Recently, AVLI began working on a new foreign language initiative. As new things go, it has taken a great deal of effort to make what feels like a tiny bit of progress. This seems perfectly understandable. After all, Newton’s 1st Law of Motion suggests that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and where friction exists the initial force necessary for movement needs to be substantial. The only problem with referencing Newton’s Law, however, is that we aren’t talking about a physical body here, but an idea. Why are ideas so hard to move forward?
A few weeks back, I encountered a Bible verse from the Book of James that I don’t recall hearing before (though likely have and ignored).
Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak…humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you…Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts; such a one shall be blessed in what he does. James 1:19-27
Wow. There’s a lot in there to unpack. Let’s start with “peers into the perfect law of freedom” - a wonderfully beautiful expression. In short, the perfect law of freedom is about our redemption. Through his suffering and death, Jesus frees us, allowing us to pursue our imperfect paths to eternal life. Thus, while laws normally restrict what we can do, this law requires that we expand. Our freedom obligates us to be more and to do more. “Peering into” the perfect law of freedom suggests not only that we recognize that we are free, but more importantly that we want to understand that freedom more deeply so as to pursue it with intention. This is where we find purpose and hope. It is the spiritual practice of contemplation.
Contemplation is what allows us to “humbly welcome the word that has been planted” and it is an important first step on the road to freedom, serving as a compass. Contemplation without action, though, makes us the “man who looks at his own face in a mirror.” In that moment, he knows himself in relation to the world around him. Ideas form. He may even utter words like “I ought to” or “I wish I” before promptly walking away from the mirror; the moment lost. This is me all too often. The hurdle is doing.
Last evening, our AVLI teachers were meeting to discuss ways in which we can care for our students. As our previous two CrossCurrents posts (here and here) discuss, many students are struggling not only with learning loss, but with a variety of important skills including motivation and time management. One teacher shared insights from this video (15 minutes) that shed important light. Common thought suggests that motivation leads to action. In practice, though, it is often reversed. A person performs an action which produces a reward which serves to motivate the person to perform another action. In addition, while external rewards such as money and recognition can sustain motivation for a period, intrinsic rewards foster perseverance.
For the past two years we have been essentially homebound. “Doing” has been difficult, and while certain aspects of this “slowing down” have been positive, we are seeing the effects of disrupted reward systems and our inability to act on many of the things we value most. The action - reward - motivation - action cycle has been replaced with a cycle of empty activity (tv, video games, social media) - transactional reward-indifference - empty activity. No wonder adults are quitting their jobs in record numbers and teens are having difficulty reengaging in school.
Once again, this leads me to express how important it is for our Catholic high schools to stay the course. It also takes me back to two critical words from the Bible verse above - “and perseveres.” This represents the acting that goes with the hearing. During this time, it has been difficult for young people to extricate themselves from their motivational malaise, particularly when the traditional external rewards secular society dangles seem so imperative and yet so empty.
In words and deeds, our Catholic schools call students to something more. It’s not that the pressures to go to the best college, to make the most money, and to be the most popular don’t exist in Catholic schools, it’s that there are counterweights focusing on intrinsic matters of the heart. Retreats, service experiences, and every-day classroom conversations foster a contemplative spirit, and provide young people the opportunity to move beyond hearing and into action. Is it counter-cultural? At times. Is it out of step? That depends on the path on which you are walking.
Peering into the perfect law of freedom can be daunting. It’s important that we persevere because hearing isn’t enough. Whether you’re an organization discerning a new language learning idea, a recent empty nester thinking of a way to get more involved in your community, or a timid teen considering whether to involve yourself in your school’s musical, study the options, listen with your heart, then act. Even if that action involves continuing down the current path, start walking with intention and embrace the journey. After all, Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the peace-contemplators.” Sometimes we need to be makers.
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman, AVLI President
vol 4 issue 8