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.
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.