The Teacher's Way
The Teacher’s Way: Teaching and the Contemplative Life
by Maria Lichtmann
Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005.
Reviewed by Catherine Grytting
“While he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him and said: ‘On what authority are you doing these things? Who has given you this power?’” (Mt 21: 23-24[i]). Imagine the tone of voice of the person asking Jesus these questions. Examine the excerpt again, and notice which words stand out for you. Return for a third reading, and picture yourself in the scene. What do you say to Jesus? Contemplate the verse a fourth time. Listen for God’s invitation to you. These explorations of the text represent the stages of Lectio Divina. This ancient, monastic practice guides the reader through four steps that clear a path from mind to heart.
The Teacher’s Way examines teaching through the lens of Lectio Divina by relating each stage to the dynamics of the classroom. Traditionally step one involves reading the text. Imagining tone of voice helps the reader take in the emotional content of the example. How can teachers read the complexity of students with their emotions, beliefs, needs, and dreams? Lichtmann answers this question by identifying step one as giving attention. She suggests that contemplative teaching requires a quality of attention that allows educators to suspend judgment and tolerate ambiguity. She encourages a mindful quality of attention in the classroom.
Lichtmann makes similar connections to each of the remaining steps of Lectio Divina. She changes step two from meditation to reflection and states that “with reflection, the hardening of the intellectual arteries gives way to a softening of the heart” (p. 66-67). She re-envisions prayer as receptivity. Just as prayer opens our relationship with God, receptivity allows connections with students. “If we are lucky, our encounter, conflict, and dialogue . . . will enable the creation of community” (p. 104). Finally, Lichtmann reframes contemplation as transformation. “Transformative teaching … is midwifery, reaching into the soul of students to catch the bloody mess that is a new life” (p. 117).
The Teacher’s Way describes a model for educators that pays dividends to everyone who works by the authority of the Highest Good. It references an array of historical and contemporary sources. It also includes an extensive list of suggestions for further reading. At a deeper level, the book itself emerges from the centrifuging of lectio Divina. Lichtmann begins with a thorough review of related literature. Then she reflects on how ancient wisdom speaks to today’s world. Next she receives the information with such openness that sacred reading ripens into sacred living and bears the fruit of this contemplative model. Finally Lichtmann describes how this approach will transform our educational system. This well-researched text transports the reader from an intellectual understanding to a heart-felt appreciation of the Lectio of teaching. The process can be applied to any formation and training program.
Catherine Grytting, EdD, is a spiritual director and a teacher in Seattle, Washington, USA. She is also a healer who provides treatments and instruction in energy healing.