Category Archives: understanding

First Sunday in Lent: Understanding

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

Psalm 32:8-9, NRSV

There are very few teachers who won’t bend over backwards to make sure that their students “get” math or English or science or history. Most teachers will do whatever it takes to help their students move toward mastery of a subject.

For example, reading comprehension is a big deal in my class. I have students who can read fairly fluently, stumbling over only the most uncommon words. Think they understand what they read? Not necessarily.

Several weeks ago, I opened More Pies! by Robert Munsch, picked a sentence at random, and wrote it on the board:

When he walked into the kitchen, his mom said, “Samuel, I know you are really hungry, so I made you pies for lunch.”

I read the sentence to my students, and then asked them to write one question that could be answered using the information given in the sentence. “You don’t have to give me the answer,” I said. “You just have to write a good question.”

The results were disappointing. One student wrote (and I am using original spelling, grammar and punctuation): “Why did Samule eat all the pies?” (I can’t answer that question from the information given.)

Another wrote: “why was he hungry” (Don’t know, dear student. You tell me, if you can, from the sentence I wrote on the board.)

Still another wrote: “How does he’s mom know he was hungry?” (Um, ‘cause he was gnawing on his arm?)

After reading these questions, I started a daily regimen of helping my students write questions based passages from the book we are reading in class, Number the Stars. Three weeks later, I see vast improvement.

Would kind of teacher would I have been if I had given up on my students? Persistence and daily practice have paid off: These kids can now formulate questions based on what they read—although their spelling is still atrocious! Yet if my students had refused to do the daily practice—if they had acted like stubborn little mules— their ability to comprehend Number the Stars would not have improved.

Lent is traditionally a time for “giving up something” (cigarettes, candy, movies, etc.) to develop one’s spiritual life. But Psalm 32 says nothing about “giving up something.” Instead, it contains an invitation to receive spiritual instruction from God. That instruction is available as a gift to anyone who refuses to act “like a horse or a mule, without understanding.”

Like my students, I need practice. A daily regimen of listening to the Spirit, instead of going my own way, will help me to improve my spiritual understanding.