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How Taizé changed my life

I’ve spent the last two years teaching at Ben Davis High School, commuting from the east side of Terre Haute to the west side of Indianapolis — an hour and fifteen minutes each way on Interstate-70, 70-something miles an hour. I left before 6:30 every morning and, since I typically planned or graded after school for an hour or so, I pulled back into my driveway around 6 p.m. My days were a flurry of activity, my 5 a.m. alarm starting a race that didn’t slow until I stumbled through my back door and into my sweats to fall asleep during the broadcast of that night’s Cincinnati Reds game.

As I sat at my first Taizé Prayer service, I realized that I hadn’t slowed down in days: Rushing to get ready for work, jockeying with semis to get to Indianapolis, slipping into my morning Professional Development meeting halfway across the building from my classroom, dodging traffic to make it to the bathroom within a five-minute passing period through halls filled with 3,000 scrambling students navigating a two-floor building, dashing to the copier to grab assignments before the bell for the next class — 10 periods a day of contained but swirling chaos. Oh, plus the twelve after-school mandatory Professional Development meetings required for teachers new to Wayne Township. Taizé Candle

And a part of me loved it: Loved the challenge of the big city school, the diversity of the student body, the high expectations for teachers in this district, the dedication of my colleagues, the constant adrenaline rush of being part of such a vital, dynamic, GIANT enterprise. But I had no energy or time left for me. All my efforts were being poured into Ms. Duley with little left over for Beth. On Saturdays, I slept until noon and hoped friends and family had no plans that involved my participation.

Attending Taizé was a respite. It was me time. Just me and God and a deliberate withdrawal from my professional life. The music, the readings, the presence of so many like-minded people seeking to focus on something beyond the rat race, and especially, the silence slowed me down. I arrived, typically just in time to slide into a pew before the first notes of music, still in top-speed mode, my attendance one more thing on my TO DO list. But by the time we hit that 10 minutes of silence, I could allow myself to sink into the rest, to slow my spinning mind, to focus on what truly mattered rather than the urgency of my days. And after 30 years of teaching, the last seven in poor urban districts, sitting in those pews, I began to sense that I needed a change.

Stress is addictive. Our society encourages, even demands, working long hours and glorifies achievement — building the resume. Teaching adds the weight of service: We are expected to produce business-like results (high test scores, student mastery of standards) while still devoting ourselves to meeting student needs well beyond academics. Teaching in Gary, South Bend, and Indianapolis, I have been face-to-face with those needs on a daily basis.

One Sunday morning this summer, Reverend Rebecca Zelensky preached about sisters, Martha and Mary, hosting Jesus in their home, stressing that, while Martha’s commitment to service was admirable, Mary’s insistence on feeding her spiritual needs was just as crucial to a life of faith. This message reinforced what I had started to realize at Taizé: That I could not continue to burn the candle at both ends and maintain personal or spiritual growth.

I recently accepted a position teaching at Rockville Junior-Senior High School with a student body of 300 grades 7-12. My commute is 35 minutes through the country. The hallways are calm and orderly. Sitting at Taizé two weeks ago, I again heard the story of Martha and Mary and acknowledged that choosing to balance my devotion to students with attention to taking care of myself and my development as an individual was a decision that would enhance my life and honor God. I don’t know that I would have hit the brakes long enough to have entertained that career change had I not attended Taizé at The Woods.

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Beth Duley

Beth Duley grew up in Terre Haute, earned a bachelor's degree at Taylor University and a master's degree at Indiana State University. She has been teaching English ever since. She spent 17 years teaching at Turkey Run High School before moving to Valparaiso to teach in charter schools in Gary and then South Bend. Recently she returned to Terre Haute to teach at Ben Davis in Indianapolis and is now adjusting to the shorter commute and slower pace of Rockville High School. Beth and her partner are active members at Central Christian Church.

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5 Comments

  1. Sr.Florence Norton on December 11, 2016 at 8:10 am

    WOW! Beth,Your Blog was so interesting and made me think of myself and all the rushing around in my past life. I’m sure you will find a whole new part of your life thrrough the good changes you have made.Peace and my thanks,S.Florence Norton SP

  2. Paula Modaff, S.P. on December 11, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Beth, You have beautifully articulated the state of so many people today. What is so admirable is that you have taken the steps to let go of your “shoulds” and listen to your “cans”, to the deepest essence of your being where God’s faithful Providence has led you. Thank you for your story. I am certain you will inspire countless others to respond to what is most deep within them. Know of my prayer with you.

  3. Julia on December 12, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Beth. Beautiful.

  4. S. Rita Clare on December 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Beth, it’s wonderful to hear that the Taize prayer had such a transforming influence in helping you make a big change in your teaching career! Change is never easy, but you needed this change to bring some peace into your life. May these remaining weeks of Advent be peaceful and filled with joy!

    Love and prayers,
    S. Rita Clare

  5. Ellen on December 13, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Beautifully said, my friend! Peace be with you . . .

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