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The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

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  • Beyond All Names

    January 15, 2019

    three-kings-dayI happen to live in one of the few places in our country where Epiphany is really celebrated. Here in south Louisiana, January 6th begins the Carnival season, which means that even if you don’t go in for elaborate costumes, floats, and parades, you are sure to find excellent King Cakes available everywhere in a variety of flavors ranging from cinnamon to amaretto to lemon to cream cheese — always lots of cream cheese.

    But aside from its cultural expressions, what continues to draw me to the story of Epiphany is the idea of light, the light of God, going out to bless the entire world, breaking down humanly-constructed barriers between “us” and “them.” Our students need this message now more than ever before: that God and God’s kingdom has no barriers, no dividing lines, no fences, no walls.

    But further, they need to know that Epiphany also helps us to see beyond even the borders around which we place our neat and tidy conceptions of God. One of my fellow chaplains, Connor Gwin, recently pointed me to an article by Josh Retterer about Sister Wendy Beckett, an art historian who also became a BBC celebrity. In her book Sister Wendy on Prayer, she pegs the modern condition that many of our students find themselves in. They have become young atheists or agnostics because of the “cruel, suspicious, punitive and watchful” images of God that they have been taught. Their God is too small and enclosed; as Sister Wendy says, “anybody who truly understands what God is cannot but believe and love.”

    Our strength as Episcopal schools lies in our ability to help students see beyond these images, to see that God is more welcoming and loving than any of us could possibly imagine. Epiphany is the manifestation of that particular message, beautifully put in this poetic interpretation of Meister Eckhart (taken from the recent publication Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul by Jon Sweeney and Mark Burrows):

    Beyond All Names

    We speak of You in many names,
    You who are beyond all naming.

    So take our words and bathe them
    in Your radiant silence, so that

    we might learn to praise You
    beyond our words in every way

    we can and in all that is.

    Our entire lives are meant to be spiritually charged, pregnant with the possibility of divine events, or the divine life, or divine meaning, shining through. The beautiful and the miraculous exist all around us, if only we take the time and the care to listen, to see, to consider.

    How we help our students to do this kind of spiritual work in our Episcopal schools encompasses a great opportunity and a great challenge. Yet if we can enable our students to achieve these kinds of epiphanies, to tune out the background noise of our lives that is always present — our devices, our incessant need to fill any aural or visual space with noise — and truly listen to what is around us and within us, we have helped them with the deeply countercultural, difficult, and worthy work that will help them to be more fully human.

    Andrew Armond 200

    About the Author

    Andrew Armond is the Upper and Middle School Chaplain at Episcopal School of Acadiana, a PK3-12 school in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he teaches 8th grade religion, world religions, philosophy, and Dante. He is a former English professor, now a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, studying at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.


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  • Three Kings

    Ann Mellow
    January 02, 2019
    I have to admit that, as a child, I loved the Three Kings — those seemingly magical figures with long names and exotic gifts. But it wasn’t until my family moved to Puerto Rico that I came to truly love Epiphany, El Día de Los Reyes, the traditional end to the Christmas season. In Puerto Rico, this is the big day when families gather across the generations to exchange presents, celebrate, and of course, eat! For me, the arrival of the Magi completes the Christmas story: important men bedecked in finery bringing rich gifts for a lowly child. The lowly raised ... ยป Read More
  • Do You See What I See?

    The Rev. Timothy Seamans
    December 18, 2018
    We ask ourselves this question each Advent season, mainly because it’s the opening query of the night wind to the little lamb in the holiday classic 'Do You Hear What I Hear?' Bing Crosby then sings about what is seen: a star dancing in the night above the manger housing the child who will bring us goodness and light. Pause and take a vivid mental picture of what this child looks like in your mind. This scene from Jesus’ story is ubiquitous this time of year—not only in nativity pageants and plays throughout our schools and churches, but in the crèches decorating ... ยป Read More