At the end of the semester and the beginning of Advent, Rebecca follows TS Eliot's "A Song for Simeon" by offering her semester's fears and failures to the God who sends his Son to save us, and by receiving his peace.


December in Edinburgh is dreary. The sun sets at half past three, having only been up for seven or so hours; the winter is blustery but snow has yet to fall. But as I approach the end of the semester, I realize that I’ve been this tired and depressed most Decembers since I started teaching. The excited plans of September and the early successes of October have slid away into finals, meetings about the dire circumstances of "problem" students, and the writing of report cards. Each December, I come face to face with educational systems that force children to fit into their boxes.

But more than all this, there are the lives of students whom I’ve watched for months. Some I watch grow and succeed, but some I watch careen into failure and despair. And something about writing reports, about giving those finals, about wrapping up the semester brings all this out into the open. No matter how many children I watch blossom and learn in my classroom, I can’t shake deep sadness over the ones who don’t. No matter how good my teaching is, I can’t shake the frustration that it will never be quite enough.


Each December, I come face to face with educational systems that force children to fit into their boxes.


So, despite my insane love of the Christmas season–its music, food, liturgy, gifts and celebrations–I enter the first weeks of Advent lacking anything close to Christmas cheer. I feel the burden of unfinished work, human limitation and unanswered prayer.

But while I struggle to sing the joyous hymns of Christmas, I am comforted by the often plaintive tones of readings and hymns that remind me that Advent is the “other” fast of the Church calendar. Advent is about preparing for the Incarnation, and so about waiting, in faith and and at times in silence.

T.S. Eliot writes of this in his poem, “A Song for Simeon”:
 

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and

The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;

The stubborn season has made stand.

My life is light, waiting for the death wind,

Like a feather on the back of my hand.

Dust in sunlight and memory in corners

Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
 


The stubborn season has made stand.


The stubborn season is indeed making a stand. It makes a stand in the faces of children who know they’ve failed and in the face of a teacher who fears that she’s failed too. When I consider the Simeon of Luke 2, I often forget that his shining moment in the Gospel account is but a moment out of a lifetime of waiting and praying as he drew near to death. And so he prays,
 

Grant us thy peace.

I have walked many years in this city,

Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,

Have given and taken honour and ease.

There went never any rejected from my door.

Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children

When the time of sorrow is come?

They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,

Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
 


Who shall remember my house...?


I echo this as I sit in my classroom writing reports. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard, and yet it never seems to be enough. What will become of the students who are forgotten and swept aside? Who will look after them when I am gone (if I couldn’t even help them)? Eliot captures here, so succinctly, the pain and fatigue of seeking after righteousness, knowing that the reward is a long way off. And so, Simeon prays again,
 

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation

Grant us thy peace.

Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,

Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,

Now at this birth season of decease,

Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,

Grant Israel’s consolation

To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
 


Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.


He knows, we all know, that it’s going to get worse. There is an hour of sorrow coming, and it’s certain. But just as certain as desolation, is the consolation that the long awaited infant will bring. I pray for peace knowing that the Incarnation made peace possible. I pray for peace knowing that Simeon held the Christ Child in his arms and received blessing even as he spoke blessing. I pray for peace knowing that salvation has come and continues to come, redeeming a failing, exhausted and sorrowing world.

According to thy word.

They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation

With glory and derision,

Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.

Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,

Not for me the ultimate vision.

Grant me thy peace.

(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,

Thine also).

I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,

I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.

Let thy servant depart,

Having seen thy salvation.



REBECCA CARD-HYATT

Rebecca Card-Hyatt is, by profession and vocation, a language arts teacher. Having taught at both private classical schools and inner-city public schools in California, she now teaches secondary English outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, continuing to help young people discuss critically, read carefully, and write clearly.

She loves to talk about running, contemporary fiction, educational philosophy, theology, and feminism with anyone who shows up to her dinner table.

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