Monday, April 7, 2014

God in the Classroom

               Madeleine L' Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is a book that combines fantasy and science fiction with religious theory. There are many instances that serve as allusions to christian - or rather - theological concepts. At first, readers are presented with a seemingly typical depiction of God as a father. Meg, whose own father is missing, contains unreserved faith in his return and help. While her surrounding community doubt in his return/moral, claiming that he has "gone off with some dame," Meg firmly believes in him - she believes he will come again to her, her family, and her mother (49).
               Other moments that reinforce Meg's father as a human conception of God occur throughout the novel. Mrs. Whatsit told Meg that her " father...for his children, may be able to do what he cannot do for himself" (74).  This depicts the selfless nature of God that humanity believes in. In fact, it could even regard Jesus, who saved humanity through his crucifixion but could not physically save himself from his condemnation at the hands of the mob. At a certain point, Meg is also asked why one would want a father. Meg responds passionately that one doesn't "want him for a reason," but "because he's [one's] father" (118). There is no reason for our human faith in God other than love and dedication to a father figure.
               However there is a flaw in this image of God. While the initial reunion between Meg and her father is full of joy (from the relief of finally seeing her father), readers quickly see that things are very wrong. Her father is waft-like, blind, and as weak against IT as Meg had been. Meg desperately needed to see her father - desperately believed that seeing her father again, that he, would fix everything. When she was tessered, paralyzed as an effect of going through The Dark Thing, and realized that Charles Wallace was left behind to remain in the grip of IT, Meg was immensely disillusioned. "Her father had not saved her" (163). She felt such resentment upon realizing that "she had found her father and he had not made everything all right." Her anger culminated to the point where she spat "ugly words" at "her father, her beloved, longed-for-father." What had made everything worse was the realization that her "omnipotent father" was not really omnipotent and allowed pain and abandonment to exist in her life (165).
               In order to reconcile her faith somewhere, Meg comes in contact with Aunt Beast - a tentacled being who helps heal her and even volunteers to go with Meg back to Camazot to "help...and hold her" (188). Aunt Beast becomes the religious figure that Meg cannot understand but accepts. Aunt Beast is the religious figure who would go to protect Meg, even though Aunt Beast - like God - cannot physically be with us in our hardships. What is significant about Aunt Beast is that it, along with the other creatures on its planet, has no eyes and no concept of sight. "Look doesn't help at all"  when describing anything. Rather than asking for a concrete physical description of the Mrs. Ws, for example, Aunt Beast requests that Meg describe "what they [Mrs. Ws] are" (183).  The tentacled beasts find it strange that Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Murry "can't [explain] what they themselves seem to know" (183).  Mr. Murry, who needed glasses to see - who believes he has to see the Mrs. Ws - cannot grasp the idea of not-seeing in the same way that Aunt Beast does. Suddenly, Meg's father is diminished from what had been a godlike symbol. He was a man with "human fallibility" and human understanding (180) while Aunt Beast takes his place as a religious symbol.

               While Tunbridge is itself a public school, and therefore lacking in any sort of theology classes, there is an element of faith that plays in the classroom. Students put their faith in their teachers. They adore them. When I started service at Tunbridge, I realized that they soon came to love me as much as Ms. Mitchell. They come up to me asking all sorts of questions, always expecting an answer, because surely I must have them.  One time, when I was helping a small reading-group with their book on Louis Braille, a student, Asa, said she didn't understand one of the questions. It asked why Braille was having a difficult time reading. Together, we looked through the book until we came upon the answer: he was blind and the way the raised letter system worked wasn't as fast or helpful as the Braille he would develop.
               Asa was annoyed. She told me that the explanation didn't make sense. If he was in school then the teacher was supposed to help him. He shouldn't have been struggling since there was a teacher, and teachers know how to fix things a student has trouble with. End of discussion (at this point, she crossed her arms stubbornly).
               I really had no clue what to say. On the one hand, I even felt she was right: a good teacher is always there to help. Then again, teachers are humans and don't have all the answers - especially to one as complicated as the development of simple readings systems for the blind.

               Asa believes in teachers. She believes in their own version of omnipotence. I guess in this way, teachers to the students of my Tunbridge classroom are like Mr. Murry to Meg. They want them to have all the solutions, but the trouble is, that won't always happen. Asa still doesn't understand. She closed the book with a satisfied smack when reading groups was over. She looked directly at me and said she didn't like the school that Braille went to. Part of me wanted to say that it wasn't the school or the teacher, but that sometimes there aren't simple answers, but how could I explain that? We all ultimately learn that people like our parents, older siblings, teachers, and the sort aren't omnipotent. I just had to let Asa eventually learn that on her own. 

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