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From the Chaplain

2019

Term One, Week Ten

Jesus said, “Mary.”  According to John, a woman was the first follower to see the risen Jesus. However, despite being one of Jesus’ closest followers, Mary did not recognise Jesus. It was only after Jesus spoke her name, Mary, that she knew who He was. Jesus called Mary by name and a woman became the first messenger to proclaim the good news: “He is risen." We know Jesus is risen when He calls our name and He is calling now. 

The risen Jesus called U2’s Bono, by name. Bono listened: 

“I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small. I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it... I have a family, please look after them... And this wise man said: 'Stop.' He said, 'Stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing — because it's already blessed.'” 

Bono heard Jesus call in the poor of Africa for he knew: "God is with the vulnerable and poor... God is in the cries, heard under the rubble of war... God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us, if we are with them."

The risen Jesus is calling you and me, by name. The question for us is 'Am I listening?' The risen Jesus is calling you and me, by name, every day in every place, calling us to join God’s unceasing, loving activity, in God’s big, beautiful world, right where we are, right now. What is your answer? 

Term One, Week Nine

"In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ."

Paul’s letter to the Church in Galatia

Since the foundation of the school, Great Southern Grammar has gratefully received support from Noongar elders. At school events, we regularly recall Elder Aidan Eades words at the opening of the school, “The school grounds are of special significance to local Noongars, with the Kalgan and King rivers meeting close by.  Never forget that this is Noongar land but you are welcome to use it, especially for the use of something like education.” 

As a school, we promised to always remember and respect the significance of the land between the King and the Kalgan Rivers, to Noongar people.

As a Christian School, this recognition of Noongar history and culture is of special importance because it is the God of all lands and peoples who entrusted this land to Noongar people. In building a school on Noongar land, we are building on this history and this makes regular acknowledgement ofv our shared history obligatory. We also regularly honour the living Noongar elders in order to affirm their contribution to our shared history. 

Yesterday, the elders made their Djeran (Noongar season when the cooler days begin) visit to the school. They welcomed to Noongar land Noongar students and Yalari students from other Indigenous Nations. All 26 Indigenous students were proud and pleased to meet with their elders for lunch.

These interactions between the elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students have become an important part of our school year. These gatherings affirm our respect for the elders and are an important strategy in both reconciliation and closing the gap for Indigenous students. But they are not sufficient. 

Firstly, to reconcile and close the gap, Wadjelas (white people) must reject racism. The online abuse of Liam Ryan (West Coast Eagles player) shows that there persists in Australia an underbelly of racism against Indigenous people. In our families and communities, each one of us, must openly, firmly and consistently reject racism in any form, especially here on Noongar land. There needs to be zero tolerance of racism directed against the ancient, proud Noongar people, families and culture who have share this land with we who are settlers.  

Secondly, Wadjelas must regularly recall the true history of our shared land. Aunty Eliza Woods has begun a wonderful work at Great Southern Grammar supporting Indigenous students. Eliza and I share three aspects of our lives: we are the same age; we were both born and raised in rural WA; and we both follow Jesus as Lord. However, because Eliza is Noongar, her life has been very different to mine. She did not attend school. Whilst she was a child, she was taken from her family and made a ward of the State. She was sent to live on a farm as a domestic servant (childhood slavery) and one of her tasks as a 14-year-old girl was to insert strychnine into meat as bait for vermin. It was not until 1967 that Noongar people like Eliza were finally recognised as Australian citizens.

Justice and love require that this history be acknowledged and taught as part of our shared story. Great Southern Grammar seeks to play its part, insofar as possible, to reverse the effects of the stolen generations' trauma which has affected many survivors such as Eliza and her family. This trauma has become intergenerational and today affects many Noongar children. Together, we can make a difference, but this means dealing honestly with our shared, real history. 

Paul’s words above reveal that, in the ancient world, a common faith and participation in the love of Christ smashed the walls of racial, social, sexual and financial division in that society. Christ’s love still has the power of reconciliation and it is my personal experience that Jesus has broken the walls of division and brought reconciliation between Eliza and me.

When we truly live out our faith in Christ as a school community, this transformative, reconciling power of the love of God in Christ will bring hope to both Wadjelas and Noongars.  

