Friday, December 30

Literature and Spirituality: The Final Chapter

It's been quite some time since I posted about this class. Grades are posted and the course is a mere memory for most of my students, I think.

Just recently I was asked about the course and how things went. In all honestly, I'll say the class went okay and I had fun. I learned a lot. I got to read some new things and think differently about some things I'd read before.

I got to share Rudine Sims Bishop's concept of books and stories being mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Many of us who are readers know that books and stories can take us on all sorts of adventures. I won't speak for other readers, but I believe that some stories help me see the world through someone else's eyes. 

There are a lot of things writers can do depending on the genre and their purpose. I think many writers reflect on what they see and hear. They capture that essence. They form it and craft it in specific ways to tell a story. 

I think stories can break down barriers when we are willing to accept that there are a lot of differences in this world, just as there are a lot of similarities. 

I recently read Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I've enjoyed all of the books of his I've read. This one was a struggle for me the first time I tried to read it. It was less difficult the second time, but some of my experiences preceding the reading of the book informed how I read this book.

I can appreciate why some people don't care for it. I can appreciate why they didn't much care for the constant intrusion of the narrative voice, like the narrative voiceover in a film, but I don't think I would have liked the book nearly as much without that narrative intrusion.

Well, back to Literature and Spirituality. After reading John Donne's Holy Sonnets and then Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, we read short stories. Lots of short stories. My hope was that students would read the texts because they are short stories. I think most students did read, but it occurred to me much, much later that too many students don't really know how to read texts for comprehension. 

They don't know how to read for the story. That is a different post.

But we read stories by Amy Tan, Leslie Marmon Silko, Graham Greene, Anton Chekhov, Shirley Jackson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Chinua Achebe, Willa Cather, Leo Tolstoy, Flannery O'Connor, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. 

For one part of their five-part final "project," they read Langston Hughes' "Salvation" and for another part they could read Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."

Our last book was The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, typically described as "a classic Christian allegorical tale about a bus ride from hell to heaven." Sure, it's that. It's also a timeless reflection on humanity and how we view ourselves and each other. I thought it was a great way to end the semester as that final reflection of the kind of person some of us might want to be.

My students are young. Some are graduating at the end of this academic year; some have one more year to go. They may not make any connections after the class, but they might. I'll probably never know.

I do know this. Two students came up to me after class to shake my hand and say "Thank you." I'm not sure for what exactly, but I said "You're welcome." And one student shouted, "Thank you for being my last English class ever." He'd made some comments about stories he enjoyed throughout the semester, so I think there was a compliment in there.

So my students read widely and got to experience how different individuals from different times and cultures and places and experiences viewed people and people's relationships, and they got to examine, even if superficially, an individual's perceptions and expectations and values. Through that, some of them really did reflect on how they determine what matters most to them, how they find meaning, and how they make connections to others, and to God. And that was the goal of the class.

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