A recent invitation to my childhood neighborhood reunion elicited numerous memories. Amazingly, I found myself still able to list each of my teachers from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Much to my surprise, a smile or queasy stomach accompanied each name. Fortunately, most of my former teachers continue to cause me to smile, especially Sister Imelda, R.S.M.
Sister Imelda holds the dubious honor of being my first high school homeroom teacher. This role included teaching religion to my classmates and me. Difficult as it might have been to get our attention, Sister did so with ease by providing us with a “question box.” At the beginning of each class, Sister read and responded to one of our submissions. I came to appreciate Sister Imelda’s bravery in doing this after sitting on the teacher’s side of the desk for a few years myself. Our class of fifteen-year-old girls provided some extremely creative questions specifically designed to require a class-length response. The intent was to avoid getting to the previous day’s homework and to prevent the rendering of the current day’s assignment.
Our devious plan might have worked with a less ingenious teacher. In this case, Sister Imelda beat us at our own game. Rather than assigning “the next chapter,” Sister turned our questions into homework. Though she responded to them graciously and thoroughly, she sent us off each day to research “just one more source” regarding the day’s topic. Needless to say, we all knew far more about sin, faith and morals than we cared to by the end of the year. More importantly, by June, each of us saw this God of ours and ourselves with different eyes.
Those “different eyes” explain why I hold on to something Sister Imelda repeated often that year. You see, rather than preaching at us or “guilting” us into submission, Sister presented moral living as a kind of insurance policy which would keep us in our most desirable states. When one of our questions concerned physical intimacy, for example, Sister spoke to the wonder of this gift and the possible consequences. She looked upon the “rules” as shields held around us by a most loving God. If we allowed God to remain nearby, we were protected. “Human beings are drawn to goodness,” Sister often said. “If we keep ourselves good, we will always enjoy the company of someone who truly loves us.”
I cannot speak for my classmates, but Sister’s observation kept me out of the arms of a potential boyfriend or two who were not the least bit interested in my goodness. Sister’s observation also gave me the courage to pursue some friendships which were not necessarily in keeping with being popular. I looked at life and at myself very differently because of Sister Imelda. By the end of freshman year, I had left my elementary school attitudes behind me as I began to develop the vision which guided me to adulthood.
The scriptures are sometimes as unsettling as the questions we mercilessly posed to Sister Imelda that year. When read with the eyes of this world, these passages leave us quite confused. Wisdom (9:13-18) insures us that we understand nothing unless we are gifted with understanding by the Holy Spirit. What if one is not among the gifted? In Philemon 9-10;12-17, Paul writes to his dear friend. Philemon’s slave ran away, and Paul somehow befriended him. Paul wanted this former slave to remain with him, but realized this could not be. Thus, Paul sent the man back to Philemon, asking his friend to see this slave as Paul himself and to treat him accordingly. Paul fully expected Philemon to turn the world he knew topsy-turvy in order to accommodate this request. What if Philemon refused? In Luke’s gospel (4:25-33), Jesus further forsakes the world’s view of things when he calls the crowds before him to hate everything they hold dear. Only then would they be free to be disciples. What type of eyes can look upon all that is dear in this world and walk away from it?
Sister Imelda understood the sort of eyes needed by true disciples, the same eyes needed by each of us: Eyes which value oneself as a child of God; eyes that appreciate goodness, first in God’s children and then in God’s gifts; eyes that rejoice in the joy of others and weep at another’s pain; eyes that visualize the wonder that could be; eyes that make that vision a reality; eyes, once human, but no longer; God’s eyes.
Dear God, please bless us with your vision…
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved