Each summer I read my journals from seven years ago.
So over the past weeks I’ve delved back into my four journals from Summer 2009 through Summer 2010. I saved pages that brought back significant turning points or recalled people who have nourished my spirit. Then I shredded the rest, for the journals are for me, not for anyone else’s eyes.
One entry reminded me once again of Mr. Mast, my 7th grade English teacher. Here’s what I wrote about him in my 2013 ministry memoir, Flowing with the River, now out of print:
Mr. Mast held the chalk between his fingers like a cigarette. He talked about God openly, but not in language most of us heard in church. Apparently it was okay to cry out in pain and defiance to Mr. Mast’s God. Most of us weren’t used to that.
Mr. Mast gave assignments in Grade 7 English at Souderton Area Junior High School which most students pronounced “weird.” He didn’t try to cram grammar into our heads, as most teachers did. Instead he lined up art prints in the blackboard trays, asking us each to pick one and create a story about it. A picture of dreamy-looking young women inspired me to write about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sisters on the American prairie – based, as it turned out, on a French Impressionist painting!
Sometimes Mr. Mast brought a record player into class, played a piece of orchestral music, and asked us to describe where the music took us or how it made us feel. Later he might tell us that the composer had in mind donkeys descending into the Grand Canyon or the sounds of spring.
I loved those assignments. They drew something out of me which no other teacher had. They introduced me to new worlds, since we had neither art prints nor classical music at home. Mr. Mast also demonstrated how music and images could inspire my faith and help me express it. I had never imagined such a possibility.
In response to one of Mr. Mast’s recordings I wrote:
I was overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. As the calmness of evening grew into the darkness of night, I felt an urgent need to do my best for my Master. This would be thanking him in the best way possible for the unspeakable riches he had just shown me.
Mr. Mast responded to my burst of adolescent piety with an A+, then these words in red ink:
You are a true poet and have a beautiful faith. “Feed my sheep” – and the sheep have a need for many kinds of food. What are our talents? How can we best use them?
Thus my grade 7 public school English teacher articulated for me a call floating on the breeze throughout my childhood – a gentle breeze which I felt whenever those family missionaries and ministers graced my Mom’s dinner table.
Looking back I wonder: as a 13-year-old, did I know Mr. Mast’s Bible reference? Or did I ask my Mom what Mr. Mast meant, and did she point me to the story of Jesus and Peter on the beach after Jesus’ resurrection?
In any case, Mr. Mast’s red words lodged themselves at some deep place within me. So much so that I came to understand my call to church vocation in the John 21 pattern:
“Susan, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”
(Well then): “Feed my sheep.”
Mr. Mast blessed me by taking my piety seriously, by enriching it with music and art, and by teasing it towards a vocation I took up decades later.
…That’s what I wrote about Mr. Mast in 2013. Then last week in reading a journal from 2010, I discovered that Jesus’ dialogue with Peter had come back to me as I’d considered a significant change of direction. Fifty years after Mr. Mast gave it to me, that text from John 21 was still an anchor point as I sorted out the next expression of my call.
I saved that journal entry, and thanked God once again for my weird 7th grade English teacher. And I still play a CD of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in the car when we drive through lovely scenery….
Questions for Reflection:
- Recall a teacher or other adult whose words or actions lodged themselves at some deep place within you and helped give direction to your life.
- Is there a Bible passage or other text which has stayed with you over the years and become an anchor as you make decisions?
- If you keep a journal, what do you do with your old ones? Why?
Next Week: What do Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kathleen Norris and Rudy Wiebe have in common?