Saturday, January 7, 2017


Read here for a hopeful view on the passing of the baton from teacher to student.

Maybe you’re a professional teacher in a school? Hugely to your credit! Other common teaching roles:
  • a parent teaching your child. 
  • A supervisor teaching a new employee. 
  • And yes, more generally: anyone who gives another the gift of skill or an insight is a teacher.

And me? I am a retired professor. "Old Prof.", one might say. I want to share a recent teacher-student transaction with tremendous meaningful for every student and every teacher..

In fall, 2016, Brother Cyril Drenjevic, O.S.B., a former student of mine in the 1970s and a friend since, invited me to a presentation. Brother Cyril of St. Benedict, Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon. Br. Cyril was preparing to give a presentation on December 10, 2016. A group of lay people associated with his Abbey, the “Christians in the World,” had invited him to teach from “On Care for Our Common Home,” the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis. The session was scheduled in the stunning Alvar Aalto-designed library on the Abbey campus.

I’ve known Br. Cyril since his undergraduate days at University of Puget Sound. I've followed his career since, through shared bicycle rides on country roads, meals, worship. his home visits to Lucy and me, and visits at the Abbey. Naturally, I wanted to support Br. Cyril and learn what he’d learned about Care for our Common Home, the planet earth..

                                      Br. Cyril Drnjevic, O.S.B.
                                             Brother Cyril, O.S.B.        
                                   Photo courtesy of  Mount Angel Abbey

On Saturday, Dec. 10, in a very thick morning fog, I left from my home in Bethany, Oregon. It was a tough drive south on befogged Interstate 5. I followed the taillights ahead and guarded myself from cars approaching at high speeds from behind me.

On the final lap of the journey, 40 miles from home, I guided my Camry up the curving road to the hilltop Abbey campus. The fourteen roadside Stations of the Cross, spread in a truly elegant but befogged fir forest, exuded reverence. My driver tensions melted away into anticipation of the day.
Lovely that the parking area lay above the dense white-gray fog blanket. Brilliant sunlight shone on grateful me out of a blue sky.  Below, and as far into the distance as I could see, fog covered the farms, vineyards and towns of the Willamette Valley. To the east, snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains poked above fog, showing off their brilliant white snowfields and glaciers. I was immensely grateful to be “here” safely, at the Abbey.

Mt. Angel, Oregon Abbey Campus
photo courtesy of Mt. Angel Abbey

The Christians in the world people gathered in a library meeting room and black-robed, black haired Br. Cyril spoke from 9:00 a.m. to noon with only one rest break. His focus was Christian Social Teaching (“CST”), citing especially the encyclical.  

In summary:  “All of creation mirrors God’s love and mercy. Hence, we humans, who have been set over all creation as God’s stewards, ought to care for His creation with love and compassion.” In particular, “the Benedictine life or any trustworthy spirituality leads us to follow the path God has established for us.”

Having set the stage theologically, Br. Cyril then applied CST to three Western earth-care cases.
First, he reviewed the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, a successful project involving the states of Oregon and Washington, dozens of interest and management groups,and several counties and cities. Using values from CST Br. Cyril believed the Gorge Area to be a success.

Columbia River National Scenic Area
Photo by snottywong, used under terms of the Gnu Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

He then spoke of the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and northern California. He felt it was still challenged as a public project designed to benefit the common good. Case study #3 was not a public project, but rather the 2001 Columbia River Pastoral Letter by Roman Catholic bishops in a vast swath of North America including four Western American states and British Columbia, Canada.

As I sat there in the last row, I was overjoyed by the intellectual breadth and the lecturing style of Brother Cyril.

Surprise. Before breaking at noon, Br. Cyril let the group know that his presentation built on his undergraduate honors thesis at University of Puget Sound. And then he introduced me as his honors thesis adviser.

As all eyes turned toward me in the back row, I spontaneously raised my hand and said,

“And I want to say that the teacher has now become the student.”

All in the room laughed heartily. Perhaps they knew exactly what I meant, probably from their own life experiences.

“The teacher has become the student.” In the final month of my 77th year this key part of the human story is clear to me: the teacher becomes the student. It’s universal truth. In the broader cycle of human life, generation after generation accepts teaching, learns, creates new vision and hope, passes that on in teaching, and then gives way to the next cohort. Every inherited truth is tested anew. Everything of value is saved, amplified, and recast for new circumstances.

In my case, my students have become my teachers. I’m learning from them. That transition is humanity’s great hope.

Time is truly like a relay race. To succeed, you must pass the baton. When the teacher becomes the student, the baton has been passed.

I, the old prof., might continue to test my students’ intelligences and spirits! And having done so, I admire you all! You are now my teachers. Be generous as you test my intelligence and my spirit. And my memory.

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