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I offer the following Advent reflection as we prepare for Christmas.
The reflection is taken from Waiting for the Light: an Advent Devotional (pp 67-68), Mustard Seed Associates and What Are We Waiting For? Ed Cyzewski.
Scripture: Luke 24:13-31. Luke’s account is of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to two of his followers on the Road to Emmaus.
What are we waiting for during Advent? In a sense, we know. We read scripture, we pray and we worship with our communities. We’re looking for Jesus, and we want nothing more than to recognise his coming. However, will we actually recognise the coming of Jesus, the form of God’s salvation, or the arrival of God’s Kingdom? Are we willing to go to the places where God’s Kingdom is manifested, submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, and allow God to conform our dreams and desires to his plan?
When I read about John the Baptist and the many people in the audience of Jesus, I see a large number of people who eagerly waited for God and did everything possible to prepare for his coming, and still missed it. They didn’t recognise a Messiah who prayed in lonely places, worked on the margins, and challenged their pre-existing lifestyles and religious practices. Even John had a hard time accepting Jesus after spending his whole life preparing to be the herald of the Messiah.
What are we waiting for during Advent? I’m not quite sure. None of us should be sure. We are, indeed, waiting for God to act, but we don’t know what that action will look like. Whether or not we recognise the fulfilment of God’s hope and coming Kingdom will depend on our own humility and commitment to listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices, we’d likely miss out on the very things we’ve been waiting for.
God, we wait for you to act in unfamiliar ways and unexpected places. May we sit quietly in the place where you draw close and know the intimacy of your sustaining touch.
Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life.
I offer the following Advent reflection as we prepare for Christmas.
This reflection is taken from Waiting for the Light: an Advent Devotional, (pp. 29,30), Mustard Seed Associates; Reality Is Messy, James Prescott; and Scripture: John 3:17
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!”
Advent and Christmas are all about the coming of God: God making Himself present amongst us and taking human form; becoming incarnate; and the act of God being willing to save us. However, this idea can become romanticised in the midst of the flurry of activities and picturesque storytelling.
The reality? The story of the birth of Jesus is a story of an unmarried, though engaged, teenage girl who was pregnant. It’s the story of a man who accepted her hand in marriage despite the scandal it would cause and the damage it would do to his family’s reputation, and potentially their income, for a long time to come. It's the story of a baby born either in a cave or in a dingy, dark room hidden away, with animals for company, and laid in a food trough. Not exactly the romantic story of Christmas we hear all the time, but it’s this that brings Jesus closer to us all and makes Christmas worth celebrating.
This story tells us that Jesus is not just about blessing those who get it right all the time. It's not just about those who are favoured in the world’s eyes. He is about the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed – serving, blessing, giving, loving and accepting all people for who they are, where they are, how they are.
Through the story of His coming, He connects with us. He empathises with the reality that life isn’t easy, that following God isn’t easy and involves tough choices, and that, far from being alone in those tough choices, He is there with us, close to us, near to us.
By laying our lives down, by surrendering to God and putting Him first as Mary and Joseph did, we can open ourselves up to see more of God this Advent/Christmas season. And we can draw closer to God as we celebrate the time He came to us, immersing Himself in our human experience and choosing to experience life at its most raw and difficult. That is truly a reason to celebrate!
God, you entered human history as a child in a stable. You showed us life in its fullness and experienced life at its most difficult. May we this season celebrate all you bring to us and draw closer to God.
I am on long service leave and offer the following Advent reflection as we prepare for Christmas.
The reflection is taken from, Waiting for the Light: an Advent Devotional (p. 28), Mustard Seed Associates; An Absurd Strategic Plan for a Doomed Empire, Tom Sine Scripture; and Matthew 6:33
"But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well."
The new empire God established through his Son was not ushered in with pomp and circumstance. As you know, it had its origins with a baby born in a cow stall in an undistinguished village in the Roman Empire during the first century AD.
When Jesus began teaching, he announced the astonishing news that his new empire had arrived. He made clear that it would be unlike any empire the world had ever seen. It came on a donkey’s back. Its “imperial council” was comprised of a handful of unemployed fishermen, a couple of IRS agents, a prostitute and some other hangers-on.
Jesus demonstrated how to wield his imperial power by washing feet, telling stories, and playing with kids. Jesus’ empire is based on the absurd values that the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most influential in this empire should clean the toilets.
Jesus insisted that those who are a part of his empire shouldn’t worry about finances, but simply trust God. The resources to run this empire were basins, towels, and leftover lunches. This empire also developed a reputation for constant partying. What was even more disturbing is that they were almost always found to be partying.
Lord Jesus Christ, you ask us to trust you in all areas of life. May we willingly lay down our preoccupations with wealth and power and respond to your call to seek God’s kingdom above all else.
Tom Sine is the author of numerous books, including The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time from which this excerpt was taken.
Remember that our Lord Jesus said, “More blessings come from giving than from receiving.”
Paul in Acts 20:35
Unfortunately, it was necessary to cancel the proposed 2018 Year Twelve Leavers’ tour of Cambodia. At the time, Great Southern Grammar held about $7,000 funds raised by students, past and present, to support children at the Light of Hope Family Village in Cambodia. The school forwarded the funds to Sherree Hughes who has, over five years, led our students on the Cambodia Tour.
Sherree wrote, "The funds were received into the Light of Hope bank account with thanks and we have used the money in the following way. Each of these things was a high priority and we would not have been able to provide if it were [it] not for the generous donation from these students and the hard work that they put into fundraising for Light of Hope and families and children in the surrounding villages.
September each year is the preparation for the new school year and some of the funds were used for school uniforms for all the orphan children for the new school year. Students wear black trousers/long skirt and a white shirt. [These were] purchased for all students from K-12 — 69 students in total. School supplies were also purchased for all orphan students and other village children who have been identified as being vulnerable and needing extra support in their families in order to continue schooling. School supplies exist of basic stationary, books and paperback textbooks for each subject. A continuous ink colour Epson printer was purchased for the school and the administration office. There were only two black printers in the centre prior to his, for a school of 600 students. The resources within in the school are very limited and so some class sets of sporting equipment were purchased; soccer balls, volleyballs and nets, and badminton nets and racquets. The final major investment with the funds from GSG [was] a contribution towards the cost of a school tuk tuk for Light of Hope School. This moto drawn tuk tuk acts as a school bus for the children in outlying villages. There are many students wanting to come to Light of Hope school, but the lack of transportation limits their ability to do so.
[Please] pass on your sincere thanks to all the students, families and teachers involved in the raising of these funds. It was sad not to be able to take the students this year as I have always enjoyed taking the GSG group each year. They have always been a special bunch and really ‘got’ why they were there. I pray for all the best for each of them as they finish their exams and enter into the big world." Sherree.
And a big thank you to Sherree for giving so generously to support the Leavers’ Tour of Cambodia.
To see a glimpse of how the children of Light of Hope benefited from the funds from GSG, please see the Anchor newsletterhere
“My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.”
Paul, writing to Christians in Turkey, 50AD.
The church included slaves “chosen to be free.” What did Paul mean by “free”?
At the Valedictory Chapel, Melinda Gibson (Class of 2018) was asked by Mr Sawle to speak about her experience as a Christian student at Great Southern Grammar. Mr Sawle reproduced most of Melinda’s contribution in last week’s Anchor and read Melinda’s address to staff last Monday.
Melinda’s words are a wonderful example of the commitment to thankfulness, service and faithfulness required of those who follow Jesus at whatever age we are or circumstances we find ourselves in.
Melinda’s verse “….use your freedom to … serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13) is a seed planted in the hearts of the Class of 2018. Please visit last week’s Anchor to read Melinda’s contribution again. Thank you, Melinda.
Freedom refers to our capacity to choose for ourselves how we are to live our lives, whatever age we are, or circumstances we find ourselves in. The variety of life choices we have is dependent on our background, our age, our health and other circumstances. Poverty always brings restricted choices. For example, with the Year Five classes, I have been looking at the lives of three children whose life choices are severely restricted by their lives as rag pickers. They are among about 250 people who live in cardboard and plastic houses built under a six-lane bridge in Delhi, eking out a living by recycling rubbish. Their lives tell us how grateful we should be for adequate food and housing, sanitation and clean water, health support, political stability and schooling. These basics add so much to our freedom to choose our directions and life. The opportunity to make these choices is still a dream for many families in God’s world. As Mr Bonnin frequently tells students, “Don’t whinge. There are millions of teenagers who would swap with you in an instant.”
Life circumstances were no different when Jesus called the poor “blessed” and said that God's Kingdom was already theirs. Jesus also said the Kingdom of God belonged to children and others like them (such as women and slaves). These people were certainly not blessed nor free in the worldly sense, but they were free and blessed in a far more important sense. Paul says to the slaves, women and the poor, in Jesus, “you were chosen to be free”, for they had been created for freedom in Jesus. Their true freedom consisted of being able to choose love, compassion and service over mere satisfaction of worldly desires. We are truly free if we can make the choice to serve, independent of our circumstances.
Jesus changed forever the idea of freedom. He taught that we find true freedom in choosing to be a servant to others’ needs, rather than a slave to our own desires. We are only truly free when we choose to ignore the insatiable demands of the ego and learn to show compassion. For those who follow Jesus, this freedom to choose love is always available, irrespective of our age or circumstances. Jesus taught this truth to his followers after he washed their feet. He concluded that freedom is found by doing, not knowing. “You know these things,” he told us, then promised, "and God will bless you, if you do them.” Truly blessed are those who are poor in spirit.
God, you created me for freedom, by the power of the Spirit of your Son, grant to me the freedom to choose to serve in love rather than chose selfish satisfaction.
Below is the text of my sermon at the inaugural Valedictory Chapel service held at the Wesley Church on Wednesday 17 October 2018.
My comments were based on Jesus' advice to the rich, young ruler: “There is one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.”
When the man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
Valedicts, tonight is a threshold for you. By Friday, you will have left school and passed over an important threshold on your path from childhood to adulthood. Now, tonight, meanings from your past and visions from your future are flowing together to create a confluence of significance for you. Tonight is a time to decide: Who am I to become?
Your birth was a threshold, like this. For every one of you at the moment of your birth, someone entirely new came into the world. At the moment of your birth, an infinite silence was present, an unseen, bright light shone and goodness and beauty enveloped on you. For you, in the whole history of humanity, there have been no eyes so filled with love as those of your mother when she first held you and looked into your eyes. It’s true! She holds this memory forever in her heart. For some of you, your parents are with you here tonight. If they are not here in body, remember that they are here in spirit and are here to tell you: You have always been precious to me and you still are precious to me. Be thankful.
Tonight, you are truly blessed, because you have the opportunity to consciously reflect about your life as you step over this threshold on your way to becoming a woman or man.
Things to reflect upon as you step across this threshold:
Look back and breathe in. Irish philosopher, priest and poet, John O’Donahue, reflected on this memory from his childhood, “Always, when my father left home to go to work in the fields or town, the last thing he did as he walked out the door was to turn back toward us in the kitchen and inhale a full, explicit breath... It seems that what he was doing as he left was inhaling the spirit of his loved ones to nourish and protect his journey, coming back to take for himself a blessing breath.” (John O’Donahue, pp194).
As you step over this threshold, pause, look back, breathe in. Do it now. Close your eyes, imagine your home, move toward the door. Open the door. Now stop, turn around, look at where you have come from. Look at who has been with you. Take a deep breath. Absorb love and strength, for you will need these on your journey. Now turn and step over the threshold. Open your eyes.
On Friday, after crossing over tonight’s threshold, you will carry with you an emptiness for you have left behind a secure familiarity. You will carry with you a loneliness, for you have left those who you love and who love you. For a while after you have passed over this threshold, uncertainty will be your companion and you will need patience to wait for the deeper meaning of your life to surface. However, on Friday you will also carry with you a renewed strength given to you by those whose love has sustained you thus far, so keep on living forward into your life. If you live forward, true to yourself, your confusion and fear will give way to a deep-down confidence and a secure tenderness. These will open pathways for you and reveal deep inner potentials.
Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Tonight, you can decide to live forwards. Will you? The young man in the story Mrs Franklin read is the single person recorded in the Gospels who met Jesus and went away sad. He had reached his twin goals of power and wealth at an early age. Yet he was dissatisfied with his life. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to find real, genuine, true life?” At this threshold moment, Jesus offered him a choice. Jesus told him that to obtain the "real life" he needed to do three things; sell everything, give to the poor, follow him. Fear and selfishness gripped him and he chose not to live forward and follow Jesus. He went away sad.
A closed fist precedes the opening of a hand. If the hand is always closed, the hand is crippled. In order to fly, “a bird needs to close and open its wings and fly” (Rumi). So, your soul. From tonight, the important question for you to ask yourself is: Will I live forward with open hands and an open heart?
Over the last couple of years, you have spent much time and effort asking and answering an important question: What am I going to do with my life?This question will accompany you for several more years to come. Different questions will be your companions throughout your life: Who am I becoming? Am I becoming the person I want to be? These are ‘being’ questions rather than ‘doing’ questions. ‘Being’ questions surface at threshold moments in your life, like tonight. Your first romantic attachment; your first job; getting married; the birth of children; and growing older are thresholds (getting drunk, isn’t). At these times, the questions: Who am I becoming? Am I the person I want to be? will demand your attention, welcomed or not.
At these times, remember the lesson of the young man challenged by Jesus. Jesus offered him the opportunity open his hands and his heart and live forward with generosity and openness. He chose, instead, to keep his fists tightly closed around what he had and, in so doing, he remained a prisoner of fear and selfishness. It always takes courage and faith to live forward.
As you face tonight’s threshold, I challenge you. Will you open your hands and your heart and live forward to follow Jesus? Will you choose to become that woman/that man who is growing a gentle, generous, listening, still heart? Will you choose to become that man/that woman who has the courage, tenderness and strength to serve in love? Will you choose to live forward with Jesus?”
If you choose to live forward and follow Jesus, you will discover your true self as the beloved child of God you are. Then joy, peace and love will be your constant companions, whatever life throws at you.
"You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it... Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful and trusting... Love should be your guide... My friends, when you meet to worship, you must do everything for the good of everyone there."
Excerpts from Paul’s letter to Corinth chapter 12,13 and 14
Parents, when you chose to send your child(ren) to Great Southern Grammar, you not only chose a school in the independent sector, you chose a Christian school. Why? No doubt, your reasons would cover a wide spectrum. For many of you, I suspect that you chose GSG because you trust us to provide a safe, caring milieu and a quality education for your child(ren).
For those of you from a faith background, I suspect you wanted your child(ren)’s education to be in an explicit context which affirms Christian belief in God as creator and sustainer of all things, humans as made in God’s image and Jesus as the conduit of God’s love for all people. Can we do both? We not only can; we must.
Firstly with regard to beliefs, a Christian education will have a Christian worldview and children will participate in prayer, the worship of God and be challenged to follow Jesus. However, a Christian worldview will not be forced on anyone: students, staff or families. It is the responsibility of the Chaplain and Principal to uphold, form and implement these aspects of school life
The values context of GSG is, however, also clearly Christian. This values challenge is asked of all in our community – students, families, teachers and other staff. A Christian school asks every member of the community to show integrity, respect, tolerance, and compassion toward other members of the community. It is only by behaving in this way that we can be a Christian school. These attitudes and actions cannot be forced or mandated, but they are still essential to creating community. A Christian school can only be created by love, not knowledge alone, yet both are essential in any education that calls itself Christian, or indeed human.
Being human means caring for others. In schools, as in other businesses, the pressures to regard information, targets, processes, as more important than people is a constant danger. Efficiency is important (indeed, vital), but efficiency cannot create community. Only respect, compassion and love create community.
For example, at last Monday’s staff meeting, Mr Sawle urged us to ask one another, “How are you?” and when we are asked and say, “Fine,” to reply with “and, how are you?” In greeting one another in this way, we create caring communication and counteract depersonalising trends in our workplace. We need both competence and care in any school, and if care is absent, the school is not Christian.
When Saint Paul addressed the dysfunctional Christian community at Corinth, he explained the importance of love (being patient, kind, not holding grudges, restraining anger etc) as a manifestation of Christian belief. He advised the church at Corinth, if they were to be Christian, they must "let love be their guide" and do "everything for the good of everyone." Here is the penultimate paragraph of my reflection from last Monday’s staff meeting.
In the context of this being a Christian school, I urge you to make a daily commitment to let love be your guide. As you drive to school each day, think about your commitment to let love be your guide. It will be difficult. Every day there will be staff, students and parents with whom you will fail to let love be your guide with, and days in which others will treat you without respect. Forgive them, forgive yourself, and move on to another day in which you will renew your commitment.
Here, in the context of this being a Christian school, you must be faithful to the vision to do, “everything for the good of everyone there.” Faithfulness is the commitment to love extended every day to everyone in every classroom. Then do it again tomorrow, even better.
This context and our commitment and faithfulness to practise love is what makes our school Christian.
Jesus commented on the teachers/preachers of his day: “You can tell what they are by what they do. No one picks grapes or figs from thorn bushes.
"A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that produces bad fruit will be chopped down and burned.”
During Monday’s staff briefing, Kagi Sensei spoke movingly of the Class of 2008 reunion that she attended. She told how the teachers had shaped the lives of these alumni during their schooling at Great Southern Grammar. She observed that the relationship these students formed with their teachers was ‘life shaping’ for them. Kagi Sensei gave a couple of beautiful examples of how these young men and women had been encouraged, by their teachers, to become who they were. Ten years after their schooling adventure, she could see the fruit of the seeds of self-belief planted and watered by their teachers. These examples demonstrated that the essence of the practise of teaching is the relationship between teacher and student/disciple.
The teacher/student relationship is, like all relationships, two way — the giving and receiving of both partners. The student trusts a good teacher and a good teacher is always trustworthy. “No printed word, nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be. Not all the books on all the shelves – but what the teachers are themselves,” wrote Rudyard Kipling.
Jesus’s saying (above) tells us that lived human virtues are essential in a teacher, since virtues are caught, not taught, and the virtues are what make us human. By our fruit we show who we are and teach our children who they can be. A good teacher is also skilled and, as an adult, sees, respects and teaches individual students at their age and stage, whilst at the same time, sensing each student’s unique capacities and needs.
An example: recently, an episode of Gardening Australia featured a Japanese master-gardener pruning wisteria. The ‘disciple’ of the master-gardener commented that, in Japan, a master does not speak, just does. It is up to the student to ask why, how, when etc. The responsibility for learning lay with the student and a student must want to learn in order to learn. The desire to learn is not a gift that a teacher has to give. The teacher’s responsibility is to teach a person – not fill an empty bucket!
A Prayer for Teachers
Lord, give me the gift of sight.
Enable me to see each child today and to be wise, strong and kind so they may grow into the person you created them to become.
A Prayer for Students
Lord, I want to learn and grow.
Send me a teacher who will shine a light on my path to becoming who I am. Then, help me to walk my path with persistence and courage.
Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray. (Mark)
Silence, stillness and being alone are three experiences that are almost unknown — certainly rare — in modern society. Noise and busyness are ubiquitous. Yet almost everyone seems ‘alone in the crowd.' With earphones attached, teens are constantly tapping their phones, staring at screens, never alone, but always lonely. To recover our humanity, we must learn to be still and quietly pray, as Jesus did.
The downside of being still and quiet is it is frightening. Silence, stillness and being alone are frightening because they confront us with a lack of self. Who are we if we are not the person we pretend to be to others? Who are we when we are not doing something, hearing something? Can I just be?
We know that silence and stillness are essential to life. Why did God order the rest of the Sabbath? For respite from the hurly-burly and re-creation of our spirits.
Why were holidays (holy-days) mandated? Not so we can have time off work, but so we leave space and time to encounter the holy in life.
We sleep to rest our bodies, but we have forgotten to give our spirit rest. We insist on filling our weekends with activity, entertainment and noise. In our frenetic, connected world we need to deliberately make space for silence, stillness and being alone. Rest must be diarised into our lives.
I cannot help but think our modern lifestyle is stoking a bonfire of anguish in us and it will only take a spark to set our whole life ablaze. For our own mental health, we must learn to be still and silent by ourselves, then teach our children to be still and silent, themselves. This knowledge (how to still our bodies and minds) can only be learned by doing. However, we do not know how to be silent and still and we cannot teach what we do not know!
Jesus knew the importance of silent stillness alone with God for prayer. He was engaged in urgent, important work, but, “Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.” Jesus sought to be alone in silence so he could pray. He knew that a quiet, lonely place in nature would help him establish the internal, quiet, private place so necessary for prayer. Prayer was what connected him to his Father and his mission.
It is my conviction that each one of us can grow into the person God made us to be by finding our own still, listening place with God. For me, a form of prayer called Christian meditation has created this space in my life.
It is urgent, in light of our modern lifestyle, to teach our children to pray by giving space for stillness and quiet in their lives. And children are naturals at Christian meditation. Nine-year-old Emilia sums it up when she describes how it feels when she meditates. "I feel joy but I am not just filled with joy, I am filled with happiness. I am filled with calmness. I’m filled with everything. It feels like goodness is flowing through me.” (Noel Keating Meditation with Children).
Lord, I am weak
the Spirit is here to help us.
Lord, I don’t know how to pray
the Spirit prays for us
Lord, I don’t have words
the Spirit prays in us without words
Lord, I don’t know who I am or what I want
our thoughts are known to God
what is in the mind of the Spirit
and the Spirit prays for God’s people.
(Based on Romans 8:26, 27)
When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. (Jesus' advice on prayer)
Christian Meditation: A Gift for Life is the theme of a Conference on meditation in schools I attended this week.
