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Faith is the Substance of Things Hoped For
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The weekend following the death of former Beatle George Harrison was a time for many people to reflect on the spiritual focus of his life. The New York Times quoted Harrison as saying that "you can never gain perfect happiness unless you've got that state of consciousness that enables that." It was such a relief and appropriate that this man's peaceful death from cancer at age 58 pushed news about anthrax and Afghanistan nearly completely off the front page of most papers. Harrison's last wishes were for there to be peace and love in the world, according to those at his side when he passed away.

Beyond the inevitable content-based English lessons to be derived from news clips and song lyrics, what impact can George Harrison's death have on the ESL profession? Is there a spiritual aspect to our craft? As teachers and administrators, can we glean something from Harrison's personal philosophy that will help us improve the learning experiences of our students and our enjoyment of the ESL teaching activity?

A certain amount of the standard TESOL training program is usually devoted to the need to avoid missionary models of ESL and to respect the diversity of religious beliefs found in our classrooms. Perhaps too often this admonition leads us away from a recognition of the role that spiritual health plays in the success of any endeavor. Often teachers who hold strong religious beliefs--Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, New Age, Mormons and others--demonstrate a sensitivity to the spiritual growth of their students which complements and reinforces their English-learning process.

What do I mean by "spirit" and "spiritual growth"? First of all, an understanding of these terms requires that we acknowledge a thread of beauty intertwined with all reality. On his "Cloud Nine" album, in the song "That's What It Takes," George Harrison said:

And now it begins to shine
And you found the eyes to see
Each little drop at dawn of every day

The beauty of nature can inspire the emotion of sadness as well as that of happiness, as expressed in Harrison's song, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps":

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps.

One way in which spiritual consciousness affects the language teaching/learning experience is by deepening our understanding of the many facets of human communication and encouraging us to see outside ourselves and our own agendas, so that we can really listen to what our students have to say. Harrison's song "Isn't It A Pity" expresses the egocentricity that sometimes prevents us from hearing what each other is saying.

Isn't it a pity, isn't it a shame
How we break each other's hearts
Cause each other pain
How we take each other's love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back

In another song, "The Light That Has Lighted The World," from his album "Living in the Material World," Harrison paints a vivid picture of wounded spirits.

The thoughts in their heads manifest on their brow
Like bad scars from ill feelings they themselves arouse
So hateful of anyone that is happy or free
They live all their lives without trying to see
The light that has lighted the world

There is a give and take in the life of a school, in every classroom, too. Giving attention to this aspect of language education is a way of responding to and nurturing each individual's spirit as well as the spirit of the institution as a whole.

In George Harrison's gentle spirituality, there is a recurrent tone of optimism about our ability to heal the human spirit, as for instance in these lyrics from "This Is Love":

Since our problems have been our own creation
They also can be overcome
When we use the power provided free to everyone

An ESL teacher who is sensitive to his or her students' spirits doesn't have to search for some behaviorist formula for saving face or dealing effectively with the different backgrounds and personalities in every classroom. The common feature of any healthy class environment is respect for the human spirit.

An increased level of sensitivity to the spiritual health of our students will inevitably lead to the inclusion of content in our lessons related to the spiritual condition of peoples in other parts of the world, just as it led George Harrison to generate the energy for the famous Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and inspired his song "Bangladesh":

Though it may seem so far
From where we all are
It's something we can't reject
That suffering I can't neglect
Now won't you give some bread
Get the starving fed
We've got to relieve Bangladesh
Relieve the people of Bangladesh

Whether an administrator or a teacher has a particular religious belief or not, his or her performance can be enhanced by a renewed focus on his or her own spirit, the spiritual well-being of fellow staff members and ESL learners and the overall spiritual environment of the school.

As the Christian New Testament says, in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse one, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It takes a lot of faith and hope to maintain a positive school environment. We can benefit from George Harrison's words and the memory of how he tried to live a life that focused on a very real spiritual world. Let's remember the upbeat words of another of his songs, "Here Comes The Sun," as we strive to increase our awareness of this aspect of our lives and our work.

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say it's alright
It's been a long cold lonely winter
It feels like years since it's been here

Story by Robb Scott