School

schoolI come today to a schoolroom: wooden floors, old wrought-iron desks with wooden tops and inkwells, a slate black board, like a room from a museum. This room carries the echoes of an even older classroom with rows of benches, a pot of clay for tablets, and a stylus by each seat. They are quiet now, no students squirming in their seats, no teacher rapping on her desk or master tapping his foot on the floor. But there is an echo of the grand enterprise that inhabited such places – the task of wrapping minds around fact and turning it into knowledge.

I need instruction, Lord. I need to learn your truth. Indeed, I need to learn how to learn it. I need to know the steps of discipline that create the space for the understanding.

So I seat myself in one of the small wooden desks, sliding into the front row, running my fingers over the pencil grove, touching the scrawled initials of past infatuations. I raise the lid and find a tablet there. A Big Chief, with wide lines and dashed guides for forming letters. I guess I’m starting at the beginning. I open the tablet and brush my hand across the first page. It feels smooth and comforting. Beginnings are clean and neat. It’s later that the eraser marks will wear their way through the pages and the curled shreds of the eraser will litter the desk.   I write my name at the top of the page, in formal first grade block letters.

Then I look up to the teacher’s desk. The Lord is quietly seated there. His legs hang over the edge and he leans upon one arm. He is relaxed and smiling. “I’m pleased you have come.” he says. “We can continue now with our lessons.”

“Continue?” I look down at my empty page. “I have only written my name.” I confess. “I haven’t gotten much done.”

“I, too have written your name.” he says and pulls out from his desk a tablet. At first I am afraid that is a grade book, but he shakes his head, no grade book here… no writing of marks to measure progress, the measure of progress lies within.

I go to stand beside the desk, so I can look at his tablet. He opens the cover and there he has, indeed, written my name, in letters that are formed by figures and pictures, like the intricate beginning letters in some of my old storybooks. When I look at the letters they come alive – the figures move – places and people of my past play out their stories within the letters on this page. So, my name holds my story and the Lord holds the tablet on which it is written.

“But this is only where we are now,” he says, “and we have just begun. Where we are going, what we will learn, together, is just on the next page. Let us continue.” He turns to the next page in his tablet, and it is smooth and clean. He climbs down from the desk and stands beside me, with the tablet open on the desk before us.

He picks up a large quill pen and dips into an inkwell on his desk. He places the pen in my hand and wraps his hand, large and warm around mine. To do this he must reach around my shoulder, so that he is standing behind me, to one side. I lean back, ever so slightly, so that I can feel his movements, catch the rhythm of his breathing. I am wrapped in his presence.

Together we place the tip of the pen upon the page and begin to write. Words and pictures in wonderful colors flow from the pen. We let it unfold before us, his hand guiding mine as the pen moves forward. The images cannot confine themselves to the page, they leap to life before me and paint the images of my office, my day.

I have left my meditation and am sitting in my office. My desk is filled with papers and outside my window I can see students walking by on their way to class. But if I lean back, ever so slightly, I can feel him breathing. If I let myself, I can feel his hand wrapping itself around my own.

1/20/95

[photo by James Wilkinson per cc 2.0]

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