The Teacher as “Vessel”

November 17, 2020

By Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., Ed.D.

“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Even as a child, I loved this verse of Sacred Scripture. That idea that an ordinary “earthen vessel” could hold an extraordinary treasure captured my young imagination. I collected other related images around it, such as the pearl hidden in an unattractive oyster shell or a plain-looking book holding wonderful stories and vivid characters. This notion made the world hold a sense of mystery and a touch of glory for me. 

I recalled this experience of wonder recently while reading The Sound of Beauty: A Classical Composer on Music in the Spiritual Life by Nashville composer and educator Dr. Michael Kurek. He explores the concept of “creativity” and defines it as

an imaginative act of the whole human person, both body and spiritual soul, in the grateful humility of one who wants and knows himself to be a vessel of God, and following the Holy Spirit’s illuminating guidance and well-formed discernment. [1]

Kurek recalls hearing performers praying before concerts that they might be “vessels” used for God’s purpose. There was that word “vessel” again and the feeling of containing something grand, mysterious and important; something that is to be revealed and received.

Dr. Michael Kurek at Aquinas College, September 29, 2020.

Dr. Michael Kurek presented a lecture on themes from The Sound of Beauty on September 29 at Aquinas Center on The Dominican Campus.

Then it occurred to me that what applied to performers applied to teachers. Reread Kurek’s definition of “creativity” but look at it in terms of being descriptive of teaching.

Teaching certainly is an imaginative act, involving the whole teacher, body and soul. We know that the call and ability to teach are gifts we have received and the appropriate response is humble gratitude.  We desire and know that God is the Source of this gift and we try to show forth our gratitude and His image in our efforts. We rely deeply on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and on His gifts to give us light and strength for our mission.

This definition reads rather like a rubric and works almost like a checklist! And when we fall below the mark, we ask for mercy and grace and try again, developing a resilience that is essential in all situations and is certainly essential in this time of isolation and uncertainty which can generate discouragement.

These considerations begin a multi-part series of brief reflections on the teacher as God’s vessel and what that means.

Whatever we teach, wherever we teach, even whoever we teach, let us know firmly that we are His earthen vessels and that this extraordinary mission belongs to Him and that He is with us. Amen.

Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., Ed.D. is director of the Center for Catholic Education at Aquinas College.

[1] Kurek, Michael. (2019). The Sound of Beauty: A Classical Composer on Music in the Spiritual Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 122.

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