As a Christian school, I believe it is essential that we teach children to pray. Look around the world. Prayer is universal and comes in many, many forms. The basic verbal/thought prayers are ‘Wow’, “Help’, ‘Thanks’, ‘Oops’ and ‘Gimme’. All humans, even those with no faith in God, seem to come upon circumstance in their lives when they think, "I have come across something here that is bigger than me," and this causes them to pray in one or more these five ways. These prayers are spontaneous manifestations of our humanity.
Another form of prayer is also universal – meditation. Meditation is a universal spiritual wisdom. It is a practice found at the core of all the great religious traditions (and in secularism – Mindfulness). Meditation leads from the mind to the heart. It can be practised by anyone, wherever, on life’s journey. It is only necessary to be clear about the practice and then to begin, and to keep on beginning. (source)
I believe that in the digital age, there is an urgent need to teach our children this form of prayer. The digital world is a world of the mind. It poses a danger to children’s developing brains and hence their developing self. The antidote is meditation. This is because the digitization of life causes:
1. Disconnection from bodily life: At an age when their brains are being molded, children are spending increasing amounts of time living in the imaginary, digital world. This is dangerous. The ‘digital’ world is a world of the ‘mind’ not the body and when children spend too much time in their ‘mind’ they may begin to feel disconnected from their real world lives. Children discover that it is deceptively simpler and easier to live in the isolation and unreality of the digital world and harder and harder to return to the real world.
2. Imagined control over real life: Children also discover that, through the power of their mind, they have greater control over what happens in their online lives, unlike their real life! The real world is not as amenable to their desires as is the digital world. Time spent in the digital world cannot teach children to live in the real world where their life is not always in their control.
3. Inability to attend: The online digital world runs on the distraction of clickbait and the brain is rewarded for paying attention to distractions. However, to perform any real world tasks or relate to others, it is essential that we train our brains to pay attention to one thing and not be distracted.
4. Relationship difficulties: The digital world gives children no tools to deal with the profoundly awkward and difficult world of face-to-face human interaction.
5. Anxiety: In most online games, children are required to be constantly looking out for danger or threat. This wires children’s brains to always be in flight or fight mode. Over stimulation like this means that stress hormones become abnormally high for too long and children become habitually anxious. In addition, when online, children may work on problems that they know have solutions. This is good training. However, in life, there will always be forms of suffering for which there is no answer. Only acceptance.
6. Isolation: Too much time spent in the digital world increases a child’s isolation from their peers. Often, online games wire children’s brains to see the other as a threat. This increases suspicion and destroys both trustworthiness and trust. It creates conflict with others and reduces the capacity for friendship.
7. Lack of knowledge of self, others, God or life: The God who created, sustains all things, lives only in the beautiful, difficult, uncontrollable, joyful world as it is and is completely absent from a digital universe made in our own image. When children live too long in a digital world they can lose touch with their true self and the source of their own life and being. God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. God is only found in one’s real life, as it really is. If we are to find ourselves, or God, we must begin where we are, as we are. Prayer is learning to make new beginning, every day, beginning where we are.
Reality always bites back, at any religious, secular, digital or other mechanisms that seek escape from life or the world as it is.
This is where prayer comes in. Meditation teaches children to be still in body and mind. In the silence, children’s brains learn that they don’t have to become someone else in order to matter. They learn to be comfortable with who they are (and happy to accept others as they are!). They find that they do not need to be constantly distracted or watchful for threat. They create for themselves a safe inside space. Only when we create an interior stillness and quiet we discover the trinity of life – self, God and love. This is ‘interior’ or ‘heart’ prayer.
At GSG, Year Five and Six classes practise Christian meditation daily. In 2019, I hope to increase the practise of Christian meditation in our school and to gradually introduce this to other sections of the school.
I believe there is an urgent need to teach our children pray, both with their hearts and their heads. In so doing, we are offering children a gift for life: The life that Jesus promised.
As Chaplain, I see it as fundamental to my role it to ensure that each child who attends GSG knows they are precious to God. To enable students to learn they are precious and loved and valued by God, it is essential they are valued and loved, as they are. Only people can do this. This happens in our families, but for teens especially, friends are essential to give each one of us the experience of being valued. Prayer also is a relationship with God in which we learn that we are valuable, because we are valued.
"Listen to the little ones…
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’"
Is 52 :7
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. Martin Luther King
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous I have a dream… speech at a civil rights march in Washington DC in 1963. King's speech is an inspiring reminder that a better world is possible, so let’s work on it, together.
Without a clear, strong dream or vision we are unable to see where we are headed and we lack the strength to keep on keeping on. This is true for any community, including a school. In our own personal, family, school and national context, a vision such as that of Dr King has the power to touch and inspire the good in us all. We can trust that God will continue to send us messengers with a vision for Dr King’s. We just need to be listening.
Teenagers are sometimes such messengers.Teenagers always take a fresh look at the world and are sometimes visionaries who show us the way ahead. Teens may not be ready to lead, but they can be visionaries of the future.
I recall reading the story of one such teenager. In 1963, Aretha Franklin, then aged 19, recognised a vision and spoke of that vision at a crucial time. In his book, Hope, Rev. Tim Costello (formerly of World Vision) tells the story of the link between Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King’s dream speech.
"…Dr King had given much of the same speech in Chicago some months earlier at the church of Rev. Franklin. The Reverend’s nineteen-year-old daughter Aretha had sung a solo in the church that night. She was then also part of the stage crowd at the Washington Mall when Dr King delivered the speech with which we are all now so familiar. Dr King was speaking from some notes and only just into the speech when Aretha called out to him, ‘Tell them about your dream, Uncle Martin!’
He heard her words, nodded, paused and put the script aside. Martin Luther King’s voice changed and he lifted his face as he moved into this soaring speech. This dream had inspired Aretha; that day it electrified the Washington Mall…"
Jesus' big complaint against the leaders of his day was that they had ears but couldn’t hear. As adults, we need to keep the ears of our heart tuned to the voice of God. It may be that God will choose a teen to bring to us an important vision for our life, or our life together. But we need to be listening.
Jesus said… “Don’t worry…. your Father in heaven knows... your Father in heaven cares...”
When our thinking patterns consist of uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts and emotions, we are worrying. Worry develops when our desires, fears or needs begin to obsess us; grows when our needs, fears and desires possess us; and is out of control when our desires, fears and needs control us. Worriers can think of nothing else but their worries and do nothing else but worry. When we worry, we are in danger of spiraling down into feelings of helplessness, self-loathing and depression. Too late, we realise we have fallen into a deep, dark hole of worry from which we can’t escape.
If you are caught in a cycle of worry like this, you are not alone. A recent survey indicated that three quarters of the British population reported that they suffered, within the last year, levels of anxiety that they couldn’t cope with and felt overwhelmed by. About one third of those who suffered unbearable anxiety also had suicidal thoughts. Statistics like these appear in Australian studies and throughout the Western world. It appears that extraordinary levels of unhappiness and anxiety are very widespread and growing rapidly.
This epidemic of anxiety is of concern to all Australian families. The Mission Australia 2017 Youth Survey reported that, “From 2015 to 2017 the proportion of those indicating mental health as a national concern rose from 14.9% to 33.7%” and for the first time in the survey’s history that mental health became one of the top three concerns of teenagers."
Here’s where Jesus comes in. He told his followers, “Don’t worry…” I know that when we are worrying, to have someone say to us 'don’t worry' is infuriating. Don’t they know we have tried and tried and tried to stop worrying? Jesus, however, said, “Don’t worry” because he knew that God knows, God loves and God cares for you and those whom you love.
Without the experience of being known, loved and cared for, we will always feel alone, impoverished, inadequate and vulnerable to anxiety. Knowledge of love provides the only defence we have against the downward spiral of worry and that knowledge is gained only the experience of being known, loved and cared for. However, we can do nothing to create this love. Love is a gift that we can only receive and give. We can never hold or store it for ourselves.
We need, firstly, to discover a form of prayer as an experience of resting in love. Ultimately, this is the only way to face a worldwide epidemic of anxiety.
Secondly, we need to learn a new way of loving one another, because, in the deep dark hole of worry, a worrier can make no sense of being told that God knows, loves and cares for them, without the experience of being loved by another human being.
Anxiety is a symptom of a paucity of love. I can see no alternative for the whole of humanity, beginning with our family and our school, than to love God. We need to learn to love God, allow God to love us, and learn to love our neighbour and meet their real needs.
“Our Father… save us from evil.”
In order to grow and thrive, each and every child needs a safe place. A child can only grow and learn when they feel safe and children only feel safe when they are safe.
A child’s home should be a safe place where they are seen, welcomed, delighted in, comforted and kept safe.
A school (in particular, our school) should be a safe place where each child, adolescent and young adult is safe, always and in every aspect of their lives (physical, emotional and spiritual).
At GSG we do our best to create and maintain a safe place. But we are not gods and in complete control, so fear of something unsafe happening is understandable. Such fear has only two antidotes: faith and love, and these can only be accessed through a community of love and prayer. So, Jesus taught us to pray together, “Our Father… save us from evil,” meaning keep one another safe and trust God.
In our daily request to our Father “.....save us from evil,” Jesus reminds us that this world is a dangerous space and into this common space we must bring goodness. In this ‘unsafe’ world, when we pray “...save us from evil” we pledge ourselves, today, to do all in our power to bring beauty, kindness, goodness and protection for the vulnerable, and to resist our own malevolent impulses to anger, revenge, gossip and put-downs, in our homes and schools. Only when we do this will safe spaces be created in an unsafe world.
When we pray “...save us from evil,” we also pledge to bring faith into our common human spaces. Even after we have attempted, as best we can, to limit and contain evil in our world, there remains, always, the need for faith. Faith in the tenderness ‘deep down in all things.’ Only through prayer can we bring faith to our common spaces.
When Jesus prayed, in faith and trust, “...save us from evil,” he knew he was joining his Father, to love his enemies and protect others. We join Jesus to love our neighbour(s) (especially the children and the poor) and resist, as Jesus did, those forces that add to the misery already in our world. And when we pray “...save us from evil,” the plea boomerangs with questions. Who will you serve today? Who will you trust today? Our answer is how we live that day.
As a mother/father I carry in my heart
a lifetime question, “Is my son/daughter safe?”
Our heavenly mother/father is no different
Our heavenly mother/father has a big heart
all his/her children have a home in God’s heart
Our heavenly mother/father has big hands
all his/her children's name are graven on her/his hands
Our heavenly mother/father has big arms
His/her arms are always underneath
to support and catch you, your children, your neighbour, your friend, your enemy
You, your children are safe
now and forever.
The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
When asking for God’s forgiveness, it is wise to remember that God already knows us more thoroughly than we know, or can know, ourselves — the good and the bad, the pleasing and the shameful. Prayer, as Jesus teaches us, is more an opening of the heart to love than it is a function of the mind asking or pleading. This is the key to receiving and giving forgiveness.
Receiving a fresh start, a new beginning, having a clean slate every day is essential to a fulfilling life. So when we pray, every day, “Father… forgive us,” God offers, every day, fresh heart knowledge (‘I am loved’) and the healing grace to love others to the same degree. Opening ourselves to God’s forgiveness means we receive grace and healing of our own hurts and, as a consequence, enhance our capacity to forgive others. To pray “forgive us” brings interior healing to us and a healing of relationships with others, by exposing us to the grace and love of God.
Children understand this essential simplicity of love and forgiveness. Children naturally and easily open themselves to a new beginning every day. Adults can, too, but such openness requires childlike humility.
When we pray “ Father… forgive us,” we pray with John Birch:
Bless this day,
this blank page, newly turned.
May its story, once written,
bring only glory to your name.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Forgiveness is simple. We have simply to let go of resentment and the desire to hurt someone who has hurt us.
Forgiveness may be simple, but it is definitely not easy. Forgiveness is always difficult, sometimes impossible.
Why is forgiveness so hard? It is because I have been hurt, insulted, put-down or ignored and the wound is a real, present and lasting injury to me as a person. The response to injury is anger. The choice seems between turning our anger inward, which hurts us, and turning our anger on others, which damages another person and diminishes us. Anger is hell; forgiveness is heaven.
A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk. “Monk,” he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, “teach me about heaven and hell!” The monk looked up at this mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain, “Teach you about heaven and hell! I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.” The samurai was furious. He shook, got all red in the face, was speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword and raised it above him, preparing to slay the monk. “That’s hell,” said the monk softly. The samurai was overwhelmed. The compassion and surrender of this little man who had offered his life to give this teaching to show him hell. He slowly put down his sword, filled with gratitude, and suddenly peaceful. “And that’s heaven,” said the monk softly. [Experiencing Spirituality, Finding Meaning Through Storytelling, Ernest Kurtz, Katherine Ketcham]
Jesus suggests a third way to deal with anger – forgiveness. Ridding ourselves of anger is the simple, difficult task of forgiveness. Jesus' idea of receiving forgiveness from God in prayer is a first step, and it is simple. We don't have to come to God with a big list of all the ways we have failed God or hurt others, nor must we make a big list of those who have hurt us and whom God requires us to forgive. God knows already, and such strategies merely stir up pain or nurture desires for revenge.
Jesus recommends we simply say to our Father, "forgive us" (the plural includes those who have hurt us) and rest at that point. If we have truly come into the presence of our Father, we experience that we are entering the presence of a tenderness and mercy without end. Rest there. Then, even if we don’t feel forgiven, we are. Having received mercy, we add, “we forgive those who sin against us." Then, from the ‘mercy seat’ we rise at least with a commitment to free ourselves from our anger toward our enemy. Even if our feelings don’t yet match our commitments, God sees and receives the intentions of our hearts. Healing has begun.
Jesus taught his followers to pray “Our Father… Give us today our daily bread." We teach our children to pray the same prayer.
Firstly, we remember the address of this prayer. Jesus taught us to call God Our Father, our Abba. He knew that the God who made and sustains all living and non-living things is also Our Father, our Abba who cares for each one of his children. You and your loved ones matter to the Lord of all. So when you pray Our Father, remember you are being present to an all-wise, all-powerful, compassionate parent – the God of all.
1. Then when we pray “…give us our daily bread” we are seeking sustenance from the Origin and Sustainer of all that is. We are asking God to keep on feeding us today and every day, for there is no other to whom we can turn. Particularly, not ourselves. Enterprise, self-reliance and determined effort may be necessary conditions to provide our daily bread, but they are never sufficient. Hard work does not guarantee results. Paul points out to the proud, boastful and self-sufficient Corinthians that we may plant and water, “but only God who gives the growth.” He then asks them to consider, “What do you have that you did not receive?” Praying “…give us our daily bread” acknowledges our ultimate dependence on God as the one and only life giver. Prayer also gives voice to our gratefulness, for all we receive. So to pray “…give us our daily bread" every day means to acknowledge both dependency and our gratefulness to the “Giver of every good and perfect gift” (James).
2. When we pray, “…give us our daily bread” nowadays, we usually don’t have a note of urgency in our request. At least, in Australia, we are typically well fed. However, a desperate plea for food is the result of real and present hunger. It is not that we don’t have the need for sustenance, but in our satisfaction, we forget our dependence. To pray “…give us our daily bread” reminds us of our daily dependence on God. However, in the world, the daily struggle for food was, is, and probably will be, common. Today, malnourishment affects growth in about 25 per cent of the world’s children. About 66 million primary-aged children in the world go to school hungry, every day. About 15,000 children under five die each day (2016) and about half of these are through causes linked to hunger. Many of those who heard Jesus pray, “…give us our daily bread” would have been day labourers for whom, if there was no work, would have been frequently hungry. When we pray Jesus’ family prayer and say “….give us our daily bread” we join our prayer all those who struggle against hunger and we commit ourselves to sharing our food with the hungry.
3. He who called himself “the bread of life” is also the One who taught us to pray “…give us our daily bread.” Our prayer is also for the sustenance of our human spirit. The ‘bread’ that God freely gives, when we pray, is Christ himself and he always reveals himself in the form of love. Through prayer, we are loved, transformed and able ourselves to see and show compassion to others. During Jesus’ forty day fast, he was hungry. The Tempter observed Jesus’ desire and prompted Jesus to feed himself. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” was Jesus response. The real bread from heaven is the love of Christ from which nothing can separate us. Whatever our material (or nutritional circumstances), it is Christ’s love we need to sustain us, today, tomorrow and into eternity. The question the Lord’s Prayer daily asks of us is, “Am I hungry for Christ, the bread of life?”
When we teach children the Lord’s Prayer, we teach them to, every day, depend on the love of the Father, share the love of the Spirit and receive the love of Christ.
Nine GSG students attended a Youth Poverty and Development Conference at All Saints Anglican School in Bull Creek on Wednesday 30 May.
There, they heard some very good news: “Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990.” However, we still have a way to go to end world poverty; about 836 million people still live in extreme poverty.
The Wontok Conference aimed to educate about 90 students from 15 independent schools on the nature of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (2015-2030).
The programme featured a community development visitor from the Philippines. Supported by the Australian Government and the Anglican Board of Missions, Clagel Nellas (Philippine Independent Church's Development Agency) gave several wonderful examples of empowering poor Philippino communities to create a modest increase in their income. This enabled the children to go to school, support disabled people in their village and give greater opportunity to improve the health and welfare of the community.
Students attended four mind-expanding workshops and heard an encouraging message from Archbishop Kaye Goldsworthy, who intends to have her own plastic-free July. The afternoon session motivated students to think carefully about one of the SDGs, its relationship to other SDGs and what each school could do to promote the achievement of the goals in their community.
GSG students enjoyed their day out with Perth-based schools, and returned safely, better informed about the way we all want the world to be in 2030.
Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Our Father, Hallowed be your name … Your Kingdom come... your will be done on Earth…"
The Kingdom of God was Jesus’ signature phrase for God’s presence amongst his people in the world. For Jesus, the kingdom was anywhere, any time that God’s faithful people see God’s rule established. For Jesus, the ‘Kingdom of God’ describes the time and place where God is God and God’s people live lives of loving service. Jesus, himself, embodied God’s rule of justice, peace and love in God’s world, and so he associates God’s kingdom with his presence.
So when and where is God’s kingdom present? As Jesus himself said, the time for the kingdom is now (Mark 1:15) and the place of the kingdom is in you (Luke 17:21). Jesus signified the presence of the kingdom, proclaiming his message, healing those who asked him and confronting and defeating evil. Jesus also indicated the future by asking his followers to daily 'pray in kingdom,' saying “your kingdom come” and by telling stories about the coming establishment of God’s future reign with justice and peace.
What must have Jesus’ followers thought when Jesus facilitated His own death in order to initiate God’s kingdom? They thought, of course, Jesus had failed and he, his followers and his so-called kingdom would be destined for the dustbin of history. How wrong they were! They soon realised their error when they saw Jesus alive again and received his spirit. Then Jesus’ followers started preaching a new message: Jesus’ death has defeated death and now God offers to all new life in Christ. They realised the kingdom had come through the momentous events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. God’s kingdom of justice and love soon began to grow and grow. The members of God’s renewed human family were baptised and received the presence of Jesus’ spirit within them. But Jesus’ followers also knew that the suffering and evil still in the world meant that they must keep praying daily, “your kingdom come” and serving to make the kingdom a reality. Still, the spirit of Jesus cries within his modern day followers, "Abba!" To cry Abba both assures us, each one, we are indeed God’s children, and also, "Jesus' spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised,” (the Apostle, Paul).
Jesus' followers still pray, every day, “Your kingdom come,” because we are waiting in hope for the promised fulfilment of the kingdom, when, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever." (the Apostle, John).
When we, together as a school community, pray “Our Father…. Your kingdom come,” and together follow Jesus to introduce God’s love through word and deed, the kingdom will come in our classrooms, playgrounds, sporting fields and homes.
Perhaps when all of God's people, worldwide, join in saying and living the Lord’s Prayer, then the kingdom will finally and fully come, and heaven will be on earth forever. Then, we will eternally rejoice in God’s presence and each and every prayer for the kingdom to come will be gloriously fulfilled. By teaching our children to pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we involve them in playing their unique part in fulfilling God’s eternal plan, God for all people.
Jesus taught his followers to pray “Our Father, Hallowed be your name … Your Kingdom come... your will be done on Earth…"
How God's name is made holy is explained by the words, "Your Kingdom come... your will be done on Earth…".
God's holiness is manifest when God's will is done and when God's will is done, God's Kingdom is present.
When and where did Jesus want God’s will to be done, God’s Kingdom to come and God’s name made holy? He tells us himself; here on Earth and now, please. That is our plea, and we pray “your kingdom come” because only God can bring in God’s kingdom. I also pray “your kingdom come” because I want my place in God’s Kingdom (please ).
Unfortunately, unbiblical ideas have obscured Jesus' teaching about the ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ required to pray the Lord’s Prayer. When both ‘holiness’ and ‘heaven’ have unreal and unearthly religious meanings for us, we do not pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Regarding our misleading mindset for the religious words Jesus’ uses — ‘holiness’ and ‘heaven’ — Jesus clearly meant us to understand these as applying to our here and now and not to some extra-terrestrial future.
Clearly, Jesus’ prayer had its primary fulfilment and meaning ‘on earth.’ When we use ‘holiness’ and ‘heaven’ in ‘spiritual’ ways, we betray our Master and reinforce the perceived irrelevance of ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ in Christ for today’s world. An unearthly hope can never be a true hope in our modern world, just as an unearthly faith is an irrelevant faith for our modern world.
Pope Francis has the correct balance. In his recent apostolic letter on ‘holiness,’ rather than point to “the examples of holiness that appear unattainable” (super-human ‘saints’), the Pope delights in the holiness present in, for example, “those parents who raise their children with immense love.” Jesus means something similar to an earthly holiness by his phrases "our Father in heaven" and "the kingdom of God."
