Father Theophan: Learning

A cup created by Father Theophan. Photo by Father Theophan

By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Los Alamos

Although I had been waiting for it for months, yesterday, it came as a surprise when I was able to
receive my COVID-19 vaccine. I’m grateful and a little sore today and the light at the end of the tunnel
seems a little brighter at the moment. It’s been an interesting year to say the least, equal parts fear,
frustration, and growth.

For many, I’m sure, this past year was an unmitigated disaster. Losing loved ones, losing one’s job,
losing connections with friends and family, none of these should be minimized, they are tragedy and I mourn with those who mourn.

I have not lost my job, I have not lost anyone close to me, I have remained in contact (at least
virtually) with the people who are dear to me. I thank God that this past year has been a year of
growth; full of silver linings that made the isolation and fear a little easier to take.

On a couple of occasions, I have had the opportunity to teach throwing pottery. Wearing masks and with ventilation, and mostly keeping distanced, I guided, and they centered the clay, pulled the walls, and finished their pots.

This has been the year of, “I’ve always wanted to try pottery.”

Famed physicist, Richard Feynman posited that teaching children (or beginners) something forces
one to know their subject and simplify it and truly understand it.

I love to teach the things I love. Faith or art: get me on one of those, put the dime in, and you got to
let the whole song play out.

Every time I teach someone to throw, I learn a little more about the mechanics of it, the nuances of
force, relaxation, and body position, or how better to explain something that one can only really know
by feel. It’s almost magical, turning what is essentially dirt into something useful and hopefully
beautiful; something that is mundane into something precious. I love to spread that magic.

Some seem to catch on quickly, others struggle and there is no telling who is who ahead of time.
But there are as many ways of teaching as there are students. If diagrams and technical explanations
don’t work, tactile input and experience may be the way. Some learn by hearing, others by watching,
others by doing, and all through different combinations. What is clear and useful for one, will be
impenetrable for another.

The effective instructor must meet the student where they learn best, and to teach them from there.
All communication that seeks connection and understanding starts from there. Recognizing and
acknowledging where the other is, truly hearing their position, and speaking to them where they are is
essential if our communication is to be effective.

It is not simple or easy, but connection, teaching, and learning, are worth it.