Junior year in my Catholic high school we had a non-Catholic teacher instructing us in German. With most, but not all teachers, we began each class period with prayer. It was usually teacher-led. But not always.
One day, a good bit into the academic year, one of my classmates asked the instructor about leading prayer at the start of class. She volunteered to do it. After a bit of resistance, the teacher permitted it. The next day, the girl read a prayer and just after, in what I thought was something of a sarcastic tone, the teacher asked her, “Are you satisfied?” The message was pretty clear: this was going to be the very last time we were going to pray in this class.
What offended my sensibility the most were the hurt feelings on the part of my classmate, a girl who wasn’t a friend, or really even an acquaintance. My instinct was to thank her for praying and commiserate that our teacher was being petty, immature, and impolite. But I held my tongue.
As I look back, I regret I didn’t say anything. Speaking out would have been an inner urge that would have forced me to step out of myself and how I was used to behaving in those days.
Sometimes present experiences take me back to one of life’s aspects from when I was younger. This month, my family and I enjoyed seeing the 2007 film version of Bridge to Terabithia. We all found it a moving film. I was not familiar with the plot. I had thought it was a fantasy film in the mold of Harry Potter, but that was part of the deceptive advertising accompanying the theatrical release.
It’s a very worthwhile family movie. And it reminded me of the prayer episode in my high school German class. The two lead characters in Bridge are misfits, opting to indulge their talents for art (the boy) and writing (the girl) and putting up with the barbs and bullying of their peers and his family. Together the boy and girl invest themselves in a special friendship that includes a shared life of fantasy in a forest where they escape from life’s adolescent trials. In the film, this is a healthy escape, as it strengthens each of them in their dealings with others and in growing up to a degree.
The “bridge” in the title is a rope swing that gives the characters access to the forest. At the end of the movie, the boy builds an actual bridge and invites his younger sister to share the experience.
When I spoke with my spiritual director Monday, he helped me to see this theme of bridges in my own life. For the past six years, I had worked in a very divided and embittered parish. There was a gulf wider and deeper than a parking lot between church and school. In my family of origin, some siblings and my mother do not speak to each other. My dad, before he passed away in ’95, once remarked I was the only person in the family he could always talk to. It also seems I’ve been the only person everybody else talks to. So often in ministry, I find myself in the role of bringing people together, facilitating connections. The bridges are all over the place.