How do you do this without breaking down crying? How do you teach this content over and over again? Why are you not curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth?
I am asked these questions a lot by my adult students who for the first time are learning the historical context for racial injustice — past and present. My teaching assistants and I put an enormous amount of effort into ensuring that our learning environments are a psychologically safe space for our students to bravely learn. We are like nurturing moms who don’t want our babies to ever feel pain. And regardless of how much we buttress our students, the world and its realities can be harsh. So, of course, they inevitably experience discomfort, turbulence, and growing pains.
Sometimes, the pain of newly learned truths is twofold. First, students lament over how the inhumane treatment of people groups was written into policies and normalized culturally. Then because they were never taught the historical context for our structural inequalities, students are disappointed in their institutions of education. They feel betrayed and bamboozled. The reckoning is sharp and heavy. The ache strikes a human cord and demands their attention. Dazed by devastation, some students seem to be suspended in breathlessness, simultaneously puzzled by the past and a pending future.
Sitting in the intersection of grieving the past, recognizing the consequences in the present, while daring to envision a significantly different future can be exhausting. As the instructor, when I observe that students are overwhelmed with anguish, I direct us to take a collective pause — to take a breath. I encourage students to feel their emotions telling them that this is important. Though this intersection seems desolate, and this pause feels desperate, the breath is packed with possibility.
In that breath, I am reminded of ruach — the breath of God that hovered over chaos in the process of creating.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV)
It is this same hovering breath of God, inherent with creativity, that redeemed His people from Egypt.
. . . like an eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.
Deuteronomy 32:11 (NIV)
Innately creative, nurturing, and redemptive, the breath of God hovers over us. Where there is chaos, God breathes creativity and redemption. Where there is cacophony, God breathes consonance and unity. In ruach, we have space to experience the discomfort of becoming aware of wrongs while also expecting a more beautiful creation.
So when students ask me, “How do you teach this stuff without crying?” or “Knowing what you know, how can you smile while you are teaching?” I share my perspective, my story. I’ve known the historical context of racial injustice for a long time. Though I feel the weighty disappointment, it is not new to me. It’s like a persistent dull pang aligning me with God’s desire for a healed humanity. I remain connected to the pain so I maintain the motivation to pursue healing. However, I am propelled forward, not necessarily by the trauma or the wound, but by the certainty of ruach.
Several years ago when I was prompted to design the course that I, and now others, teach, Holy Spirit showed me a vision: A revolving door continuously welcoming those who want to learn, equipping them for transformation.
I happily teach content exposing the ugliness of racist beliefs, policies, and practices, believing it will have the same liberating impact on my students as it did on me. I smile because I have the honor of teaching folks who have chosen to bravely learn and who have chosen me as their guide, at least for the duration of the course. I rejoice at witnessing thousands experience the revolving door. The burden that I carry is not the weight of past racial injustice but of the vision of ruach hovering. While I live in the present (a manifestation of the past), I lean into and glean heavily from a future in the process of being created.
The truth is that sometimes I do break down and cry at the blatant disregard for human dignity and value. And there have been a few times that I cried out in despair, “God, are You really there? And have You gone to the dark side?” Then I realize that when I focus on the noisy chaos, I miss the beauty of ruach. Before you or I even experienced today’s trauma, God had already created a way forward to redemption, a way to learn and grow — a revolving door, perhaps.
May we choose to breathe with the breath of God. Ruach Elohim is with us, hovering, creating, commanding chaos into order, rescuing us, and taking us higher.Leave a Comment