The Lord’s Prayer (and, as I’m wont to say, The Disciples’ Prayer) is rooted in the belief that there is a relationship between God and us. The seed of this theological and existential point was planted securely in my consciousness many years ago…
The Reverend Dr. Richard A. Norris, Jr., one of my seminary professors, entered the classroom on a mid-December morning in 1974. It was the day of the fall semester’s final test in Systematic Theology. I, with my fellow students, waited with anticipation (and, surely, dating myself, with examination Blue Books and #2 pencils in hand!).
We expected Dr. Norris to distribute a series of essay questions. Perhaps concerning Christology to assess our understanding of the evolution from the Jesus of history to the Christ of faith. Or ecclesiology to probe our notions of the nature of the church. Or eschatology to evaluate our perceptions of the end-times. Or whatever!
Quietly, nervously, we waited.
Dr. Norris entered, walked to the head of the class, took a piece of chalk, and, on the blackboard, wrote God and man. With a flourish, he underlined the word and. Spinning on his heels, he walked out of the classroom, over his shoulder, saying, “Define ‘and’”.
I have no recollection of what I wrote. I do remember grasping the idea of this fundamental relationship between God and us; again a (perhaps the) foundational belief on which The Lord’s Prayer (The Disciples’ Prayer) stands.
More to come…
© 2021 PRA
13 thoughts on “Some Lenten Musings about God & Prayer, Part 2 of 4”
Wow, Paul! You’ve caught my attention with this post. What a brilliant exam question your Professor Norris offered you, and what a beautiful way to elevate an exam to the purposes of fostering deep thought and creativity in addition to proving mastery of material. Your professor was a thoughtful teacher, it is clear.
(This story reminds me of the old trope that made the rounds when I was in college about some philosophy prof somewhere whose final exam question was simply, “Why?” The only student who reputedly earned an A on the exam answered “Why not?” I always thought, “What a brazen, brave student!”)
I look forward to learning more about what your answer to the exam question would be today. I have already started formulating my own answer and will continue, I’m sure.
Thanks for piquing my interest in this never-ending question once again.
Karen, yes, yes, yes, Dr. Norris, of blessed memory, was a most thoughtful teacher. Indeed, he was brilliant. We referred to him, though not in his hearing, for he was most self-effacing, by the terms of our sought degree: “The Master of Divinity.”
I have scoured my seminary files (yes, I still have some of the exams, evaluations, and papers!) seeking this particular test and my answer and Dr. Norris’ critique. Alas, I did not keep it (possibly because my then effort at a response was woefully inadequate!).
And that possibility (this reality!) brings to mind another truth about Dr. Norris. He was an exacting teacher. By this, I mean not that he wanted us to think as he did, but rather he desired that whatever we postulated we could substantiate our points of view with critical and careful insight. Thus, for me (and, doubtless, for my fellow classmates), I (we) craved his judgment; even if and when it was searingly in-depth, laying bare my (our) lack of depth. And, in this, I gained a perception of what it must be to desire, to seek God’s judgment; that is, to stand in the purest Light of infinite Love knowing that I (we) would cast the shadow of our brokenness, yet trusting that we would be granted the grace of forgiveness…
And, my dearest Karen, it immediately strikes me that in what I have written — in a stream of consciousness — is my today’s experiential answer to Dr. Norris’, now, nearly 47-year old exam-statement: “Define ‘and'”.
“Thus, for me (and, doubtless, for my fellow classmates), I (we) craved his judgment; even if and when it was searingly in-depth, laying bare my (our) lack of depth. And, in this, I gained a perception of what it must be to desire, to seek God’s judgment; that is, to stand in the purest Light of infinite Love knowing that I (we) would cast the shadow of our brokenness, yet trusting that we would be granted the grace of forgiveness…”
What you have just written is so beautiful, Paul, it very nearly to bring tears to my eyes. To be able to see beyond the actual teaching and to see that the very relationship with the teacher foreshadows exquisite Divine truth that you would come to live into decades hence is remarkably moving. What a tribute not just to Professor Norris, but to the sacred calling of teaching and the sacred calling of learning and what is possible – perhaps inevitable – when both are undertaken with great love.
Thank you so much for sharing this revelation with me. I have said for a long time that one of my deep hopes for our society is that we would come to regard our schools, universities, and other institutions of learning as temples and what goes on inside them as holy. You have helped inflame my hope anew today with your account of Professor Norris and his influence on you. I will not forget this story.
Oh, thank you, Karen. As a friend is wont to say when a word from another touches his soul with love’s warmth: “You bless me.” And, so, my dearest sister, your response to what I have shared, in like and precious kind, brings tears to my eyes.
And as for “our schools, universities, and other institutions of learning (becoming…) temples and what goes on inside them as holy, that, too, is my societal hopes! Amen, amen, and amen!
Good Morning! I’ve read the original post and the responses between the two of you! I was blown away by the exam question and Paul’s incredible “answer” all of these years later. One of the things I’m sure of is that I likely would have failed the exam on paper, but hopefully would have grasped the concept the amazing professor was teaching. I feel most inadequate adding anything to the pure substance of your posts because I know I don’t have anything close to the spiritual depth of you two. I was going to share a story from my teaching career that this reminded me of, but I think it would detract from beautiful exchange i was privileged to read. Bless you both.
Ah, my beloved sister, we, each and all, are gifted, via the Spirit, with spiritual depth. We may and do articulate/express ourselves in varied ways. Nevertheless, the substance, given our desire to seek and to know Reality and Truth, is there within us; ever awaiting the Spirit’s leading and guiding to plumb our own depths. This said, I’d love to hear/read your story from your teaching career. Please, share it.
And, as for me, again, I cannot recall how I answered Dr. Norris’ challenge of nearly 47 years ago. I am fairly certain that it was inadequate. For, then, I was still in the regurgitive-cycle of test-taking. I had a good, even better than good memory. Hence, when teachers or professors framed questions that called on me to repeat what I had committed to memory, I did well. Very well. As I reflect, it was in seminary (and, to a lesser degree, at the collegiate-level; and, then, only with a handful of professors) that I was called to (that professors demanded that I) think! Imagine that! In my 17th year of formal education I was confronted with the challenge to profess information and employ it in creative ways (that is, conveying what I thought of the material!)! At first, as you can imagine, I was in shock. But I got over it and largely because my professors genuinely desired to know what I thought. In this, they demonstrated an all-embracing love.
I’ve watched your spirit fill a room and take it from quiet and chatty to riveted, inspired, and hopeful. I know because that’s how I felt myself as I was listening to what you have experienced as a result of your mom’s dementia and what you have harvested from that experience – a rich and bountiful – dare I say, joyful? – harvest? I’ve watched you eagerly share that with others facing the challenges you yourself have faced and still do. I’ve watched your face shine as you do so. I am pretty convinced of your spiritual depth, my dear friend. I’m also convinced that the rooms in which you do your work are temples and that what goes on in them is holy work. In other words, I think you have a very deep understanding of the definition of the word “and” and that you use and share it with every fiber of your being.
Much love to you,
Loretta, what Karen has written! Amen that that! Thank you, Karen!
Thanks Paul and Karen!! I appreciate both of your responses soooo much!!
Here’s the story! In 2010 I opened the fall session of my security management class the same way I have ever other one, by introducing myself and then telling my students that I was going to be preparing them for the job they want 3-5 years in the future, AND that they could get any job they wanted if they prepared themselves.
In 2014 at the ASIS Conference (professional security organization with 40,000 members) in Orlando a young man in his 30s came up to me. He looked familiar but I didn’t remember where I knew him from. He reminded me that he was one of my former students from DC, and he gave me a business card and told me to email him when we returned home because he wanted to give me a tour of his workplace. He thanked me several time for telling him he could achieve any job he wanted if he prepared himself. When he told his wife he was applying for this HUGE job on Capitol Hill she told him that job was too big for him, and he shared with her that Professor Veney said he could be whatever he wanted and he applied anyway and GOT THE JOB.
So I set up an appointment for a tour of the Capitol building with him. His title was Architect of the Capitol. that is a HUGE position that you may never have head of until Jan 6th 2021. He reported to the heads of the Senate and the House and it’s the 3rd highest ranking security person on all of Capitol Hill. As we walked around the Capitol he introduced me to every single person we passed! “This is my Professor and she prepared me for this job!”… I even wrote a blog about it. He even took me to Speaker Boehner’s office and I got to sit in his chair. EVERYONE commented on what a wonderful person my former student was!! THAT WAS COOL!! I don’t remember every student I taught over the last 23 1/2 years, but it sure is good to know that a lesson that wasn’t in the book stuck with many of my students.
A couple of years ago my former student let me know that he was moving on from the Architect of the Capitol position primarily because he was starting to notice security lapses and vulnerabilities he was uncomfortable with, but there was too much politics involved for anyone to listen to his ideas for changes and improvements He said he also always remembered me saying you had to know when to leave a job too. We all watched what happened on Jan 6 and the top security people in both the House and the Senate were fired after the riot and testified before Congress yesterday. Only the new person serving as Architect of the Capitol kept his job. Maybe they should have listened to my former student a little earlier.
I have always been a pretty unconventional teacher I believe and that immediately popped into my head as I read Paul’s comments about his Professor writing on the board and then turning around and leaving. I have also given exams where I left the room and left my students with piles of LEGO bricks where they had 60 minutes to build the 4 most important concepts they learned from the course and then 15 minutes for each student to explain to the CEO (me) the meaning behind the models they built! I was teacher of the year that year. I love the fact that you still carry some of the lessons you learned from your Professor all of those years ago. He’d be VERY Proud of your career and your legacy!
Much love to you both!!!
Loretta, this is a most wonderful story! A tale of teaching and learning, of encouragement, and of empowerment. The two most key lessons, for me:  In preparation (and, looking to the future of 3-5 years!), one can pursue whatever job one desired and, also a matter of preparation,  one needing to know when to leave a job.
As for the esteemed position of Architect of the Capitol, yes, I knew of it. Early on in my tenure at St. Mark’s, the son-in-law (whose name escapes me) of Mary Craighill, then Director of the Dance Studio, was killed in a car accident (being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a police chase of a stolen vehicle). He was associated and worked with (under) the Architect of the Capitol during the renovation of the Visitors’ Center.
Again, Loretta, a fabulous story! Thank you for sharing it! AND your creativity with the employ of LEGOS! As I’m wont to say: Wonderful! Wonder-full!
Goodness, Loretta! I echo Paul’s response. What an incredible story! I had just read a few days ago something about the Architect of the Capitol position in connection with the investigation of the January 6 events. I had not been aware of the position until then. That your student attained the position – largely because of your teaching and encouragement – is such a tribute to what you are able to impart to people who are fortunate enough to have you as a teacher, which is more than knowledge; it’s conviction about their own capabilities and belief in themselves and what they can accomplish.
I’m so glad you had the experience of the Capitol tour with your former student. What you relate about his feelings in the past few years about the security of the Capitol being compromised because of politics is chilling, if not surprising. And his observations and concerns about his advice being ignored were certainly borne out in spades by the events of January 6. I would love to have the chance to talk with you about your feelings about what happened, with your background in security.
Your spirit fills and informs the teaching you are so deeply engaged in, whether in your professional position, or in your passionate caregiver work, or in any other human relationship endeavor you take on, I have this vision that somehow your faith and enthusiasm, resting on your own embodied experience, enlarge and strengthen the net supply of positive, contributing energy available to those trying to do good in the world. And that, I say again, is holy work.
Thank you for all you do, my dear Loretta. I’m so glad you’ve listened to Paul all these years and just keep carrying on.
Hugs and love,
Thank you both Paul and Karen!!
You made my day!!! I was interviewed earlier this afternoon by the very cool Lakelyn Hogan from Home Instead! She’s a pretty famous gerontologist. During our hour-long chat on Facebook Live I talked about the importance of Lifelines when caregiving….Both of your responses to my story warmed my heart soooo much!!! I consider you both my lifelines… where I can come for enrichment, nourishment and restoration!! THANK YOU!!
I’ll also share that I’m proud of my former student that he hung in there for 6 years and was very well respected by so many. One of his struggles was that some in power didn’t want to listen to a not quite forty year old African-American man in that position. But it’s certainly an experience he will treasure for the rest of his life!
Karen I’m happy to talk with you about my former student and the incident at the Capitol on Jan 6th. I’m doubting that we will ever get the ENTIRE story but the pieces we do have really are chilling as you pointed out!!
Thanks again for receiving my story so lovingly and encouraging me to share it!!
Love you both!!
Dearest Loretta, I am privileged and pleased to be a lifeline for you. Know that you are for me.
Regarding the experience of your former student, particularly that aspect of his sense (his reality) of not being heard by those in power, I sigh deeply in distress and sadness. What is it about our human hubris (tho’ by naming our hubris — that dangerous degree of human self-/over-confidence, I have answered my question before I ask it!) that would turn a deaf ear to the counsel of one who is in the position of being a competent and caring source of wisdom? And in asking this, Loretta, I come back to the depth of insight of your teaching concerning knowing when it is the time to leave a job. Clearly, your instruction for him was timely and, even more, truthful.