Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2003: Volume 7, Issue 4

Teaching Mindfully
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A Spirituality of Collaboration 
In Hebrew scriptures, the great patriarchs and prophets usually struggle to 
recognize God’s call. A student-teacher relationship is often the vital key 
to discerning vocation.  The relationship between Eli, the temple priest at 
Shiloh in the eleventh century B.C.E.., and his young ward Samuel, who 
assisted in worship, illustrates this important spiritual idea. [1] In 
1 Samuel, God calls Samuel audibly three times, but Samuel (who is possibly 
still just a boy at this time) doesn’t recognize God’s voice. He instead 
responds instead to Eli the priest—his elder, mentor, supervisor, and 
co-habitant. “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD 
had not yet been revealed to him.” [2] It was Eli, his mentor, who finally 
realized God was calling Samuel and told him how to respond. The fourth time, 
obeying Eli’s advice, Samuel asked God to speak and then listened while God 
gave him a prophetic message for Eli. [3] Just as Eli had helped Samuel 
discern his call and vocation, young Samuel then helped his mentor Eli 
understand God’s will and work in Eli’s life. 

Another example of this kind of relationship is that between the prophet Elijah 
and his young successor Elisha. God tells Elijah, a nomadic prophet, to anoint 
Elisha to be prophet in his place. He found Elisha and put his own mantle on him, 
explaining that although he could indeed go kiss his parents goodbye as he’d 
requested, Elijah had just done something very important to him. [4] Elisha 
initially followed and served Elijah, but as Elisha began his political and 
prophet work with the future king of Syria, Elijah recognizes the fulfillment 
of his own prophetic understanding and career. [5] When Elijah asks what he can 
do for Elisha before being take up, and Elisha asks for the wisdom and 
discernment of his mentor: “I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your 
spirit.” [6] 

Because of the resistance to women’s ministry and leadership in many spiritual 
communities, their experiences of call often follow this model as well. Nearly 
all of the women clergy interviewed by Fulbright scholar and graduate student 
in sociology Annette McCabe felt a distinct and specific call, usually at a 
young age, to give herself over to full-time Christian service. One woman 
described having an “almost audible” “Samuel-type experience”: “I just kept 
hearing my name, ‘Would you preach for me, would you teach for me?’” One 
clergywoman described her whole process, fairly typical both of the biblical 
accounts of call and of women interviewed: “I feel it in my heart, I prayed, 
I thought, I fasted, I sought counsel, I was in the Word, and I felt in my 
heart that God said, ‘I want you to preach my Word.’” [8] However, in spite of 
their personal experiences of call, an elder’s or mentor’s confirmation of the 
call through spiritual discernment was vital. “Given this idea that the 
pastorate was inaccessible to women, all of the women continued in different 
directions until someone, usually a male, specifically told them that they were 
gifted to pastor and needed to be heading in that direction.” [9] 

Just as Eli discerned Samuel’s call, women and men today also need elders and 
mentors to help them discern and affirm their vocation, whatever it may be.  
This may happen through student advising, informal conversation during office 
hours, feedback on written assignments, and in threaded discussions online. 
However, it seems that this dimension of teaching requires skills that are 
seldom mentioned as part of our interaction with students. Where lecturing, 
advising, and training are the parts of our role normally emphasized, this kind 
of relationship requires listening, waiting, and observing to learn the student’s 
strengths, gifts, and yearnings. 

Part of what Elisha would later do was revealed to Elijah by a “still, small 
voice” in a whirlwind. What patience and self-discipline are required to discern 
what is nearly inaudible amid the chaotic noise of our academic and personal 
lives (a challenge that seems all the more real to me as I write this during in 
my campus office at the end of the first week of fall semester)! More listening 
and less speaking are basic changes to help us accomplish this. We can only 
recognize the student’s call if we are sometimes quiet enough to hear it, too.

Endnotes
[1] Dietrich Gruen, ed. Who’s Who in the Bible. Lincolnwood, Illinois: 
	Publications International, 1998, 133, 466.
[2] 1 Samuel 3:8. All citations are from Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, ed. 
	The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 2nd edition.  New York: Oxford University, 
	1977.
[3] 1 Samuel 3:11-18. Ibid.
[4] 1 Kings 19.16. Ibid, 477.
[5] 1 Kings 19.15-16; 2 Kings 8.7-15, 9.1-37; Ibid, 466.
[6] 2 Kings 2.9. Ibid.
[7] Annette McCabe. “Evangelical Women Pastors: Calling, Career, Gender Roles, 
	and Ministry.” Unpublished paper. Azusa Pacific University. 
	April 1, 2003, 9.
[8] Ibid., 31.
[9] Ibid., 11.

Heather Ann Ackley, Ph.D.
Azusa Pacific University 

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