When I was 26 years old, the night before my water baptism, I prayed and asked the Lord to reveal to me my calling. He impressed this verse strongly on my spirit: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens me morning by morning. He awakens my ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4).
That verse burned in my heart, and I rejoiced in God’s revelation that confirmed my gifting and source of joy. I thought I would teach as a minister of God’s word, but instead I have taught more than a decade in higher education, as a biology professor. My teaching vocation began in my home culture, the Philippines, but now I serve students in the United States at a Christian liberal arts university. Isaiah 50:4 still burns in my heart, but with an understanding tempered by time and experience.
Who are the “weary” to whom I should “speak a word in season?” It was easy to identify the weary students in the Philippines. I taught in a national university that admitted only the smartest students after rigorous admission screenings, and most of them came from poor families. In addition to suffering financial hardships, they were beset by health and family problems, ground down by the inequities in Philippine society.
Here in the United States, who are the weary? Students seem mostly affluent, healthy, well-adjusted, and predominantly Christian. As I got to know my American students better, I began to recognize that they were also the weary, as I learned to see them beyond the trappings of Western wealth and religion. This is even more apparent during this time of pandemic.
All of our students, whether Filipino, American, or from any other place on earth, need teachers to show them the grace that ultimately comes from Christ. Parker Palmer explains that “good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young.”1
I think of how my students experience the courses I teach. I have always made it a point to get to know their names and stories, to know them as individuals. But do they feel comfortable? Do they feel welcome? Can they be themselves in my class? Do they feel seen and known? Do they know that I value them as children of God, made in the image of God? (Gen 1:27). They need kindness, generosity, and grace, especially in these traumatic times, even though they may seem carefree.
I share my faith with students as many other Christian college educators do, through testimony, prayer, and worship. In biology, specifically, I share my wonder at God’s creation. Rabbi Abraham Herschel spoke about two ways of knowing and responding to the world: the way of reason, and the way of wonder.2
God’s creation invites biology professors and students to start with wonder, then use reason to explain the wonder, and end up with more wonder! Herschel explains that wonder will only emerge in the presence of reverence. I share that wonder with my students, in the way I talk about the natural world and the processes that create diversity. When we go out on field trips and study God’s creation, our spirits are lifted at the sheer beauty and astounding complexity of God’s world. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God; It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”3
The Christian virtue of hospitality calls forth a certain quality of relationship between professor and student. My calling as a professor is, in this way, similar to the pastoral calling I once thought I would follow. My role is not to just be an instructor, but a host that shows genuine respect and concern for my students’ needs and perspectives. May God continue to reveal to me—to all of us educators—how to be hospitable toward this generation of students, especially those who may feel that at our colleges, they are the Other.
I know how it feels to be the other—in college in the Philippines, I was the weird, born-again girl. Here in the United States, I am an immigrant, a brown woman in science. As a teacher, I have students who see me, and other students, as the Other. May my hospitality and influence help them recognize that the Other “always bears the trace of God, that the Other is the middle ground between them and God.”4
During this pandemic year, students are weary, professors are weary, the whole world is weary and hurting. Isaiah 50 encourages us, as professors: God can awaken us, and awaken our ears to hear, so we can speak with the tongue of the learned, offering a word in season to those who are weary.
For more about biology in CSR please see https://christianscholars.com/deeply-connected-to-gods-good-world-the-human-microbiome/
- Parker J. Palmer. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007), 51.
- David Benner. Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011), 111.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins. “God’s Grandeur.” Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), 70.
- Benner, Soulful Spirituality, 129.