Francis emphasises that individual ‘holiness’ is essential in our modern world. He points out that a life of holiness will look different for each member of God’s human family. The Pope says that the Lord calls each of us, personally, “to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God has willed for each of us.” True holiness means using our unique gifts and place in the world to serve others. Only such holiness can bring in God's Kingdom. Only God and his people can bring such holiness to a very unholy world.
All who truly pray the Lord's Prayer are inviting the Spirit to shape them in holiness. We are all ‘saints in formation’ and when we pray “Your kingdom come…your will be done” we are pledging to walk our own unique path of holiness to which we are being called right here, right now.
Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”
The first request Jesus taught us to make in the Lord’s Prayer is, “hallowed (holy) be your name.” The ‘name’ of God is God's word, God's presence. To ‘hallow’ God’s name is to ask that God’s name and presence will be honoured, respected.
This first petition is not about us. It is about God. This teaches us that the first steps in genuine prayer take the emphasis away from our own needs and desires, and place God’s word, presence and name at the centre of our lives. From this centre, we begin to long for God’s presence to be recognised and honoured. If we do not take ourselves out of the centre of our own lives and make God’s name central, we have not yet begun to pray. God’s “name,” God’s “will,” God’s “Kingdom” have, and will always remain, the priority in the lives of Jesus’ followers.
Being with God in prayer means making God’s name honoured, bringing in God’s Kingdom, and doing God’s will. Any other centre will not hold. When God is the centre, our needs and achievements shrink and become miniscule and transient in comparison with God’s presence.
On the other hand, if we begin prayer with our desires and needs as central, then, when we finish our prayer, we will feel just as bad as when we began. Why? Our needs, suffering, desires have remained in the centre, where God should be. When we fail to lift our vision to see the generosity, greatness, majesty and kindness of God’s power and presence, we fail to pray.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with an address that reminds us who we are (beloved children of God) and who God is (our loving, powerful Abba) and our prayer begins when we will do what God wants. The hallowing of God’s name and the doing of God’s will are the foundations and footnotes to all prayer. If they are not, we have only pretended to pray, like the man in Jesus’ story who “prayed with himself” (Luke 18:11).
Yet when we pray, “Hallowed be your name” it is also a prayer about us and only us! To presume, as Jesus does, that God’s name is not yet holy enough, seems silly. Surely, God is totally, completely and always ‘holy'? Can we ask God to be made more holy than God already is? Jesus answer is yes, because that is what he did: “I have brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). By his life and teaching, Jesus made God’s name more holy in in our very 'unholy' world.
As always, in promoting God’s glory, the deeds of Abba's children speak much louder than the words. Our deeds, how we live, show others that God is holy. Like Jesus, the followers of Jesus cause God’s name to be hallowed (or not) by what they do (or do not do).
We say that we are Christians; we say that we have a father, but we live like people who do not believe either in God or in man. We live without faith; we live not in love but in hatred, in competition, in war; we live in doing evil. Is God's name therefore hallowed in Christians who fight among themselves for power? No, there God's name is not hallowed. It has been forsaken. (Pope Francis)
Jesus told his followers, “If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” God’s presence is recognised and honoured (hallowed) when Jesus’ followers, through loving service, make God’s presence recognisable in the world. Wherever and whenever hunger, war, bullying, loneliness or inhumanity in any form exists, we need to pray, “hallowed be your name” then rise from our prayer to make God’s name known and honoured by deeds of love and justice in our families, school, community and world. As so often, God asks us to answer our own prayer by becoming the people he made us to be.
Jesus taught his followers to pray: "Our Father…”
It is significant that Jesus taught his followers a communal prayer, not a private prayer. Jesus did not teach us to pray “My Father” but “Our Father.”
The Lord’s Prayer is, first of all, inclusive. God is the great giver of life and breath to all things. When we pray “Our Father,” we are coming to the Creator of all things and Father/Mother of people. We are all “God’s chillun” and each one of us has the privilege to call to our God, our Abba.
Jesus taught that there is only one human family. He insisted that all our neighbours, even our enemies, are to be included in our love, just as they are included in God’s love. Jesus was saying that the alienated and rejected, each one and every one, are accepted in God’s love and, if God includes all in His love, so should we.
Too often, Christians have tried to put 'private property' signs above God (Pope Francis’ phrase). It cannot be done! Immediately we call out, “Our Imma/Abba (Mumma/Dada)!” We bring the whole world with us into our Creator’s loving presence.
When we teach our children to say “Father” we are teaching them that each one of them is God’s precious child and when we teach them to say “Our Father” we are teaching them to respect their fellow students as brothers and sisters in God’s human family. This is vital. To teach anti-bullying strategies and create safe classrooms is important. However, neither anti-bullying strategies nor an understanding of right and wrong can create the experience of a child being valued and offering the gift of respect to others. Each child needs someone who values them and shows them how to value others. Prayer is a deeply human experience of being valued and when we pray “Our Father” we include others in God’s love. The Lord’s Prayer is intensely personal, but never private, for love must always seek the other.
Jesus taught his followers to pray ‘Abba/Father …’ I have discussed many times what it means for Great Southern Grammar to claim that we are a Christian school. Above all, it must mean that we live and work in the context of prayer and teach out students how to pray. Luke tells us, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed,” (5:16). His friends observed Jesus’ life of prayer and this prompted their request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer (the Jesus Prayer, the Our Father). We call out to God as our Abba (Father) and in so doing we boldly and consciously come to God claiming our status as God’s son or daughter. So, for Jesus, prayer is not mindless chatter (which Jesus condemned) but simply being in God’s presence. And where is God not present? Nowhere! So, St Paul speaks about continuous prayer, at all times and in all places; our lives lived out in the presence of our Abba’s love and grace.
To say the Jesus’ prayer immediately puts those who pray in the position of being a child of God, for that as Jesus taught, is who we truly are. When we call out to God, ‘Abba,’ we deliberately and consciously place ourselves, as a child in the presence of our divine parent. Realising and living as God’s child is not only who we truly are, but also who we are becoming.
Jesus insisted that, ‘only a child can enter into God’s presence’ (“unless you … become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matt 18:3). That is perhaps why children pray simply, beautifully, naturally and easily. A child with a healthy attachment figure naturally trusts and loves their divine Abba/Imma (Dada/Mama) and so can naturally pray.
Jesus’ bold approach to instruct adults to call God, Abba (Father/Dada in Jesus’ prayer) appeared presumptuous to Jesus’ contemporaries, but Jesus is clear; the right and privilege to call out to God as our loving parent is a universal gift offered to all. All the images we use of God are inherently inadequate, but the least inadequate (in Jesus’ mind) was to call God our Abba. When the love of our Abba enfolds us, the experience, not the word, becomes the reality.
At the staff briefing last Monday, Mr Sawle quoted Gloria McWilliam. "Education means to increase curiosity and decrease anxiety." Clearly, for students to learn, steps to decrease anxiety precede steps to increase curiosity as anxiety is a greater factor in students’ lives today than in former times. Parents and teachers can do a lot to create a ‘safe’ space to reduce student anxiety and this will be a continuing emphasis in our teaching strategies at GSG.
Reducing anxiety is also where prayer comes in. The evidence is in and clear: praying/meditating creates an internal ‘safe space.’ The Christian part of our school means we are committed to introducing children to who they are in relation to our Creator and Lover. The beginning of a lifetime of such learning and growing begins in the experience of prayer.
“Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.” (CEV) Isaiah 50:4
This quote is from one of the four ‘servant songs’ from the 6th century BCE prophet, Isaiah. For Christians, the predicted ‘servant’ figure was fulfilled in Jesus as the ‘suffering servant.’ Jesus himself identified as the ‘suffering servant.’ In his first sermon, he quoted one of the ‘servant songs’ and said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Scholars agree that he saw himself as a teacher of wisdom. Isaiah has the servant say:
“The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens –
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught. (NRSV)
The predicted servant would be a gifted teacher, who, with just a word, could sustain the weary, just as Jesus did and does still by his Spirit. Irish poet, WB Yeats, wrote of the work of teaching, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” All good teachers light a lifetime fire of learning in their students. However, this means that teachers must first be lifelong learners themselves, for one cannot give what one does not possess. So here is the rub for all teachers: Am I a lifelong learner? Parents, you can read a list of teachers’ skills you can realistically expecthere
What characterises a lifelong learner? Isaiah tells us that to be a lifelong teacher, we must be a lifelong listener. Firstly, to our students. Effective teachers of lifelong learning always ‘heart’ listen to their students. Secondly, effective teachers of ‘life wisdom’ (like Jesus) listen to God’s teaching. In our society, to grow old equates with exceeding our ‘use-by date’ so some old people feel that the best thing is to exit gracefully. However, this is not the only way to grow old. Old people in many societies finish their lives in joy and hope, not despair. Why? One reason is, in other societies, age is regarded as a badge of honour, not a curse of uselessness. A beautiful description of respect for age is inToo Old And Decrepit To Blessby Anne Townsend. Also, if we are awaked by God eager to learn his teaching, our life, independently of encroaching infirmity, will become happier as we taste the coming eternal bliss. I have seen with my own eyes people of faith grow old in increasing joy, despite increasing bodily pain. Whoever we are, we would be unwise to ignore Isaiah’s advice and learn that a lifelong listening to the voice of God in the silence of the self is the way to become progressively happier as we approach the end of life.For my evidence I offer this reflection from Thomas Merton’s Journal:
“Light rain all night. The need to keep working at meditation — going to the root. Mere passivity won’t do at this point. But activism won’t do either. A time of wordless deepening, to grasp the inner reality of my nothingness in the One who is. Talking about it in these terms is absurd. It has nothing to do with the concrete reality that is to be grasped. My prayer is peace and struggle in silence, to be aware and true, beyond myself. To go outside the door of myself, not because I will it but because I am called and must respond.” (April 4, 1965. Passion Sunday).
The journey to becoming a lifelong learner begins now for our children. In a Christian school, we remember that this is not a secular journey, but begins for each child in the creative love of God, continues for us in waking each morning eager to learn, and ends by hearing Jesus’ words, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father!”
“Unless I see …… I will never believe.” Thomas in John 20
“And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted.” Matthew 28
Three pieces of the reporting on Jesus’ resurrection are surprising. Surprising, because they are unlikely to be invented and were prime candidates to be removed by later scribes. They therefore seem to belong to the earliest level of tradition.
Each of these pieces are also of spiritual significance. The role of women demonstrates equality of women with men among Jesus’ followers. The fact that doubt and faith are both present in the resurrection accounts show that those who walk the Jesus way will often be companioned by doubt, as well as faith.
On the gradual dawning of belief, Fr Lawrence Freeman makes some perceptive comments on why the resurrection takes some time to dawn in us, too:
“It took time for those who first experienced the presence of the Risen Jesus to find words to describe it – and even the faith to recognize him. They felt fear and incredulity before recognition fully dawned, the light became stronger and the sunrise of recognition broke over them. It is the same for us. There are many things in life’s mystery of which this can be said. But nothing of which it is as true as Jesus’ Resurrection. He enters our room without making a noise. He is with us without taking up space. He accompanies us without charging for his time. He is at the centre of everything without forcing our attention. He is invisibly visible. He is a new way of being, which we are all heading for and which we are beginning to get glimpses of now. He wipes guilt from the doors of our perception. He surprises us. He makes death transparent and life radiant. Lent has launched us. Easter is everywhere. We are allowed to say Alleluia again.”
Jesus' presence, once perceived, gives birth to a growing perception of a presence of the glory and power of God’s love in the world.
As parents and teachers, we cannot bring to birth this miracle of faith in our children, but we can provide the context of love.
The Power of Powerlessness and Divine Love
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians)
This year, Easter Day falls on April Fool’s Day; appropriate, for those who label the idea of a dead person coming back to life as a joke. Paul was one of those who believed this idea. When Paul spoke of the resurrection he was happy to accept the mocking reply of Festus, “Your great learning has driven you mad.” The madness of the cross and resurrection is, in fact, the power and weakness of the wisdom of God (Paul again).
Christian belief has many paradoxes, which, at first sight, can seem ludicrous. These paradoxes come to the fore on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday when love and power meet.
Martin Luther King, said, “One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.”
With the racist climate of Southern USA at the time clearly in mind, King goes on to point out that power exercised without compassion is always exploitative, and care without power always becomes useless sentimentality. The world needs these ‘opposites’ to be combined so power exercised with love and love’s goals are reached by empowering the victims of powerlessness. Christ’s cross and resurrection combine God’s love and power and they are presented as God’s gift to the world. In other words. God’s power and love unite in the victim of the cross and the Lord of the tomb.
This paradox of love and power describes God and Jesus exactly. In both his death and resurrection, Jesus lives out that divine-human paradox of love and power. Jesus’ lesson to us: serving love is divine power; the power of powerless love. The early Christian message then became, Jesus dies at the hands of men. He uses suffering love to disarm the powers of evil and death and unite power and love in humanity as they are in God.
Paul uses an ancient Christian hymn to explain Christ’s power of suffering love: “Christ Jesus though he was in the form of God… made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” enduring “death on a cross.” Because of this service (love) Christ Jesus now shares the name and status of God; “he made himself … a servant,” now he is exalted as Lord (Paul in Philippians).
Easter will always be central for Christians because, through his death, Jesus turned powerless love into an omnipotent force so that nothing, nowhere has the power “to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Paul, again). Parenting, teaching, living, doing our God job is simply and only living in the powerlessness of serving love where the Lord has put us. Real, permanent change comes not through worldly power, but only through serving/suffering love.
Monday, Week Eight Reading
Look out! Here comes the Betrayer and the Temple police.
Mark 14:44-46 Judas had told them ahead of time, “Arrest the man I greet with a kiss. Tie him up tight and lead him away. Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, “Teacher!” Then Judas kissed him, and the men grabbed Jesus and arrested him. All of Jesus' disciples ran off and left him.
Tuesday, Week Eight Reading
Jesus’ first trial was before the Jewish High Priests and Religion Scholars.
The Chief Priest tried again, this time asking, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “Yes, I am...” The Chief Priest lost his temper. Ripping his clothes, he yelled, “Did you hear that? After that do we need witnesses? You heard the blasphemy. Are you going to stand for it?” They condemned him, one and all. The sentence: death. Some of them started spitting at him. They blindfolded him, then hit him, saying, “Who hit you? Prophesy!” The guards, punching and slapping, took him away
Wednesday, Week Eight Reading
Following his ‘religious’ trial Jesus is taken before Pilate, the Roman Governor. Only he has the authority to impose the death penalty. Pilate tries, and fails, to have Jesus released and then is forced by the crowd to condemn Jesus on charges of sedition.
During Passover, Pilate always freed one prisoner chosen by the people. Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to free the king of the Jews?” But the chief priests told the crowd to ask Pilate to free Barabbas. Then Pilate asked the crowd, “What do you want me to do with this man you say is [a] the king of the Jews?” They yelled, “Nail him to a cross!” Pilate wanted to please the crowd. So he set Barabbas free. Then he ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus with a whip and nail him to a cross.
Thursday, Week Eight Reading
Jesus is crucified, usually a protracted, painful death. However, Jesus died in the late afternoon before the Sabbath began, when the sun went down.
Mark 15:24, 33, 34
About noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until around three o’clock. Then about that time Jesus shouted, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” .Jesus shouted and then died.
Friday, Week Eight Reading
Following Jesus’ death two significant events are recorded by Mark.
At once the curtain in the temple tore in two from top to bottom. A Roman army officer was standing in front of Jesus. When the officer saw how Jesus died, he said, “This man really was the Son of God!”
"By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased. They growled, 'He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.'”
Friday 16 March 2018 was the eighth National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence (NDA) and our school participated. A video calledBullying is NEVER OKis worth watching and discussing with your children.
To create an 'us-and-them' divide between ourselves and others seems to be a common human practise. It seems natural that, "birds of feather should flock together". Friends need common interests and it is difficult to find friends who do not share our background, culture, religion, opinions, economic resources etc. However, that does not mean we should turn those who are different from us into our enemies. Jesus’ approach was characterised by inclusion and acceptance for all. More radical than the ‘golden rule’ (which is to be found in all religions) is Jesus' command, “love your enemies”. That’s a big anti-bullying order.
Social exclusion is the power behind much bullying. Children and adolescents especially need peer acceptance because, in their eyes, it is the path to feeling acceptable. To be constantly told, “you are not bright, strong, beautiful, good etc. enough for us…”, is completely devastating. Parents, to ensure your child knows they are loved, no matter what, is the key to their resilience. It is vital, particularly for teens. Teachers, fellow students are also necessary to create a culture which always says, "no way!" to bullying. Mr Sawle recently pointed out that when Junior School students were asked to draw a bully, many of their drawings featured a group of children opposing an isolated child. Children know the pain of exclusion. Do you remember? These drawing showed, Mr Sawle said, the power of the bystander in bullying.
However, we know bullies don’t just dwell in schools but also in families, workplaces and churches. Indeed, in any social organisation. And, as the #metoo movement has shown, the antidote to any form of bullying is a courageous victim who labels the truth of what is happening. ‘Name it to shame it’ is a good strategy. A wonderful article entitledThe Inner Ringby CS Lewis, comments how ‘adults’ use exclusion as a form of bullying.
Jesus was most definitely anti-bullying! Those unacceptable to society were in Jesus' words, blessed, and would be first in the Kingdom. A common complaint against Jesus was that he hung out with ‘sinners’ (see above). “Their grumbling triggered this story…” and Jesus asks them, “Wouldn’t you go looking for the lost one until you found it?” Yes, of course, they would. So Jesus' defence for his hanging out with victims was that they were valuable to God (and to Him). Jesus’ question to the bullies was twofold. “You don’t behave that way toward things that are important to you so why do you regard other people as not important?” And, “God behaves this way toward you (accepting) so why don’t you behave that way toward others?”
Behind all bullying and exclusion behaviour lies the attitude or belief, "I am better than you and you and you are not worthy of my respect,”. To eliminate disrespect and bullying in our own behaviour means that we put on 'the mind of Christ’ to see others with the beauty and dignity with which God sees them. There are no exclusion clauses in God’s love for all.
Week Seven Homeroom devotions can be found below.
Monday, Week Seven Reading
The high priests and religion scholars wanted to seize and kill Jesus, however they didn’t want to cause a riot in the Temple during the Jewish Freedom week. They needed the help of a mole inside Jesus’ group.
‘Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the high priests, determined to betray Jesus. They couldn’t believe their ears and promised to pay him well. Judas started looking for just the right moment to hand him over.’ Mark 14:10
Tuesday, Week Seven Reading
Jesus was already dead by Jewish Freedom Day (the Passover Sabbath) which began at sunset on Friday night. However, Jesus and his followers met secretly to celebrate the traditional Passover meal on Friday (which began on our Thursday evening). This time, Jesus added some surprising new words to the customary sharing of the flatbread and wine.
‘In the course of their meal, having taken and blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to them. Then he said, “Take, this is my body.” Taking the chalice, he gave it to them, thanking God, and they all drank from it. He said, “This is my blood, God’s new covenant, poured out for many people.”’ Mark 14:22-24
Wednesday, Week Seven Reading
After the Freedom Meal Jesus and his followers went to a garden. Jesus had a warning for his followers.
‘Jesus said to his disciples, “All of you will reject me…..” Peter spoke up, “Even if all the others reject you, I never will!” Jesus replied, “This very night before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don’t know me.”’
Later, at Jesus’ trial…. ‘A little while later some of the people said to Peter, “You certainly are one of them. You’re a Galilean!” This time Peter began to curse and swear, “I don’t even know the man you’re talking about!” Right away the rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don’t know me.” So Peter started crying.’ Mark 14:27, 29, 71, 72
Thursday, Week Seven Reading
Jesus had gone, with his followers to an Olive Grove outside the city. Here he took his closest friends with him to pray.
‘Jesus took along Peter, James, and John. He was sad and troubled and told them, “I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.”’ Mark 14:33,34
Friday, Week Seven Reading
Jesus must have told his closest followers the content of his garden prayer. No one else was present!
‘Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, “Father, if it is possible, don’t let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.”’ Mark 14:35,36
What a beautiful home, Great God,
I've always longed to live in a place like this,
Always dreamed of a room in your house,
where I could sing for joy to God-alive!
Birds find nooks and crannies in your house,
sparrows and swallows make nests there.
They lay their eggs and raise their young,
singing their songs in the place where we worship. (Psalm 84)
This Psalm clearly implies that, at least in Solomon’s Temple (circa 900 BCE), swallows and sparrows were welcome guests. These guests built their nests and raised their young under the high altar. Oh dear, imagine what the reaction would be to a swallow building her nest under the Lord’s table or altar in any Christian Church throughout the world! However, apparently the swallows matter to God (Jesus said that, too) and God welcomed their babies, their poo and their song.
The writer of the Psalm clearly longed for a home, too, in God’s house. She was jealous of the swallow’s opportunity to live in God’s home. The author of the Psalm uses a particular phrase translated here as ‘beautiful home’ which literally translates as ‘lovemaking place,’ indicating the intense mutual desire between God and the Psalmist for one another; a desire that was mediated by the Creator through creation. As Michelangelo said, “My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth's loveliness.”
The link between nature and spirituality has relevance for our children and our school. We learn that alienation from creation kills the soul. The dreadful wasteland that is modern suburbia obliterates nature and even domestic gardens are being swallowed up by tar and cement. This makes our school important with respect to children’s experience of nature.
Our school's place between the King and Kalgan Rivers is held with great privilege. It is a beautiful spot for the formation of a child’s spirit amongst the beauty of nature.
May we create a place where the swallows (not the sparrows) still feel welcome
May we create a place where we hear the cry of the swallow’s babies ‘feed me’ as a call to take responsibility to nurture our own children
May we join the beautiful morning magpie songs of praise to our Creator God
May we sense, in the glory of our views, the transcendence of God in this place
May we feel the intense, intimate, immanent love of God for each one of us in this place.