Term One, Week Eight

Jesus said, When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private.”

Parents may be aware that I have introduced a daily Christian meditation practice to most Junior School classes. There are many good health and wellbeing reasons for teaching children to be still, quiet and relax, but there is an even more urgent need to teach children Christian meditation as a form of prayer.

To pray is a lost wisdom in the West and we are reaping a bitter harvest of our neglect of it. As Lao Tzu warns, If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Laurence Freeman agrees: "If we want to change the world, and the world needs to be changed, we need to change direction… We know the enormous pressures that children are under, the high level of mental illness and depression, suicide among the children and adolescents. Clearly, the direction we're moving in is proving detrimental to childhood. We are depriving children of that wonderful experience of childhood. We are commercialising them, we're corrupting their minds, we're speeding up their minds unnaturally, and we are infecting them with our own problems... It seems to me that the sooner we can introduce meditation to the young the better." 

To learn to pray is the gift of a new direction. Not 'sorry' or 'help' prayers (though these, too, are needed), but prayer as the way of being with God. Meditation (or contemplation), being present to God’s presence in our life, is the goal of all forms of Christian prayer. After a lifetime of private and corporate prayer, meditation is the most effective means I have discovered to be in God’s presence.

I teach children Christian Meditation in the John Main tradition. Fr. Main’s teaching was simple: sit still and upright for a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 30 minutes, close your eyes, and say your prayer-phrase (mantra). The prayer-phrase is a sacred word or phrase repeated continually. Recite your prayer-phrase and gently listen to it as you say it. Do not think about anything. As thoughts come, simply keep returning to your prayer-phrase. In this way, one places everything aside. Instead of talking to God, one is just being with God, allowing God’s presence to fill his heart, thus transforming his inner being. He recommends the phrase Maranatha, which is Aramaic for 'Come, Lord.'

Meditation comes easily to young children (most of them) and, by teaching children to meditate, I believe we are giving them a precious ‘gift for life’.  

Term One, Week Seven

Jesus said, "You have heard people say, Love your neighbors and hate your enemies, but I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people."

A gunman has shot and killed 50 people in Christchurch. His actions were pure evil and would once have been done in the dark. The gunman appeared proud of what he was doing and uploaded a live feed video of his actions to social media. Some people apparently did not regard the gunman’s actions as evil. Instead, they viewed, downloaded and attempted to upload the live feed to various media platforms. 

This manifest evil invaded our homes, not only via the internet, but also via the television channels who used part of the live feed vision in video or still frames in their news bulletins. They, of course, broadcast a warning that explicit live feed was not being shown by them (thereby indicating where internet savvy teens could go if they wished to view the full video). I fear for our children. We must protect them from the fear, anxiety and fascination with such evil. How? As parents and teachers, we must ourselves embody respect for all people. 

More laws to control guns and the media are necessary but, more laws cannot eliminate hate, in the form of thoughts, words and actions. We must address the source of hatred, hate speech and hate actions. This requires, I believe, a ‘divine’ view of the value of each and every person. This is because only love can turn an enemy into a friend and that love MUST find its home in every heart for there to be an end to the hatred that regards others as ‘the enemy’.  

Jesus’ rule to ‘love your enemies’, is not, however, a law that can be obeyed. At least by those with hate in their hearts. None of us can obey any of God’s commands, unless, as Augustine prayed, God gives us what he commands. We each must pray: Lord, root out the hate from my heart, replace it with love 

Or, as in our Lenten Prayer: Open my heart. Fill my life with tenderness.  

Term One, Week Six

The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done… They don’t speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth and it travels around the world.” (Psalm 19)

This week, I saw the Kindergarten students proudly stomping along in their Wellington boots. They informed me they had been visiting their Wildplace!

This week, Year Seven students visited the oldest school in the district where, for thousands of years, children have sat and learnt and laughed. Nidja noonook nyinny kartajinny (This is where you sit, learn and laugh) from the Fish Trap’s welcome sign. The Fish Traps have been a place of play and learning for children for at least 6000 years. Elder, Mrs Carol Petterson, said kartajinny was the key word, meaning learn and play. What a wonderful heritage the Menang Elders have invited us to share!

