As a teacher, I have strange dreams. Often they involve classes wildly out of control, or me being absurdly late to a class. The schools in which I teach are often an amalgam of all the schools I have known: the primary and secondary schools that I attended, as they were in the 90s, and the schools I have taught in. And I am often both a teacher and a student at the same time, struggling to juggle the assignments I know I should be finishing with the classes I should be both attending and teaching.
For many years I had recurring dreams about an unfinished Specialist Maths assignment that was now profoundly overdue. More recently my dreams have shifted to focus on content I have neglected or forgotten to teach. And, for reasons that largely escape me, that often seems to involve Rosemary Dobson’s poetry. I taught Dobson to my Year 12 Literature class for two years, back in 2017 and 2018. I came late to the party with her work and it was gone from the syllabus just as I was gaining confidence in my understanding of it. Like much of what I teach in Literature, I never felt like I got to the bottom of my own understanding let alone my teaching of her poetry. Two weeks ago I spent some of a voucher I got for my birthday on her collected works and it arrived today. Looking over it filled me both with excitement at a renewed chance to read her and a sense that I had not done what I would have hoped for my students when I taught her. I doubt that many teachers ever feel that they have truly done all they could for their students. I certainly never do.
But I was speaking with a mentor of mine today about the slow ways we grow and the things we learn that we wish we had known earlier, and I was struck by the grace God shows in His patience with us. There’s a line in the Anglican prayer of confession that I love which states, “We have done what we ought not to have done and left undone what we ought to have done.” Left undone. So many things left undone. Yet God is the one who completes all the fragmented strands of our lives.
The apostle Paul, when he wrote to the Philippian church from prison, declared that he still “press[ed] on towards the goal” of his life in Christ, saying, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” (Philippians 3:12-15). That last bit always comforts me. Paul knows that the mature in faith will not be those who think they have arrived but those who know they haven’t.
And so on another ordinary Wednesday, with much done that should not have been done and much left undone that should have been done, I turn to the patient grace of God and press on. As Rosemary Dobson concludes one of her most beautiful poems:
‘Forgive, learn from the past. Press on.’ / I press on.