only six years of age). So, there is a rote memorisation going on over time.
  1. However, I try to introduce a prayerful attitude to start with. This is very, very important. It's an education in sincerity. Besides why they are praying, I also try to remind them of Who they are praying to. Who's listening anyway? Who are they talking to?
    'Let's try to think of God who loves us so much. That's why we are alive. He made us because He loves us so much, more than you can ever imagine. So let's pray to Him and offer Him something back for everything He gives us...'
  2. We then do the Morning Offering.
  3. Then each group in my class gets a turn at offering verbal petitions, one group per day. But others can add their own 'if it's serious and can't wait 'til it's your turn'. 

    This is a chance to remember those who have died and for occasional reminders that we are even more important than the animals we pray for often (because we are made in God's image and likeness). This is helpful because the children see the immediate relevance of praying. They understand why they should pray with some seriousness because someone's mum is ill or brother has an exam. All they can do to help is pray. It's real. I always add that we pray for the pupils, staff and all their families in our own school and the non-denominational school we are joined to. God is the Father and Our Lady the Mother of all of us.
  4. Then I choose a prayer and briefly remind them of the purpose in that particular prayer. For example 'remember that we owe everything to God, so we pray the Glory Be to offer everything back to God in return for Him giving us all we have that is good'.

    Especially for the longer Our Father and Hail Mary, I try to briefly explain a part of the prayer so that they aren't 'just saying it' i.e. without understanding. I don't expect an overnight result but this is a case of chiseling away at adult language barriers for children and allowing them to enter into the prayer a little bit. For example, 'Who art in Heaven' is just an old, beautiful way of saying 'Who is in Heaven' so He sees everything and we want to go and be with Him'. Who knows, maybe one day they'll say to their own children or someone else 'my teacher used to say this meant...'
  5. We say the prayer, hopefully praying the prayer. If it is a new prayer then obviously they would learn it a line at a time, repeating it after me (and point 4 wouldn't make so much sense yet).
  6. We finish with 'Holy Mother Mary and St.Joseph' and they respond 'Pray for us'. Then 'And all the angels and saints of God' and they respond 'Pray for us'. Even this is something, like a liturgical norm, they need to be taught. It's an introduction to the Communion of Saints. Every now and then it could be explained, especially after a serious petition, 'everyone in Heaven is praying for you right now'.
Perhaps there will be a little more living of our prayers as a result. What would the world be like if we all lived a little more of 'as we forgive those who trespass against us'?
There are wider educational benefits to this approach. The class forms a unity in purpose (in life), see their inter-connectedness as a family of God, and express themselves and listen to everyone else in a respectful attitude. I'm sure there are so many other benefits.

This all might take some time, but if I had to move it to a slightly later part of the day it would be fine. I would just start with the Morning Offering by itself and do the rest later, once the register is in and the pressure is off.
Of course, my register might be one of the last to go into the office, but I know I've done something that puts the heart into what a Catholic school ought to be. I've started the day as I mean to continue. Even if it might often go downhill, we started well.

Friday, 7 December 2012

From a daughter to brothers

Dear brothers, how blessed I am to have you in my life. I am blessed four times over (well, four and a half). I may be twice your size, in two of those instances, but then how would we play hide 'n' seek if you couldn't fit into all those wee hiding places? Your size multiplies the possibilities.

Then, dear special younger brother, would I have become the expressive reader I am if I hadn't read you all those stories at bed time, and other times, when mum and dad needed you to stop? Just stop doing things for a bit and give them a break?

Then, dearest older brother, I know we're not supposed to be getting on, us both being teenagers now, but it is good that we regularly talk about things we have in common. We're only a year apart in school and sing in the same choir. So, let's be honest, we do have a lot people we know in common. In fact, dare I say it, some friends in common.

And if I wasn't the only daughter, I wouldn't have that unique relationship with mum.

Now Dad, can I have a new reading light to replace the one they just ruined?

If truth be told, as it always should, I wouldn't make her work that hard. She's a lovely daughter, and now a teenager.

How time flies...

I used to like dolls 'n' stuff but I've got brothers.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What goes on up there?

We have been having our Christmas shows at school and one child wrote about it in his 'News'.

'Today we did our Christmas Show. All my friends and Alan were in it.'

'Oh dear!' I thought. Poor Alan!
Then I looked at the name on the front of the jotter...Alan.

A budding journalist? A self-forgetting 6 year-old?