This Autumn, I have also observed Senior School students basking in the sun, lying on the grass and reading. Science students, with one-metre square quadrants were counting ‘something’ in the grass, while Middle School students measured and drew various aspects of the quadrangle.

These outdoor/physical aspects of a child’s school experience are not just memorable, they are a vital, indeed essential, aspect of a child’s education. Not vital because students learn to use their bodies and minds, nor essential because they must learn to gather and process information, but vital and essential because of the context in which they are learning these things – outdoors! If learning in children is solely located in indoors they miss out on discovering the beauty within and the beauty without.

It is a Greek myth (not Bible teaching) that God lives in heaven. There is no place in the universe, where God is not and God’s presence is clearly on display in the whole universe. When we accompany children into nature, nature heals both our children and us. Our spirits and their spirits are restored and made whole, because we give our attention to the place where God is — in everything he has made. Attention to God brings love into our lives, hence the healing power of nature. I have no other explanation. Do you have a better one?

It is a great privilege to live on the beautiful South Coast of WA. The whales will be visiting soon. It is a beautiful thing to hear the magpies welcoming the dawn. The vision over King George Sound brings peace. With your children, stop doing too much and rushing on to the next thing. As a family, take back some time and make space to be together in God’s wonderful world. Only then will all your doing have meaning and direction. Only then will your doing lose its power to drain your spirit.

In Psalm 19 there are two ways in which God speaks — through nature and through words. Both are vital in education and life.

Consider the truth of both Michelangelo’s and Augustine’s experience of God:

"God calls to us in the beauty of all he has made: My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth's loveliness." (Michelangelo)

It is when we discover it is God’s Spirit within that we also discover ourselves connected to God’s presence without. Augustine wrote, wrongly thinking that beauty lay without, "Blindly I cast about. How late did I begin to realize your beauty lay within.

Learning and playing joyfully with children connects the beauty without to the beauty within. Playing and learning with children in God’s beautiful world is a wonderful beginning to a joyful life.

Term One, Week Five

A Lenten Prayer: “Open my heart and fill my life with tenderness.”

“I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.” Psalm 131:2

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. The Middle and Senior Schools’ Lent Homeroom program consists of a daily reading from Luke’s Gospel along with this affirmation or prayer.

“Open my heart and fill my life with tenderness.”

It is certainly the Christian view that the universe is filled with glory of God and, since God is Love, we are living in a ‘friendly world’ (to answer Einstein’s question). Of course, circumstances will conspire to make us believe that there is not a tenderness deep down in all things, but, in faith, Christians believe that ‘everything we now see was fashioned from that which is invisible’ (Hebrews 11:1 The Voice) and it is ‘very good’.

A most urgent need is for this Tenderness needs to be experienced in our and our childrens’ frenetic lives. We need “to know ourselves to be lovable and allow ourselves to be loved” (John Main). Dr Kent Hoffman works with homeless teenage girls (13,14) who have given birth and are struggling as mothers. Their self-image is, of course, in tatters and no way do they consider themselves either loved or lovable. I came up with the Lent prayer after read this week of the Daily Presence Practice Dr Hoffman recommends:

“Upon awakening, say something like: “Deeper than any happiness or suffering I will experience this day, I am held with Tenderness” (You do not have to currently believe this).”

I was the, ”you do not have to currently believe this” that surprised me. Why don’t you have to believe it? The reason must be that, whether you believe it or not, you are held with Tenderness. That is real. A deep down tenderness is at the heart of your life and all life is reality. It is faith that enables us to know that we are always held tenderness. To know Tenderness in our experience of life, however, means we must stop doing and start being who we are in God’s wonderful world. Hence, the ‘prayer’ for Lent for each Middle and Senior School student to open their heart have it filled with tenderness. May God hear and answer this prayer from each of us.

Prayer: “Open my heart and fill my life with tenderness.”

Term One, Week Four

"Jesus told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said: 'If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.'"

Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life:

  • Pay attention
  • Be astonished
  • Tell about it

Jesus, too, had a three stage process for living a fulfilling life:

  • Forget about yourself
  • Love your neighbour
  • Follow me

If anyone is to learn to love their neighbour, they must first learn to pay complete and compassionate attention to persons other than themselves. Unless we learn to give up our self-centredness and pay attention to one another, we will never live a happy, fulfilling life (that’s what Jesus taught).

Paying attention is not just necessary for love; it is love. It is how Jesus loved God. Through pure attention, Jesus saw God in others and in the world around. He, alone, could say, “I and the Father are One”.

He showed us that when we see the image of God (purity, goodness, divinity) in the other, we open ourselves to God’s love. Allowing God to love us is the way we love God, and this openness to love is the way to the joy of discovering our unique place in the world. We learn to be happy with who we are and who others are.

The price we must pay for this happiness is giving up our ego-self as the centre of all things. When we pay this price and pay attention to God in our neighbour, we find our true ‘self’ in the love of God. This is the promise of Jesus. It is why Jesus said, "If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life …, you will save it." That giving up of our life and receiving it back is the journey of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, then to Easter Day.

Our journey of love — to our cross and resurrection — begins next Wednesday. We will mark the journey of Lent at school in these ways:

1.     On Ash Wednesday, students and staff will be invited to receive a blessing and the sign of the Ash on the forehead. The Ash is a sign of turning from self, serving others and following Jesus. The Ash used in the ceremony is from the burned Palm crosses folded by 2018 Year Eight students.

2.     To encourage student service during Lent, students may receive, if they wish, a Give up/Take up card. These cards enable students to make their own Give up/Take up pledge for the six weeks of Lent. For example: 

  • They may wish to give up consulting social media for 24 hours once a week for six weeks and, on that day, write a thank you note or card to someone who has supported them.
  • They may wish to give their phone to a parent or carer for 24 hours once a week for six weeks and, on that day, visit or Facetime their grandparents. 
  • They may wish to give up their bed and sleep on the floor for one night and make a donation to a charity that supports homeless children.

As of Thursday, there will be a daily devotional and prayer in homerooms for the remainder of term until the the school’s Easter Service at 10.15am on Friday 12 April. Put the date in your diary. Families are welcome to attend.

A Prayer for Lent 

Make me a tree, Lord
Sturdy
Deep rooted
Useful.
Support
To those in need,
Shelter
To those who are weary,
Fruit
For those who hunger.
Make me a tree, Lord
Sturdy
Deep rooted
Useful

John Birch

Term One, Week Three

Belonging

"In this way, we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around."

" …let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t."

Paul writing to the infant Roman Christian community

Confidence, wellbeing and belonging: These three elements form the basis of an education at Great Southern Grammar.

In a school community, the feeling that 'I belong' and 'I am welcome' are precious gifts given to us by others. Students are the essential vehicle for making others feel they belong (or don’t belong), that they are welcome (or not welcome).

To be able to learn effectively, all students need to be accepted as they are and their gifts and contributions acknowledged and appreciated by the community. When this happens, each person “gets their meaning from the body as a whole.” Pride, arrogance, vanity, superiority and self-importance destroy belonging, as do bullying, jealousy, envy, inferiority and resentment.

Every student and GSG community member brings wonderful gifts to our community (that is the Christian understanding). Let’s regularly celebrate one another’s presence and contribution by saying to one another “I need you, we need you. Be you”.

Sebastian Junger, war correspondent, has written a book about the wars in the Middle East over the past 15 years. He wrote about war, “…humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it, what they mind is not feeling necessary.” Everyone in our school, every day must be shown and told 'you are necessary.'

Grace Witham's (Mokare Captain) Leadership vision has been posted outside the Pratten Centre. Grace says,

"As a 2019 leader, I want to bring a sense of belonging to our little family in Mokare. A belonging where self-conscious thoughts are exterminated and everyone feels comfortable, allowing every individual to fully express their passions and quirky aspects, create new ideas and discover a hidden box of liquorice allsorts with Mokare."

Go Grace! Let’s celebrate a box of liquorice allsorts not only in Mokare this year but our whole school.

Prayer

Lord, we all belong and live in your love. Today, may I give the gift of acceptance and appreciation to others so that they, too, may learn that they, too, belong.

Amen

 

EMBARK ON A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY