The following essay began as an introduction to a course that I teach in seminary. I left the more parochial subject of journaling as a way to bring the reader into the real-life progression of thought from theology professor to divinity student. Though our environment is theological higher education I trust the thoughts might find application with fellow educators from Kindergarten to Law School.
On Spiritual Journaling
The spiritual journal is an important part of this course. However, the journal is highly personalized. It is yours. You operate on the honor system and so it is required but not inspected (Who would want to write honestly in a journal and then have someone else to read it?) So, there is no inspection of your journal. Therefore, whether you decide to have daily or weekly entries is up to you.
I would imagine that monthly entries would be counterproductive. In an eight week intensive course that would mean you would have two entries. I don’t believe you would serve yourself well in that scenario.
The goal of a spiritual journal is to capture your most immediate responses to the material that you encounter in your seminary studies, and seek to prayerfully discover how your discoveries lead you to the Lord Jesus Christ and His call on your life. So, I should think anything less than one per week is not ordinarily helpful. If I were to ask you a question, “Where did you discover God today in your studies?” How would you respond? So, I believe that daily or even multiple entries in a 24-hour cycle will be more helpful for your journaling goals. However, I don’t want to project my own spiritual needs on you.
I trust and pray this is of some help to you.
A Story on the Necessity of Self-discovery
A brief story for you: when I studied at the University of Wales in Great Britain, I had to be re-orientated to teaching and learning since the English system from college to graduate school to postgraduate school is based on research and independent, and self-motivation.
I recall an American student at old Saint David’s in Wales (where J.C. Ryle’s son was Rector, now, part of the University of Wales system) who, after the first lecture in the course module, approached the professor and informed him of an apparent oversight. “Sir, I don’t find anything in the materials, such as a syllabus or course guide. I don’t know what is to be read by the next class meeting. I didn’t even see any guidance about deliverables, or rubrics. I don’t know how to go forward. The professor responded by a rather extended pause.
“There are no instructions or guides to progress in our postgraduate program. We will provide you all of the resources, available guidance, assistance, and lectures you will need. However, I hasten to repeat: there are no step-by-step instructions to learning. Learning is entirely up to you. The only mandate is you must pass the course to advance. We don’t want to interfere with at process. Learning is a self-motivated journey, and, therefore, not the professor’s responsibility. How could it be? If you want to learn, read. Read deeply and read widely. If you want to receive the possibility of a deeper, or, perhaps more extensive acquaintance with our subjects, thereby increasing the likelihood of insight, then, by all means, attend the lectures. I hold tutoring several times in the term. Some students find that more intimate time of discussion quite helpful. Others don’t. I am neither encouraged or discouraged by the attendance. The methods that work for one do not necessarily work for another. The most important thing for you in postgraduate study is reading. Read the recommended books but don’t stop there. Follow the footnote trail.”The Reverend Canon Dr. William Price, Professor of History, University of Wales
The student was used to a regulated course of study which was focused on the professor’s requirements rather than the student’s desire to learn. So, the student, seeking further clarification, responded, with mild exasperation, “But you don’t even say when you will have tests!” Lifting a cup and saucer to his mouth, the imminent doctor of the Church whispered his reply, blowing into the cup to cool the steaming tea.
“Well, that is quite an astute observation. It is very helpful for me to know your expectations. I can see how you would, naturally, want to know mine. So, here’s the thing: You see, there is only one test. That examination comes at the conclusion of this course. You will write what you have discovered. Representatives of our faculty, and guest faculty from other universities in the Realm, will pose questions. From your writing and your responses to our ‘little questions,’ a majority will discern if you have conducted sufficient independent research or not.”Dr. Price
I can tell that story without rehearsal. You see, I was that student. Dr. William Price was my PhD “first supervisor” at the University of Wales.
On that One Sacred Moment
My time invested in the British school of teaching and learning has paid steady dividends over the years. While returning to “The Cousins’” system of higher education I have not abandoned the values gleaned from a research-centered system. More pointedly, I came to see the rewards of a research-based educational system in theological higher education. The initiative for learning must be upon the student. The professor guides, provides perspective and, perhaps, hard- gained insight. He presents ideas, provides private tutoring when necessary — academic counseling, if you prefer—and instructs the class with faithfulness. However, the joy of learning, and deeper-learning thorough self-discovery, is, likely, missed altogether if the professor limits teaching and learning to a regimented system of weekly to-do lists. This teacher-centered approach restrains the natural course of learning by replacing it with imposed milestones that measure efficiency of time and executive functions over learning. There is merit in time management and fulfilling the duties of membership in an organization. However, the course goals and any truthful evaluation of such objectives, are quite different from competency in learning and deep learning. My goal is for students to journey into a new world where treasures await the hearty soul that will not be denied. For there, in that exploration of ideas, one might possibly “crack the code” that not only discovers Truth and Beauty, but personally encounters that brilliant light at the nexus of knowledge and experience: the illuminating insight that triggers integration and application of learning to life. This is when knowledge quite possibly becomes wisdom.
Designing Courses for Learners
Given that philosophy of education, I seek to design a course of graduate theological education with both independent research and a required student self-motivation I design a course with that one sacred moment in mind: when there is a veritable catalytic conversion of knowledge to wisdom. One prays for this moment for the student. A teacher carefully offers and limits self so that another might make that discovery.
So I try to design a course of study that prioritizes the student’s pathway to self-discovery. I want to open the gate (not guard the gate) to intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and theological reflection. In this way, as your mind and heart are fueled by your vocation, motivated by your desire for “excellence in all things and all things for Christ,” you will explore and learn independently. Let learning be a light to lead you, not a burden to drag behind you.
So, read deeply and widely. Research by following the footnote trail. And pray. Pray for that one holy moment of realization that unleashes the mind to think thoughts after God.
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