My name is Jay Bates. I have been a teacher for 23 years. I am a husband and a father. I attended Puyallup schools.
I was born into a family that raised me to believe that I am a child of God, redeemed of my sins before I could ask to be forgiven. I was taught to pray, and I pray.
In light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., I have heard many say now is the time to bring prayer back in our schools.
My answer to this is simple: We cannot bring back what has always been present. There is prayer in our schools, constantly prayer in our schools.
In all the years I have been a teacher, I have never spent a day at school without praying. I know students and colleagues who do the same thing. I know people in schools who pray without ceasing; their every action and word is a prayer. Though I am not perfect, I bring to my work a ministerial ethic that calls me to serve my students. And this service is informed by prayer.
I see the evidence of prayer in the most common of gestures. One student holds a door open for a teacher, who is clumsy with a handful of papers, while another student stacks chairs after lunch in a crowded cafeteria without anyone directing or asking.
One teacher tells a shy student that she has shown improvement in her schoolwork, while another brings a surprise cup of coffee to a sad and beleaguered colleague.
An administrator covers a class for a desperate teacher in crisis, while a parent of a first-grader donates time to assist with a classroom holiday party.
I see evidence of prayer in the grandest of gestures.
One school community surrounds a family with financial and emotional support following the horrific accident suffered in gymnastics, while another school community collects thousands of non-perishable food items for local food banks during the holidays.
There is prayer wherever art is created — where music is played, plays are performed, pictures are painted and poetry penned. Prayer exists where athletes compete and, win or lose, shake hands with the other team. There are prayers before tests, prayers before lunch, prayers before class, prayers before meetings. And none of these prayers are forbidden or banned.
There are teachers and students in all ranges of faith who pray at school during moments of silence, as well as in moments of talking. There are people throughout our community who pray for our students’ learning.
I see so much prayer in schools every day. What I don’t see is an absence of prayer. What I don’t see is an absence of hope, an absence of service, an absence of kindness, an absence of giving.
Instead, where there is pain, there is comfort; where there is doubt, encouragement.
Instead of calling for prayer in school, admit that we are praying. With a growing and pervasive fear of godlessness in our public institutions, it is thought that we can remedy it by instituting prayer.
But prayer does not bring forth the presence of God; the presence of God brings forth prayer.Jay Bates is a teacher and writer who lives on South Hill. His weekly humor column, “Fool on the Hill,” appeared in the Herald from 2000-04. He now serves as an editor at www.riverandsoundreview.org.