I received some wonderful news today. I have officially been accepted into PhD school. Yes, I am actually excited about this. I have been thinking about writing a series on connecting literature and faith in the classroom. I figured today was a perfect time to begin this series being that I will officially begin work for my Phd in English in a few weeks. But first, a little back story…
This blog has taken many different directions in its existence. This is the case partly because I am a textbook case of ADHD and tend to get really excited about many, many things, and partly because it has taken me a very long time, down a very long path to make sense of these many exciting things. For example, I got really excited about Jesus, and then I got really excited about missions, and then I got really excited about reading, and then I got really excited about writing, and then somehow I got really excited about teaching, and then I got really excited about something else I’m sure. All of these new and exciting things cropped up over the course of fifteen years, give or take. Unfortunately, it has taken me until recently, as in like two weeks ago, to formulate a way for ALL of these things to work together AND be something I can pursue collectively. It all culminates, ultimately, in the work and study I will do in my PhD, but the short story has to do with literature and faith.
Now, I’m not talking about literature written about faith, but rather viewing literature through the lens of faith and using literature as a means through which we can learn about faith. Also, because I teach in a private, independent school, I can actually do this in my classroom. That is not to say that all of my students care about faith, but I can certainly use literature to provoke thoughts of faith to those who do not believe and to make connections to faith for those who do believe. Which, if you are wondering, is exactly what I do. I cannot argue that I accomplish this in the most conventional ways, but I certainly have a blast doing it, and I believe that the Lord is using it.
This is why I am quite excited to begin this series on literature and faith in the classroom. I’ll begin with a simple one.
I recently finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (you can check it out here). I was wonderfully surprised by this novel. It follows a young Spanish boy, Santiago, on his search and journey to find his “personal legend.” He comes across many roadblocks along the way, often finding himself to be his own roadblock, but this tension is a life reality. The Alchemist is a simple text to discuss faith with because it is full of it! Let’s look at a few places.
Santiago was raised in a Catholic home and tradition. In fact, his parents sent him to study at a monastery in hopes of him becoming a priest. He left the monastery to become a shepherd and travel the land, but he kept his belief in God, the Christian God. His search for his personal legend leads him to Africa, where he becomes immersed in an Islamic culture. A large portion of the novel takes place in this Islamic setting, though the narrator remains a Christian. While this might initially be intimidating for some people to tackle in a classroom, I find it fascinating and an interesting topic to raise in the right setting.
As Santiago is waiting to depart with a caravan across an African desert, the leader of the caravan makes this announcement:
“There are a lot of different people here, and each has his own God. But the only God I serve is Allah, and in his name I swear that I will do everything possible once again to win out over the desert. But I want each and every one of you to swear by the God you believe in that you will follow my orders no matter what” (74).
I love this quote, not only for the conversation that it provides, but because of the way it is said. He not only acknowledges the diversity around him, but he also unapologetically declares his allegiance to Allah. Santiago responds to the caravan leader’s announcement by swearing to Jesus Christ. Both men are secure in their belief. Both men acknowledge the other’s belief. I recently had a conversation with a few of my students about the ways that Christians can create divides amongst themselves over differing beliefs in doctrine. While I believe it absolutely necessary that every Christian seeks to understand as fully as possible what exactly their belief is in, I believe it just as necessary that we remain inclusive and loving to those that differ in their beliefs. Jesus commanded the disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The last time I checked, teaching others to observe what Jesus commanded does not happen if we hate them. This section of The Alchemist provides the context for discussing with students practical ways to coexist, love, and respect those of different faiths than our own and those with different doctrines within our faith.
I mentioned earlier that Santiago often becomes his own roadblock within the novel, yet this aspect of his character is where he grows and matures the most. Every step of his journey contains a challenge that Santiago must overcome in order to continue on his journey. As he nears the end of his journey and reaching his personal legend, he wisely observes that “every second of the search is an encounter with God” (135). Let me remind you that Santiago is a young boy; though the text never reveals his actual age, he is old enough to be a traveling shepherd on his own yet young enough to still be called a boy. This leads me to believe that he is very near the age of most of my students. I seldomly hear my students declare that some difficulty they are facing in life is ultimately an encounter with God. I might change all of their grades to As if they were to reach this conclusion on their own. Santiago definitely sets the stage here for me to challenge their attitudes and outlooks with difficulties though. In a similar way, every piece of literature I read with my classes provides opportunities for me to encourage my students to encounter God even through their school work.
The difficult part is actually getting the students to read the texts…… but on the day that they do, literature is provides a plethora of opportunities for planting gospel seeds in their hearts.