Philip, the Ethiopian, goodbyes and rejoicing

The first reading at Mass today concerns a meeting between Philip and an Ethiopian man who is trying to read and to understand Scripture. Philip meets him, and feels drawn by the Spirit to instruct him and to talk with him. Eventually the Ethiopian man asks to be baptized, so Philip and he go into a pool of water. The passage ends with Philip being drawn away by God to go elsewhere even before the Ethiopian can say goodbye. Though Philip has left and unexpectedly, the Ethiopian man goes on rejoicing (Acts 8:26-40).

As the academic year winds down here at the university, there are many closing ceremonies for student organizations, last classroom discussions,  and final farewells to say to seniors. Cards and emails from grateful students start to arrive, and I hope they also know my own gratitude for time together. Teaching is truly vocational for me, so my gratitude in having a life where I can accompany students through the process of learning, and sometimes also through personal growth in other forms, is deep. For example, my work in a service learning and social justice class includes both an intellectual dimension of teaching about theological and philosophical ideas, and accompanying students as they wrestle with the meaning of suffering, injustice, and what service and community mean in an imperfect, not-yet-just world.

Many of the students have mixed feelings about leaving the university and especially their relationships with friends and peers. Goodbyes, especially for the seniors, are a mix of joy and sadness, because no matter how much email, social media, and other forms of communication allow people to stay in touch, the transition out of college and into the next phase of life is a real movement away from one place and  one set of relationships into another.

The passage about Philip and the Ethiopian speaks to a certain kind of lightness in hello and goodbye that resonates well with my experience of being a teacher. I care deeply for my students, especially those with whom I have spent the most time or accompanied in exploring the “deeper” questions, but then we are all called away to our next step in our own missions, projects, and relationships. I always feel both a little sadness and a little pride at graduation, in bidding the seniors farewell, but for the most part I go on “rejoicing” because the gifts of participating together in something meaningful is good and worthwhile. Gratitude is what stays with me.

The key to the joy is something the author of Acts emphasizes over and over again: Philip is moved to do what he does by the Spirit. He’s attentive, reflective, and responsive to where the Spirit of God leads him next. That is our invitation, too, to have an attentiveness and responsive to stay with the “flow” of the Spirit and the “flow” of life because it’s in staying with the movement of the Spirit that we find joy.

2 thoughts on “Philip, the Ethiopian, goodbyes and rejoicing

  1. Your students are blessed to have you, and I see that you recognize that you are blessed by them. The grace of God is wonderfully abundant.


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