For many of our member schools, today is the last day before a well-earned Christmas renewal. As I look back on the fall that has past, one of my Coalition highlights was hearing Sr. Pat Smith, RSM, one of the founders and corporate members at Sisters Academy of Baltimore, address participants at our Mid-Atlantic Regional PD Day.
Sr. Pat asked participants to reflect on two questions after a reading of the Nativity story:
- When you hear the story of the birth of Jesus, what comes spontaneously to mind?
- What do you expect from a school in the NativityMiguel coalition? Not expect?
She followed their responses with a reading by Ann Weems entitled “Unexpected” from the collection Kneeling in Bethlehem:
Even now we simply do not expect
to find a deity in a stable.
Somehow the setting is all wrong:
the swaddling clothes too plain,
the manger too common for the likes of a Savior,
the straw inelegant,
the animals, reeking and noisy,
the whole scene too ordinary for our taste.
And the cast of characters is no better.
With the possible exception of the kings,
who among them is fit for this night?
the shepherds? certainly too crude,
the carpenter, too rough,
the girl, too young.
And the baby? Whoever expected a baby?
Whoever expected the advent of God is a helpless child?
Had the Messiah arrived in the blazing light
of the glory of a legion of angels wielding golden swords,
the whole world could have been conquered for Christ right then and there and we in the church— to say nothing of the world!—
wouldn’t have so much trouble today.
Even now we simply do not expect to face the world armed with love.
This is a critical message to reflect upon this advent season especially as we struggle to reconcile what we fear and what we hope as a people, as a nation and as a world. Are we, like the poem’s voice, bewildered that the birth of Jesus takes place in surroundings that are plain and simple, smelly, messy and noisy even, amongst persons who are ordinary at best? Are we in disbelief that Jesus’s birth story calls us to change the world with love when we expect shock and awe to exert its power? Such humility is counter-cultural to how we typically envision strength, influence and transformation.
Yet this is precisely and exactly the origin of NativityMiguel Schools and our expectation to love each day. If we expect love in our life, the most important place to start is with our openness to love those we encounter each day. If we are to expect love to be primary in our school, the most important place to start is with the openness of each individual in the school community to love each person and all persons who gather each day.
The day prior to the Regional PD Day, I accompanied a group of educators from across the Coalition on visits to all three member schools in Baltimore. At the end of the day, we had the opportunity to discuss key elements of the mindset, lens, voice, and heart of school culture when the expectation is to be “armed with love.” Three threads became clear throughout our conversation:
Welcome: Each person who enters a NativityMiguel school clearly receives the message that he/she is loved. Regardless of circumstance, school leaders, faculty, staff and students greet one another, say “hello,” and share the blessings of our day with each other and with visitors. In addition to expressing love in our words and actions, it is also reflected throughout the physical space of our building through pictures, posters, murals, stories, etc.
Independent: When a school values love as the primary driver for student growth and development, that love is evident independent of extensive structure and scaffolding. When students, especially those who have been at the school for a year or more, become responsible stewards of that love, they selflessly interact with others and make decisions based on how that love will positively impact the school community.
Shared with Others: We witness love wielding its strength, influence, and power in our world when members of the school community step beyond the boundaries of the school and continue to lead with love. The success of a NativityMiguel education is realized when the students and graduates are loving members of their families and communities and have a vision for the world that depends foundationally on that love.
Leading with love may be counter-cultural in some education reform movements and seen as simplistic at best in other circles. As we break for Christmas and recall the Nativity story, I am reminded of a refrain from Christmas Song by the Dave Matthews Band from the 1990s that also recounts the story of Jesus’ birth: “Shower him with love .. love … love … love is all around.” Counter-cultural, yes; simplistic, yes; powerful, yes. That is what we expect from a school in the NativityMiguel Coalition and that is why we are emboldened in our faith and mission in our celebration of the sacred Nativity story.