There is another important aspect to our ‘place’ as a school: the history of the site where our school is placed. The Fish Traps have been a place for community celebration for thousands of years for Noongar people. We are obliged to remember that story. We have been asked by Aiden Eades to never forget the important Noongar history of this place. It is a history, not only of a proud, ancient culture and twice annual celebrations of community; it is also a history of dispossession and loss. There cannot be reconciliation without this remembrance of the true history of the area between the King and the Kalgan.
May we gratefully acknowledge the Noongar people as custodians of this place
May we build a community of joy and hope here
May all children at this school find a home of respect and love here
May the school community that is built here be always provide and nurturing home of welcome for all children.
We cannot even begin to build a Christian education for our children unless we first learn to build ourselves into a Christian community. The reason why the Bible chooses the family as the model for Christian community is that only a family (meaning the family and the extended family of a village) can nurture a child. So, building a Christian community is the first priority when building a Christian school.
Thanks this week to Senior School and Middle School leaders. These wonderful students have been building community by leading the Lent reflections in Middle and Junior School homerooms. It was fantastic to see the smiling faces of wonder at the ‘big kids’ in Junior School and the shy grins of the appreciative Middle School students. Please find below the Middle and Senior School Lenten Reflections.
Tuesday, Week Six Homeroom Reading
A crisis is looming. Jesus is about to enter the Jerusalem (the capital city) at a dangerous Jewish festival time. The city would be crowded with thousands of patriotic Jewish visitors and many Roman soldiers (it was a favourite time for terrorist attacks). Jesus arranged for a very public (and therefore provocative) entrance to the city.
They brought the colt to Jesus, spread their coats on it, and he mounted. The people gave him a wonderful welcome, some throwing their coats on the street, others spreading out rushes they had cut in the fields. Running ahead and following after, they were calling out, “Hosanna*! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” (*Hosanna means “Save us Now”)
Wednesday, Week Six Homeroom Reading
After surveying the scene in the Temple, Jesus decides to take violent action This action reveals (like all his words and actions) his intentions.
They arrived at Jerusalem. Immediately on entering the Temple Jesus started throwing out everyone who had set up shop there, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of the bankers and the stalls of the pigeon merchants. He didn’t let anyone even carry a basket through the Temple. And then he taught them, quoting this text: My house was designated a house of prayer for the nations; You’ve turned it into a hangout for thieves. The high priests and religion scholars heard what was going on and plotted how they might get rid of him.
Thursday, Week Six Homeroom Reading
Jesus spent all week in the temple – teaching, healing, arguing and telling provocative stories. He frequently attacked the Temple authorities. The priests, for their part, were trying to find proof of ‘rebellion’ against Rome or ‘blasphemy’ against God. On either charge, they could have him killed.
One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
Friday, Week Six Homeroom Reading
Jesus observed a simple event in the forecourt of the Temple. He used the incident to attack the “show offs” and teach his students.
Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins - a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford - she gave her all.”
This week I was preparing the school's Easter Service to be held at 2.00pm on Thursday 29 March in the Multi-Purpose Sport Complex. Parents and friends of the school are welcome to attend this service. During my preparation, I came across two items I thought worth sharing, as follows.
1. Pope Francis explains the meaning of Resurrection at General Audience, Thursday, 20 April 2017.
"In these joyful days of Easter… Christian hope looks to the Risen Jesus. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus himself is our hope. His resurrection is the event that grounds our faith; without our confident belief in its historical reality, the Christian faith would be a mere human philosophy, and Jesus himself simply another great religious figure. Our belief is based on the testimony of those who encountered the Risen Christ, from Saint Peter and the group of the Twelve to Saint Paul, who was converted by his dramatic meeting with the Lord on the road to Damascus. Encountering Christ in faith is always a surprise; it is a grace given to those whose hearts are open. It overturns our comfortable existence and opens us to an unexpected future, sowing life and light in place of death and sorrow. This is the reason for our Easter joy: in the risen Jesus, who dwells in our midst, we encounter the power of God's love, which triumphs over death and brings ever new life and undying hope."
2. A prayer for all creation by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"Lord, may we love all Your creation - All the earth and every grain of sand in it. May we love every leaf, every ray of Your light. For we acknowledge to You that all life is Like an ocean, all is flowing and blending And that to withhold any measure of Love from anything in Your universe Is to withhold the same measure from You."
I was particularly struck by the truth of the Pope's words: encountering Christ in faith is always a surprise; it is a grace given to those whose hearts are open. May your heart be open to the grace of an encounter with Christ this Lent and Easter.
Students have continued to share Lent reflections in their Homerooms this week and I thank all teachers and students for the respectful way I have observed your leadership and participation in these reflections. The reflections for Week Five are below.
Monday, Week Five Homeroom Reading
Jesus had been an itinerant teacher and healer around Galilee for about two years. All this time, his followers have accompanied him. Jesus now directly asks them who they thought he was and what job they thought God had given him.
Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, "Who do the people say I am?" "Some say 'John the Baptizer,'" they said. "Others say 'Elijah.' Still others say 'one of the prophets.'" He then asked, "And you-what are you saying about me? Who am I?" Peter gave the answer: "You are the Christ, the Messiah."
("Christ" and "Messiah" are the same word in two languages. The title refers to the long predicted Jewish 'Rescuer/King' that (people believed) God would soon send. Jesus does not deny the title, but reinterprets it in terms of a Suffering Servant (another predicted figure).
Tuesday, Week Five Homeroom Reading
Jesus' followers now knew who he was - "God's Rescuer/King". Jesus immediately explained to them what his 'God Job' would mean.
Jesus then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man* proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.
(*Another term for the Messiah/Christ/Rescuer King)
Wednesday, Week Five Homeroom Reading
After Jesus explained he was going to be crucified (meaning he would be executed by the Romans as a criminal) he shocked his followers with something even more terrifying…..
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.
Thursday, Week Five Homeroom Reading
Soon after the time when Jesus told his followers he was headed to die, Peter, James and John witnessed a remarkable sight when…
…a light-radiant cloud enveloped them (Jesus, James, John and Peter), and from deep in the cloud, a voice: "This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him."
Friday, Week Five Homeroom Reading
Sadly, Jesus' followers soon forgot Jesus words about "forgetting self and serving others" - the meaning of Jesus' cross for them. James and John secretly come to Jesus to ask him for preferential places of honour in his coming rule. Jesus explains again, that his followers serve (like him) and they don't preference themselves. But…
When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.
"Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ." Saint Paul writing to the infant Thessalonian Church
The person who provided the translation, "Be happy in your faith at all times," was JB Phillips. Throughout his life, Phillips suffered serious clinical depression. Phillip's disability was so severe he was often hospitalised or unable to work. His wife, Vera, and co-writer, Rev Edwin Robertson, recorded his difficult, yet productive, life in a book, The Wounded Healer. How could Phillips, with his illness, translate Paul to instruct us, and believe that it was possible, to be happy in (our) faith at all times? Could Phillips be thankful, whatever the circumstances?
I think he was happy and thankful, of course, not in the emotional, ephemeral sense, but in the sense that whatever the state of his brain or body, his life was in Christ's hands. When Phillips was in his twenties he was gifted a near-death experience and this shaped his lifelong view of faith and the assurance of God being with him, even if his faith was not sufficient, or his mind or body was desperate.
I, myself, suffered a period of serious depression. For some years, I cried often, was emotionally disabled and caught in a dark, empty and lonely place. I found it very difficult to be with people or to work. Yet, I never lost my faith. The faith of my mind disappeared in the blackness, but not the faithfulness of Jesus. As in the famous 'footsteps' poem, I was being held. I learned to befriend the silence and emptiness through meditation and contemplation and I found, like many before me, that "there is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence," and, "The very best and noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within. Therefore it is said: 'In the midst of silence the secret word was spoken to me.'" (Meister Eckhart).
I discovered that faith is being held in love, more than hanging on in desperation. Jesus was faithful to JB Phillips and he is always faithful to us, too.
The modern mindfulness movement has provided scientific proof of the benefits of meditation. These secular mindfulness techniques are the basis for the weekly relaxation sessions I have organised for Year Eleven. For your interest, an explanation of the content of these sessions and the relationship between meditation and the Christian faith can be found below.
Mindfulness meditation is a technique, not faith. However, I believe that meditation is one form of constant prayer, and the task of our life is to find God who is already in us, and Christ who is always with us. Irenaeus (second century) said, "Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God," which means living our lives following Jesus with a vision of the glory of God is the way to "never stop praying." That is why it is possible to always be happy in faith, thankful whatever our circumstances. Please find the daily Homeroom reflections for Lent below.
Mindfulness Meditation and the Christian Faith
Parents and Teachers,
I have included a time of reflective silence (which could be called a form of prayer) in the Homeroom lent readings on the life of Jesus and this week we also started relaxation sessions for all students Years 11 and 12. Some parents have been concerned about mixing the Christian Faith with untrue and damaging meditative practises from non-Christian religions. I wanted to comment on the relaxation sessions (usually called Mindfulness) because these have been deliberately designed not to violate either the individual consciences of students or upon the school's obligation to be faithful to Christian teaching. Lawrence Freeman (OSB) writes on "meditation"….
Askeo - which gives us the word ascetic - originally meant training for war but was also used to describe athletic training. A well-trained soldier who rapes and pillages or an athlete who cheats (or a businessman who acts unethically) betray the deeper purpose of their work however good they may be at it. In the same way, mindfulness used to train snipers or improve a currency trader's performance misses the broader meaning. The larger context of the exercise has been lost and replaced by a view that is narrow and self-centred.
Whatever we do without respect for its deeper meaning turns to wormwood. But even bitter things gone through with faith in their final meaning turn sweet.
Nearly everything in the materialistic scheme of values that dominates life today becomes instrumentalised, turned into a technique which self-interest controls. People sometimes say 'I'm really glad to have found meditation and I'm going to use it as a tool for balancing my life'. Anyway, this attitude is a beginning, a rather primitive start to understanding what asceticism means and what it is you are really being trained for. We start from where we are.
Good spiritual training reduces this attitude by achieving, quite naturally, the balance and harmony we seek. Then we notice them by surprise. These and many more benefits appear without our trying too hard to force their arrival. A lucid mind, greater and more selfless awareness, a more comprehensive ability to pay attention to others, a heart open to beauty and tenderness, to the joy in natural things and to a reduction in the compulsiveness of desire - these are fruits of the kind of asceticism we are beginning now in the lean, clean days of Lent. Some effort is needed to start, some will is called for to re-start when you fall by the wayside.
But grace is a bigger player in the process than willpower.
Where grace is allowed to enter and when it is welcomed, a sense of gift in everything will follow, subtly wound up with the wonderful ability to once again be genuinely surprised.
