Entering Holy Ground...Across the Wires
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
"Take off your shoes
The ground you stand on is holy
The ground of your being is holy."
Those lines are from a poem called "Holy Ground" by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictine nun.
I thought of this poem recently because my students are reading Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a classic novella about a young man in India striving to achieve balance and enlightenment.
Back when I was twenty, I spent some time in India and Nepal, and I learned a bit about the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that blend and overlap in the Himalayan country. It is there that I learned of the custom of removing one's shoes upon entering holy sites, including someone's home.
Something occurred to me. Amidst all the technical challenges and paradigm shifts that have come with distance learning, perhaps the most important thing for teachers to remember is that we are entering our students' homes, albeit digitally, across the wires. We might not think of it this way, but it is both an honor and a responsibility.
Obviously, this means we must be at the top of our game in terms of professionalism. It is prudent to assume that as we convey our lessons and hold our discussions, we are within earshot of parents and siblings. This could make us very anxious if we let it. But really, what's different? Be professional, but be ourselves.
And yet it is different. We are guests in a home, well beyond the familiar confines of our classroom. And in keeping with the ancient traditions of xenia, those conventions of guest-host relations, we might think of the gift we can bring upon arrival. Of course we can bring our lessons. But beyond that, we have the opportunity to bring joy and focus where perhaps there is loneliness and boredom. We can be a voice of calm resolve in what might be a space of fear and uncertainty. No matter what, when we (virtually) enter our students' homes across this digital thread, we would do well to remember to (virtually) remove our shoes, for this is holy ground.