Friends, I have made it through 25 years working in higher education without teaching a class, but that may be about to end.
Let me back up.
It’s not that I’ve never been in front of a classroom; I love it when faculty friends invite me to speak on a topic, or do one of my dramatic interpretations of women in Scripture, or even cover a class. It’s a great way to connect with students who might never have stepped across the threshold of our campus ministry center.
And it’s not that I’ve never been asked to teach. I have a master’s degree in pastoral ministry, and there are always sections of religious studies classes to be covered. But when asked, I’ve always told the truth: having been raised by two teachers, I respect the discipline too much to think I can just “pick up a class.” That usually leaves no room for rebuttal.
Yet while it’s the truth, it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth includes the fact that, as a person in a pastoral relationship with students, I’ve had no wish to be in an evaluative relationship with them. It also includes the “do-you-have-any-idea-how-full-my-plate-is-already” rant (which I only deliver in my head, or to select friends). But the bottom line, I realized recently, is this: if I’m going to carve out time to work on something that’s not part of my job description, it has to be something I’m excited about. And right now that’s this blog, and my upcoming book launch, and the many wonderful speaking- and retreat-giving opportunities that are opening up for me as a result.
In the last few weeks, however, a teaching possibility has appeared which actually fits the excitement requirement. As part of our redesigned General Education curriculum, Gwynedd Mercy University is offering something called “Signature Seminars.” Designed by faculty according to their discipline, these courses are “writing intensive” and focused on one of the five Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. People have been telling me I should teach one, and I have been demurring. But during our recent Inauguration Week festivities I attended a symposium on the Signature Seminars, and I found myself sketching out a reading list and playing around with titles. And the next thing I knew, I was filling out the paperwork to start the process of developing a five-week online course for adult learners. Here’s the quick description:
Grief and Grace: Contemporary Women’s Spiritual Writing
How do we make sense of life’s tragedies? How do we keep going when we are bent by loss? This course will explore the unique contributions of women reflecting on their experiences of grief in the light of grace. Students will use the writing assignments to examine their own life stories through the lens of spirituality, uncovering and articulating the deep truths that sustain them.
Much remains to be done, of course: creating a syllabus, learning how to design an online course (which means taking an online course in online course designing), and familiarizing myself with all the ins and outs and rules and regs of teaching and grading. But the thing I am really excited about right now is building that reading list.
Here are the writers and works I’m considering using (in whole or in part; it’s only a five-week course, after all). Which of these do you affirm? What am I missing? I welcome—invite—your suggestions and comments!
- Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason, and other Lies I’ve Loved
- Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me
- Jan Richardson – The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
- Paula D’Arcy – Sacred Threshold or When People Grieve
- Anne Lamott –Stitches
- Ann Patchett – “Dog without End” from This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
- Mary Oliver – “Heavy” from Thirst
- May Sarton – “Autumn Sonnets II”
- Theresa Rhoads McGee –The Comforter
- Gail Godwin – Evensong
- Nancy Mairs – Ordinary Time
Clearly, I’ve just put together a list that could be hummed to the tune of “These are a few of my favorite things.” I’m intrigued to discover what connections and conversations will emerge in the months to come, and I look forward to seeing what fruit this new venture will bear in my heart, in the cyber-classroom, in my public speaking, and right here in this blog.
Thanks for walking with me.