Thursday, December 16, 2010

Senior Privilege: It's All Mine

Applying the transitive property to this equation may be a stretch, but I have been a part of so many institutions that value “senior privileges,” it’s safe to say I do too. And I do. At my high school, Carondelet, seniors had special parking spaces and options to our so-called “uniform;” heck, we even our own bathroom. At Notre Dame, I longed for the days when only members of the senior class were permitted to walk up and down the steps of the Main Building—home of THE Golden Dome. And at St. Ignatius the primary privilege for seniors is to win (or keep) “The Bruce.” From my perspective, however, the greatest senior privilege at the Prep isn’t one they are privy to—it’s mine, for I get to teach them.

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to work with these students who are on the threshold. The time between their four years of high school and (what is seemingly much more than) the next four years of their life is at hand. It reminds me of what Celtic spirituality refers of as "Thin Places" - those places or events in life where the dividing line between the holy and the ordinary is very thin, to the point that the ordinary becomes holy and the holy becomes ordinary. Nothing is truer as I talk to seniors about discernment, vocation and developing an adult faith.
According to Mindie Burgoyne “Every person will identify a thin place differently. I can only share my own way. A thin place is sensed differently that our present world - you cannot see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, or taste it. Our sense of a thin place transcends the physical limitations of our five senses.

I sense a thin place in two ways.
1. I feel a strong sense of the past still present in the place.
2. I can hear God more clearly than in any other place - the sense of Divine Presence is very strong to me.”

By high school standards, seniors are the most comfortable in their own skin. They are able to drop their mask and be “real.” I get a sense of their true self—thank you Thomas Merton—and that is a wonderful thing. Consequently, I cannot help but remember students who have come before; a strong sense of the past is still present. How students responds to the curriculum never ceases to amaze me—not only what reaches them but why. The Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide young people in “The Path to Faith: A Lifelong Journey” in new and unfounded ways.

This year’s semester course was no exception. They were privy to something magical—the Giants World Series victory. This feat remains difficult for me to fully comprehend. A team that went from being 41-40 on July 4th and fourth place in the league won the whole thing—for the first time in 52 years. At some point, we didn’t stop believin’. I am glad we didn’t.

The day of the victory parade, my seniors met for class. If it weren’t for the WCAL III cross country meet later that day, I wouldn't have been in class myself; I would have gone to the parade. For those who were in class, they learned a great deal about spiritual direction. And for those at the parade, I am convinced they found their own.

This particular class has been subject to bits and pieces of the impending elective course Sports & Spirituality I aim to teach in the 2011-2012 school year. We identified how exercise, discipline and goals are my no means limited to our physical selves. A healthy spiritual life encompasses the same. I heard the voices of a whole lot of San Francisco Giants fans, a Philadelphia Eagles fan who happens to be the leading Armenian American defensive back in the WCAL (ARAM!), and a cross country runner who asks himself everyday why he runs.

When he said this, I remember thinking how appropriately this question relates to our Christian faith. Cross country is demanding; it is one tough sport. The call and challenge of the Gospel is no different. If we are serious about what our faith truly asks of us, it seems natural to me that we will ask ourselves the same question—why am I doing this? Sam won the Wildcat award; this means he runs with passion and purpose, even with that question. I hope people say the same of me in terms of how I live with faith—with passion and purpose…and with questions.

Do I hear God more clearly in the classroom than in any other place? When my days are full with teaching and coaching, I hate to admit it but my prayer life gets the short shift. I go to sleep thinking of what I have not accomplished and what I must do instead of “raising my mind and heart to God” (my favorite definition of prayer).
Still, God finds ME. God speaks to me where I am at—even in the grading papers or answering student e-mail inquiries. I learned about the life and faith of St. Sebastian through an essay by my student, a dead ringer for Buster Posey. I will never forget how Siobhan’s homework questions launched what became a nightly recap of every single play-off game. I took great joy in reading her report via e-mail on the “aching pain” with a loss or “delicious hope” as we got closer to the title. I am grateful that conversations about this “band of misfit toys” and our common love for Brian Wilson were only a springboard for sharing much more about our lives.

I will miss this intellectually competent, loving and yes, even religious group. I hope to get out to Lake Merced in the spring to cheer for two of my students who row; I will be back to hear the Sound of Sports at my student’s volleyball game. Even though his club teammates are over 6’5” and he a towering 5’6” he is a tremendously valuable contributor as the libero. (NB: A libero is a defensive specialist, they can be recognized by their unique jersey. He told me this is means “free.” He is also the player on the far right in the light blue jersey ;-) This leads me to wonder if I learn more about sports or about spirituality from my students. I don’t know what disciplines makes it more clear that we each have our unique place in this world; we all have our own gifts and talents. And at some point we are privy to privileges that come with access to those "thin places" where we recognize this humble truth. Thank you seniors for sharing this time and space with me.

Photo Credits
Thin Places
Ignatius of Loyola: the Pilgrim
The Giants in the pennant!
Volleyball Huddle: Nate Woo


  1. Beautiful post, Anne. Love your tie-in of thin places, and thanks for quoting my site. I also run a blog just on thin places -

    Also, I noticed on your profile you're working on a project called Sports and Spirituality: a Symbiosis. You may want to try and interview Rev. Michael Joncas at St. Catherine's College in St. Paul (He wrote On Eagles Wings). He has a remarkable take on symbiotics which may be of some help.

    Good luck to you. Looks like you're doing great work.


  2. Dear Mindie
    Thank you for reading and for sharing your blog. I have some familiarity with the Eastern Shore--a good friend lived in Bethany but taught in Ocean Pines. A beautiful place!

    Thanks too for the recommendation on Symbiotics. Joncas is a great resource; you are the first to suggest that I pursue that. Thank you!