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  • Sarah Raad

Learning

Because we have time to learn, we always have HOPE in this life…

Sermon on the Mount (Fra Angelico)

Every one of us receives gifts from God. Some of us are talented dancers, others beautiful musicians, other people among us are wonderful speakers. Some people can listen with compassion, others are athletes and still others, artists. And some of us are natural students – fond of learning and unintimidated by learning new things.


Over my years of teaching, I have spoken with literally thousands of students. Some of those students are old and some young. Some are in primary school, others are finishing high school, and still others are enrolled at colleges or universities.

When you spend a lot of time speaking with students you get used to the most common phrases that students use. One such phrase is, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” And another is, “I’m dumb!”

When I hear someone tell me that they cannot do something because it is difficult, that does not worry me. In over twenty years of teaching, I am yet to be defeated by the phrase, “I can’t.” What most often happens is that the student actually means not “I can’t”, but “I can, BUT I really really really do not want to work as hard as required to make that happen.” So hearing, “I can’t” does not worry me at all.


It is when I hear a student telling me that they are “dumb” that I get upset. I have a couple of very serious problems with people calling themselves “dumb”. The first problem is that the word “dumb” literally means “unable to speak”. A person who is “dumb” has a medical condition that precludes them from speech. A student who is able to articulate their concerns with their intelligence by telling me that they are “dumb” is clearly, not “dumb”! The second problem – and perhaps the more serious one –that I have when people call themselves “dumb” is that when a person calls themselves “dumb” – when they belittle or berate themselves – they do not acknowledge the very power in their being. After all, we are made in God’s own image. And God is intelligent. Therefore, we must be too! When people fail to recognise the miraculous magnificence of their own soul, they fail to see God inside it. And frankly – though they may not even understand it – in doubting themselves, they are being ungrateful to my Beloved.


Now, I am not proposing that students – or any one of us – should have excesses of pride or think themselves experts in all things. Such a thing would surely be folly! What I am suggesting; however, is that it is also a terrible thing to fail to see ourselves and our talents for what they are. For our talents are our gifts from God – and anyone with a smattering of good manners knows that it is terribly bad manners not to thank someone for the gifts we have received!


And so, I use myself as a case – for each of us has our gift from God – even if we do not value that gift and prefer another. In my case, my gift from God is my ability to learn. I always enjoyed academic studies and learning is one of those things that comes relatively easily to me. That is my gift from God. For me to acknowledge that gift is not to take pride in myself – but rather to take pride in The One who made me – for it is from Him that this gift comes.


However, in acknowledging that gift, I can also – without shame – acknowledge where I lack. I am a terrible athlete, my sense of direction is possibly the worst in the history of the world, and I will spend my Earthly life praying for patience, because I have none!

So, you may ask, in considering all these issues and all these imperfections is all lost? Of course not.

For we have been given the gift of life – in THIS life and the next one. And THIS life is temporal – it is temporary. Because of its temporary nature, everything in this life is fleeting. That is just a fancy way of saying that everything can change. And though we often fear change. Change gives me great hope. After all, I spend my days working with people for change… If we can change, we can learn. If we can learn, we can improve. If we can improve, we can grow. If we can grow, we can learn more. And the more we learn, the closer we get to God.


There is no change in the next life, there is no learning. Once we die there is no more change. That is why JUDGEMENT is FINAL in ETERNITY, because in ETERNITY nothing will change again. If we are good, we are good eternally. And if we are damned, we are damned eternally too.


Later, in eternity, we will know everything that we need to know. But in this life, we can still learn.


Here, if you are no natural athlete, it does not mean that you shall never be good at sports. If you cannot appreciate music or if you find mathematics difficult, it does not mean that you cannot learn and improve in these areas. Because in this Earthly life, we still have time – limited time – but time. That means we have hope. For if we can learn, we are not done-for. If we can learn, we can improve. If we can learn and improve, we can grow. If we can learn and improve and grow, we can be saved.

This is the fundamental basis for understanding our purpose on this Earth. We are wayfarers who are here to learn…

And the first thing that distinguishes a good student from a mediocre one, is that a good student understands how they best learn. I – for example – am a person who has a very literal mind. I understand and remember words extremely well because that is what my mind absorbs. Ask me to remember what the driveway of a friend’s house looks like, ask me to work out how to arrive at that friend’s house without a GPS… and I am quite literally lost!


You see, though my mind processes words very well, pictures get me unstuck!


This reminds me of our work for salvation. We must learn to see our strengths and recognise our weaknesses. Once we understand how we can best grow in virtue, then we can actually grow! Once we surround ourselves with occasions for virtue, we will exclude occasions of sin – for the two are mutually exclusive. This means we cannot be good and bad simultaneously. We simply must choose one…


And it is the choice – between us and God that makes all the difference.


Narciso Yepes, who died at the age of 69 in 1997 was a Spanish guitarist and is considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century. In an interview once, Yepes explained that he almost always only performed for God. He clarified his statement when he later added, “I said ‘almost always’ because there are times when, through my fault, I can get distracted in the middle of the concert. The public does not notice. But God and I do.”


It is the same with us as we learn. Sometimes we make the wrong choices. Others may not notice. But God and we do…


Thank God we have time to learn. Thank God we have time…


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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