Moving from the “Study of…” to the “Sacredness that is…”

What if learning transformed so that the sacred was not marginalized, but rather understood as inseparable from education, both for teachers and students?

I have thought of this question since attending an academic conference in which use of prayer by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was explored.  The research, rigor, and integrity were as expected. As scholars, though, we tend to show up at these events as the students we forever are.  In this, I was no different.  I wanted to process the details of the scholarly work, but I also wanted to feel as if all in the room had been touched by, and had touched, the sacred element of Dr. King’s work.  I desired to move past the “Study of…” and into the “Sacredness that is…” in what I was to learn about Dr. King.

What I realized, though, was how easily any subject can be removed from the realm of the sacred, and instead discussed, dissected, and reduced to the “Study of…” its content.  As I sat there listening to the discussions, I wondered how often I had put my students in the situation I was then experiencing.  How many times had my students sat with the desire to learn the material, coupled with the desire to touch something deeper within the subject matter, and by extension, within themselves?   And, how many of these moments remained uncaptured in my classes? 

When we focus on the “Study of…” rather than the “Sacredness that is…”, the dissecting mind is fed, while the spirit of the student, and the teacher, is left picking up these pieces to create the whole.  A student seeking “more” is not satiated by details, but rather by the experience of resonance between the wholeness of the subject and the student’s sense of Self.  Yet, too often, the press of expectations, and also our own sense of comfort, if we are to be honest, has us defaulting to the “Study of…” content rather than exploring the sacred nature of teaching and learning.    

As educators, we are engaged in the work of the sacred, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  Despite the proliferation of inventive marketing strategies by colleges and universities, few such institutions present themselves as spaces of transcendence.  Transcendence plays a central role within these organizations, however, for the simple fact that learning, at its core, is an act of transcendence. 

Such transcendence, though, does not happen by magic, but rather through the acknowledged awareness that the work we do, the subjects we teach, and the participants involved are sacred. 

We, as educators, must be fearless in our own relation to the sacred, however we define that to be, if we are to awaken within our students a sense of sacredness.  Our students show us in so many ways that they already resonate with the sacredness of the world.  I think they are wondering when we, as educators, will be emboldened enough to join them.  I would like us all to begin to reimagine the role of education.  In education, we tend to be cautious, but perhaps rather than serving as a protection, this caution has become a limitation.  Perhaps opening ourselves beyond the “Study of…”  and creating moments of presence to connect with the  “Sacredness that is…” is our true transformative work as academicians in this world.  We cannot expect students to see the world as sacred, if we who are educating them do not open ourselves to instructing them in this way.    When we touch the sacred, we can’t help but touch the student.