An education system or institution, which is unresponsive to the voice of the young, is doomed to failure.
Naaman was a powerful man. (2 Kings 5:1-17). What he wanted he got and I am sure that he had sought out all the latest knowledge and information regarding his illness, yet nothing had worked. His leprosy remained and he saw himself as less than a complete man. Despite all his success, and he was indeed extremely successful, he was still a leper.
I would also suggest he was a good man. Not just those who benefited from his prowess but also those who had suffered by it, held him in esteem. In his own home not just his family respected him but by those who served him – slaves accrued through his many victorious campaigns.
His desperation for healing was known by all, including the little house girl who served his wife. She had heard the discussions, arguments and despair, and felt for them both.
She had also heard the stories coming from the homeland about Elisha the prophet and how he was a proficient healer. She had never lost her faith in the God of her heritage and knew that if only Naaman would go there he would be healed.
One has to marvel at her courage. She spoke up and shared her simple faith and her special knowledge. That was courage. She was in a foreign country, under the control of a superior culture in every sense, and yet she spoke up about what may have been seen as a superstition, or at best, a substandard understanding of the world.
And yet not only did her mistress listen and pass the knowledge onto her husband, Naaman seems to have taken it seriously enough to take it to his king and ask permission to seek out this prophet. And the King agreed.
Naaman goes off and encounters Elisha. Elisha does not act as Naaman expected him to. He didn’t come out and greet the great man and he did not suggest the type of grandiose healing event Naaman thought his situation deserved. He was simply asked to go and wash in a dirty, insipid river, the Jordan, unlike any of the great rivers where he lived.
Naaman may have been desperate, but not that desperate. It takes the input of his servants once again to remind him that if he had been asked to undertake some great feat would he have done it? Of course. Then why not just do as you are asked and see what happens?
Grumpily he did, and he was healed.
This story is about simplicity – the simplicity of a child. It is this simplicity that we must appropriate in our relationship with those we teach and serve in this and other schools.
Many times over in my life I have watched and experienced the simplicity in which children challenge, learn, explore and grow.
Daniel O’Leary says: ‘Maybe only children and saints want to be nobody else’. Like the roses in our garden they are simply content to be themselves and, out of that security of being, ask much of us if we could but hear them. St Francis said when once looking at a rose, ‘I hear you. Stop shouting.’
It is this simplicity which was heard by Naaman and resulted in his healing. He nearly stuffed it up as we often do. We revert to our program, our way of teaching, our role as teacher and miss the learning inherent in the people, places and things around us.
Here we witness simplicity in 3 ways:
Simplicity of the servant girls’ wisdom – she understood what was possible for her Master and shared that simple information. It wasn’t fancy. She hadn’t been educated or studied under some great teacher. It was obvious – Elisha healed people and could do so here.
Simplicity of the ordinary acts of life. Naaman was asked to take on the simple faith of the young girl and partake in seemingly absurd acts way below his station as a leader, as an educated person or as a wealthy property owner. Yet all the trappings of success and education was of little help. He had to become as a little child to be healed.
Simplicity of the faith of a child. Keep it simple stupid seems to be one of God’s favourite adages. Yet for us humans simple is not something we do well. Faith is also not something we do well either. To trust another, in this case Elisha’s directions or to trust in God to care for us, as in the Gospel reading, seems just too illogical, too hard for our reasoning brains. Instead of saying yes, we like Naaman argue with God and those who represent him in the circumstances of our lives. Often we simply ignore those who bring us good information, like the young people we teach.
I learnt long ago that the one who challenges me is my friend, my teacher and my guide. So over the years I have learnt much of what I know from my challenging those who taught me and from those who in turn have challenged me, directly or indirectly.
In the Salvation Army Training College Commissioner Hubert Scotney an esteemed biblical and doctrine scholar, endured hours of questioning and debate from myself. I challenged almost everything he said and wanted to know, if this is so, why? He was an amazing man who was well into his 70’s when I studied under him, he never wearied, and through this vigorous debate taught me more than I would have learnt if he simply reverted to his role as the all knowing teacher.
All the programs I have developed for working with youth and children have come primarily from those I was commissioned to work with. It was their stories, their needs, their questioning which resulted in the shape, colour and style of programs we ran.
My understanding of the depth of racism and race equality was taught to me by a young indigenous boy who at the age of ten filled up a tub with bleach and sat in it so that he could be the same colour as the other kids and get a fair go at school and from the police. It didn’t work.
My understanding of the hopelessness of poverty for children came from a 7 year old girl who has dirty, unkempt and difficult, but who went home of a night time and cooked meals for her family. One day a teacher threatened to refer her to the authorities, she put both hands on hips and said, “That’s right, put me the too hard basket and let some else deal with me.” We didn’t.
Just recently a student came to me with an A4 page of queries, questions and criticisms about the role of religion and church in the world and in the school. We spent an exciting and invigorating hour or so working through her list. It was wonderful, for she asked me for evidence of my faith and my understanding of that faith in a way few others could. It wasn’t ideological, it was simple, honest exploration of her journey, and it challenged what and how I believed as well. It left neither of us unchanged. It was education at its very best.
The challenge for us, and this educational institution, is how we listen not speak, how we learn not teach, how we model rightbehaviour not demand it, and how we open ourselves to those we engage everyday. It is how we give away the power to those around us to explore their journey in reason and faith which is so important.
“…..you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose….
…nobody, not even the rain has such small hands.”
It is our light touch they need so we will recognise their light touch when it brushes up against us.
And that’s the challenge of simplicity in life long learning for all of us.