The Teaching Life: Maintaining Sacred Space

This morning’s post about prayer as “sacred space for God,” reminded me that teaching requires the maintenance of sacred space—surely space for God, but also the space that spark’s a student’s own creativity and interest.

If the space is too narrow (or non-existent), teaching becomes indoctrination.  Students become clones of their professors.  The teacher says, in effect, “You will be right when you believe what I believe and think what I think.  My task is to make you like me.”

If the space is too broad, teaching becomes indiscriminate.  Students have no sense of the relative value of ideas.  The teacher says, in effect, “You are on your own to navigate the world of ideas the best you can.  My task is to leave you alone to think for yourself.”

The best teaching creates a space between these extremes—a space broad enough to allow for each student to flourish (the same way our best teachers allowed us to do), but a space narrow enough to remind our students that all roads to not lead to Rome.

I believe the best space is created by the teacher’s own example—the example of genuinely wrestling with diverse ideas, but also coming to the point of conviction and embrace.  A wise teacher knows the difference between sacred space and a vacuum.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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