The Gifts We Bring
The ornaments and other decorations reminding us of the Christmas season may get packed away, but January provides many moments for reflecting upon our gifts, those interior gifts that fuel our passions and compassions. The Epiphany story in the Sunday Gospel just before most students returned to school told us of the journey of the Magi as they searched for the Christ child to offer their gifts to the baby Jesus. God has blessed each of us with many gifts, and part of our own spiritual journey is to recognize and accept these gifts and to offer them back to our Creator God. Our challenge this month is to consider how our gifts and the work of peace and justice are related as we too seek Christ in order to offer our gifts.
Consider your own unique gifts. What led you into teaching? What other passions do you have in life? What type volunteer work calls to you? How did you discover your own gifts? Were there any that surprised you or that you found difficult to accept? Are the discovery and acceptance of gifts ongoing in your journey? Who helped you and who helps you now in the discerning of your giftedness? Are you conscious of the gifts of the Spirit at work within you? What role does prayer play in recognizing and accepting our unique gifts from God such as our various talents, vocations, and interests?
Ask your students how they would define the word “gift.” Point out that we will be speaking of those gifts of the Spirit as well as our individual gifts such as our unique talents, interests and personality traits.
Discuss the ways we come to recognize our gifts—both what those gifts are and the fact that they come from God. One’s very life is a gift. Encourage your students to make a list of their gifts and to discuss with friends, teachers, parents and grandparents whether or not there are gifts the students themselves don’t yet recognize. Ask your students to consider whether or not they fully accept the gifts. Are they conscious of the potential of their gifts? Do they nurture their gifts through lessons, disciplined practice, studies at school, or through relationships with friends and family? How might they “give back” their gifts to God through service to others?
Theologian Frederick Buechner defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Ask your students to consider where that place might be in their lives. How might an appreciation and acceptance of our individual gifts bring a deeper joy to our living? How might a knowledge and acceptance of our gifts be brought into peacemaking and justice work no matter what vocation we commit to in life? What deep hungers in the world call to your students and how might they find ways to joyfully use their gifts to nourish others? Have there been times in their lives when they have seen Christ’s birth before them, seen him suffering, hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison and been moved to help him through their unique gifts? Has any student experienced a moment in which encountering Christ in need in our world led to an appreciation of and acceptance of gifts which he or she could use in serving others?
Resources and Activities
Each of the following websites offers an activity easily adapted for classroom use.
http://www.worship.ca/docs/l_chalk.html chalking the door Epiphany ritual (you will have to change the numbers in the example shown to those of the current year 07). Have a door chalking ritual for your classroom door or ask students to draw a doorway on a journal or folder cover and mark that prayerfully. Discuss the meaning behind inviting Christ into our dwelling and into our relationships with all who might enter our classroom (or home etc) How might students’ gifts be used to welcome those who will come through your classroom door or into their lives this year?
http://www.usccb.org/cchd/5-239.pdf This link to the CCHD/CRS A Call to Justice: An Activity Book for Raising Awareness of Social Justice Issues on the USCCB website has activities to help students understand the core values of Catholic social teaching. The second activity found on page 6, “Dignity of Work,” touches upon using one’s gifts to help others as well as to achieve dignity in one’s own work. The questions at the end of the exercise would go well with this month’s theme of discerning and using our gifts as well as pointing out what happens when our gifts are not recognized and/or appreciated.
http://www.ely.anglican.org/mission_ministry/vocation_ministry/youthgroups.html Scroll down on this page from the Church of England to “Bible-based activity” near the bottom. Based on 1 Cor 12, this activity brings the idea of individual gifts into a communal understanding of the Body of Christ and the need for everyone to make use of their gifts.
http://www.johndear.org/sermons_homilies/feastepiphany.html John Dear S.J.’s 2003 homily on Matthew’s Epiphany story with study questions at the end. The reflection questions could be used in any discussion of the meaning of Epiphany and using our gifts.
Wishing you a blessed and grace filled year as you and your students discern your giftedness and the place of gladness where your God-given gifts and the world’s deepest needs meet in Christ’s name. Peace and blessings, Colette Wisnewski