Earlier this month, the ChACErs met together on the road. Well, sort of. There was an actual road involved: we arrived to the retreat via a road that took us to Zapallar, two hours northwest of Santiago and seventy minutes north of greater Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. But none of us were on the same road; some ChACErs, like myself, are just beginning their time in Chile and are preparing to teach in the English department at Saint George for the upcoming academic year. Some members of the previous cohort will be staying for another year in Santiago, and some are returning to the US.
The theme of the retreat was based on the passage of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Every time I read this scripture, my eyes tend to linger at this line about the disciples towards at the ends of the passage: “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” So much of our journeys, whether just beginning or continuing or ending, are grounded in the opportunities from this passage: the chance to talk to Christ as we find him walking beside us and the prospect of finding moments where our hearts burn within us.
Of course, we have to be able to recognize Christ when we meet him on the road in order to have this experience. This is not as easy a task as it might seem. Recently, I was helping administer a practice-speaking exam to 11th-graders. While the mock exam is important practice for the students, the day is long and monotonous for the examiners because you administer the same test over and over again. Though I feigned a smile for each group that walked in, I could not help but wish for the end of the day. For the exam, one girl was given two pictures: one of a homeless woman and one ambiguous photo of bottles of alcohol littered on a park bench. After comparing the photos, she had to decide which of these was the bigger social problem of today. As she talked, she pointed out that many people were walking by the homeless person without looking at her. According to her, this human neglect and ignorance was the biggest social issue of today. In my weariness, I had not really noticed this part of the picture and therefore, had missed an opportunity to meet Christ on the road. These encounters, where Christ is in plain sight and yet hard to see, are ubiquitous in our lives.
This Scripture passages also calls us to talk with Christ once we meet him. At Saint George’s, this conversation with Christ has come for me through the way in which we create curriculum for the students. The planning for the entire year is done in a team and spans from now until the end of December. Learning the ins and outs of this process has been exciting and rewarding, yet simultaneously difficult and uncertain. As a teacher in the 3rd unit teaching 10th- through 12th-graders, understanding the curriculum and goals while trying to improve upon the plans for next year is a difficult task for a new teacher at the school. However, those moments of talking with my fellow educators have made it clear to me how important it is for teachers to have multiple perspectives. When we teach by ourselves, we often teach in the way that we ourselves best learn–we are strongest in that dimension, since that is the way we prefer to learn. But when we have conversations with others, our discussion helps us understand the ways to reach many more students, to open up the methods we use to include all styles and types of learning, and to encounter ideas that we may previously not have known.
We are also called to let these encounters affect us and to feel as though our “hearts burn within us.” As ChACE teachers, we have the opportunity for our lives to change forever through these daily encounters with Christ. I have felt my heart burn coaching fifth- and sixth-grade volleyball, watching the Chilean version of the Quidditch World Cup take place in Estadio nacional as colegios from all over the city cheer on their schools at a track meet (Go Dragons!), hearing the 10th-graders speak passionately about their environmental projects, attending the 12th-graders’ graduation, and singing as we celebrated Mass on retreat. These moments make clear the connection that God calls us to make with others and the beauty that we can create when we open our hearts to see Christ on the road beside us. How lucky we are to be able to recognize that it is God who makes our hearts burn in these extraordinary everyday moments.