Turning everything into a tool, controlling all the outcomes, evaluating the results compared with the investment you are making are all eventually going to fail. Failure can be liberation from deception and a breakthrough into greater reality. But it is never easy to undergo the wrecking of your plans or the wasting of the spirit of joy that makes everything worthwhile. Asceticism helps here.
Ascetical training is not just for Lent then. The mantra is a continuous interior Lent and leads to a deeper spontaneity and sense of freshness in ordinary daily life. Prayer is the essential ascesis of the spiritual life. What you do and what you give up during the Lent cycle re-sharpens the edge of the knife that our spirit uses to cut through the dross that built up when we weren't looking. (Lawrence Freeman Worldwide Centre for Christian Meditation)
Fr Lawrence's comments emphasise that far from being non- Christian, secular Mindfulness can lead to "a breakthrough into greater reality."
With respect to the Yr 11 and 12 Relaxation/Meditation sessions (Monday's p7), these sessions are 'secular' in the sense that they are evidence based relaxation techniques (Mindfulness). There has been a plethora of brain research related to Mindfulness as a 'non-religious' practise. This research has provided mounting evidence that such practises as Mindfulness are an essential aspect of modern education.
The American Psychological Association -reports on the evidence base for the use of Mindfulness (in both education and counselling practise) on their website. They define Mindfulness "…. as a moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait.
…..research on mindfulness has identified these benefits:
Other benefits: Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation, all functions associated with the brain's middle prefrontal lobe area. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, including increased immune functioning, improvement to well-being and reduction in psychological distress In addition, mindfulness meditation practice appears to increase information processing speed as well as decrease task effort and having thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand." (for the full article see http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx)
Given the extensive, firm and scientifically based evidence for the benefits of mindfulness, I think we would be remiss not to give our students 'body relaxation and brain awareness training'.
For Mindfulness, I recommend parents read "Frazzled" by Ruby Wax and "Brainstorm - the power and purpose of the teenage brain" by Dan Siegal (a neuroscientist). Siegal's book contains lots of wise, brain-based advice for parents of teenagers. Ruby Wax quotes a study of final year students in UK schools. After mindfulness training, students were: better able to focus attention on a task, better able to ignore distractions and better able to control their anxiety and fear responses. Students reported improved feelings of well-being and life-satisfaction, handled relationships better, had fewer GP visits, slept better and were more able to perceive emotions in others. These results have been replicated in Australia and around the world.
I prefer the term 'body relaxation and brain awareness training' rather than Mindfulness. This is because Mindfulness is a Buddhist word placed in a foreign secular/scientific context. To use mindfulness as a 'non-religious' practise offends both Christians and Buddhists. Christians, because their own tradition offers similar methods of prayer and Buddhist teachers (though they are hard to offend - they are people of such 'calm minds') because of this loss of essential meaning to their idea of "mindfulness". Secular Mindfulness has appropriated the word from a Buddhist context without an essential element - compassion. For both Buddhists and Christians know you cannot be "mindful" without showing compassion. When the Dali Lama said, "Do you want to be happy? Practice compassion! "Do you want to be happy? Practice compassion!" he (probably) deliberately didn't say practice 'mindfulness' because he was speaking in a western context, and didn't wish to be misunderstood! To be selfishly mindful is an oxymoron, yet is seems to be exactly what is being offered by the secular Mindfulness 'cure-all'. A more accurate religious term for Mindfulness as 'being in the present moment' is "meditation". Meditation exists as a practise of prayer in all major religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. That's probably why 'meditation' wasn't' chosen to translate 'being in the present moment' - it is too religious! It is significant that modern-secular English has no word that can describe "a moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience (senses) without judgment" which does not carry 'religious' connotations. Why? Well perhaps materialism might like to consider that 'humans' are inherently on a search for meaning (not description, which is all scientists can give us)! Perhaps connection with the source of our life through prayer is what is missing in modern life.
Monday, Week Four Homeroom Reading:
Following the Jesus Way
So far, Jesus has heard God's affirmation, is tested, and begins his itinerant teaching and serving. However, Jesus knows he needs help so next he invites people to follow him - Mark 1:19-20
Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me……" ….. They dropped their nets and followed….. Jesus walked on and soon saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat, mending their nets. At once Jesus asked them to come with him. They left their father in the boat with the hired workers and went with him.
Tuesday, Week Four Homerom Reading:
Following the Jesus Way
Soon Jesus became very popular and busy in his teaching and healing. However, Mark makes clear that Jesus' knew his life of service could not be maintained without time alone with God. - Mark 1:35
Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.
Wednesday, Week Four Homerom Reading:
Following the Jesus Way
More problems. Jesus faced opposition from religious leaders who "made plans to kill Jesus" (3:6). Even worse, Jesus mother and brothers, seeing Jesus' healing, preaching and the crowds following Jesus, came to fetch him home - they think he needs to stop him doing what he is doing and saying what he is saying. Maybe they even thought "he's mad", but Jesus knew his "God Job" was essential and he had an answer for his family….
Mark 1:34, 35
The crowd that was sitting around Jesus told him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside and want to see you." Jesus asked, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" Then he looked at the people sitting around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who obeys God is my brother or sister or mother."
Thursday, Week Four Homerom Reading:
Following the Jesus Way
Jesus was becoming more popular. He fed a whole lot of hungry people and he wanted to get away by himself. He and his friends boarded a boat to sail across Lake Galilee to escape the crowds. Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat when a sudden, fierce storm caused Jesus' friends to fear for their lives. His followers asked for his help….
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?'
Friday, Week Four Homerom Reading:
Following the Jesus Way
Jesus increases the spread and impact of his words and deeds by sending his followers through the towns and villages of Galilee (the local area about the size of Albany City)….
Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark).
"This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God," is the simple introduction to Mark's story about Jesus. When Mark wrote, "the beginning of the gospel," he wasn't referring to his book as a gospel (the term had not yet been invented). It could be described as Mark saying, "I have some wonderful news from God for you. This great news is the story about the man Jesus and the discovery that he is God's long-awaited Rescuer/King. Through Jesus' death and coming alive again, Jesus planted God's rule on Earth and now invites all to join God's eternal Rule."
In a Christian school such as ours, a fundamental responsibility is for our students to be familiar with Mark's story, hence the Lent Devotions. Each week in this column, I will reproduce the reflections used in the Middle and Senior School homerooms. This is not only so that parents are aware of what is being said in these devotions, but also to make these reflections available to all members of the school community.
Junior School parents, I prepared a simplified version of Lent Devotions for Years One to Six and homeroom teachers are using these. They are available upon request.
Tuesday 13 February
From today until Easter, we will read in homeroom an excerpt from the story of Jesus as told by Mark. Mark is the earliest and shortest of the four Gospels. Each except will be followed by a brief explanation. Our theme for Lent (the time leading up to Easter) is Following the Jesus Way.
Following the Jesus Way
Jesus' work for God begins with an experience of God's love (Mark 1:9-11)
"John baptised (a ceremonial washing) Jesus in the Jordan River. As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the sky open and the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. A voice from heaven said, 'You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you.'"
Ash Wednesday: no devotions
Thursday 15 February
Reading: Following the Jesus Way
Immediately after Jesus' experience of God's love at his baptism (Mark 1:12,13)
"God's Spirit made Jesus go into the desert. He stayed there for forty days while Satan tested him…angels took care of him."
Friday 16 February
Reading: Following the Jesus Way
After 40 days being tested in the desert (Mark 1:14-15)
"Jesus went to Galilee and told the good news that comes from God. He said, 'The time has come! God's kingdom will soon be here. Turn back to God and believe the good news."
An Historical Postscript on Lent
For the six weeks of Lent (the weeks leading up to Easter) we will have daily Homeroom devotions for students from Years Three to Twelve. Historically, we know that the earliest churches were hosted in homes scattered around the Roman Empire. The leaders of these 'house churches,' for a number of weeks leading up to Easter, carefully educated candidates for baptism and membership of the Church. Candidates were then baptised on Easter Sunday, as part of celebrations of Jesus' resurrection.
This period of preparation for Easter developed into the tradition of Lent. Lent, remembering Jesus' 40 days in desert being tested (tempted), became a time of repentance, self-denial and fasting. These are not easily understood ideas for young people today, so the Lenten emphasis has changed to, "Christians should pray a lot, give money to charities and give up some of the things they might otherwise do for pleasure," (Wikipedia). That is good advice. Hence, last year's theme for Lent, Something to Give Up, Something to Take Up. I think the best image for being a Christian in the 21stC is someone who follows Jesus and, it seems to me, that Mark's Gospel was written both to encourage people to follow Jesus and explain to them who Jesus was, what he taught, and what it means to live like him. The theme, Following the Jesus Way, is my attempt to make Lent meaningful for children and adolescents.
Great Southern Grammar has staff and students who come from a variety of religious traditions, or none.
However, the school is a Christian school, so all students participate in Chapel and Christian Studies, and we have prayer at our public events.
By the character of our life together, we also seek to offer students the experience of being part of a caring, respectful, serving community. As mentioned last week, our student leaders have settled upon this goal for their year in office.
It is my conviction as Chaplain that, as a Christian school, we have both the obligation and privilege of presenting faith in Christ to students as a reasonable and attractive option in the modern world. To that end, over the past years we have had a visiting Chaplain come to the school, usually in the week before Easter. This year we are trying something different. For the period of Lent, Middle School Student Leaders will lead Year Three to Six devotions, Senior School Student Leaders will lead Middle School devotions, and Homeroom Teachers will lead Senior School devotions. These devotions will be held from Pancake Tuesday on 13 February, through to Maundy Thursday on 29 March. An ashing ceremony for Lent will be held on Wednesday 14 February, and the school Easter Service on 29 March.
This is the notice given to students through Daily Notices:
Lent is the Christian name for the weeks leading up to Easter. Our theme for Lent 2018 is 'Following the Jesus Way.'
Lent begins, this year, on Ash Wednesday (14 February) and from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (29 March). Next week, homerooms will begin the school day with:
1. A short reading from the oldest and shortest Gospel (Mark). This reading will be part of Mark's record of Jesus' teaching, service and his death and reappearance to his followers after his death.
2. A short comment or explanation of the bible passage.
3. A one-minute reflection on what it might mean to follow the Jesus way that day.
He sat down and summoned the Twelve."So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all." He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me - God who sent me."
Some of GSG's students arrived back in Albany just in time for the 2017 awards night. The concluding part of their educational journey had been participation in the Cambodia Service Learning Tour. We thank Mr Ross Barnett and Mrs Teresa McAllister for accompanying the students on the tour. We also thank Dr Airell Hodgkinson for his greatly appreciated medical care of the students, and Mrs Sherree Hughes (ICCA) for leading the tour.
This week I received a Certificate of Appreciation from International Children's Care Australia for the school's ongoing commitment to Community Development in Cambodia. The photo on this certificate features some 2017 graduates building a home in Cambodia. The students who shared the Cambodia Tour did not just observe entrenched poverty and disadvantage in Cambodia; they also experienced the joy of giving. They contributed to alleviating poverty in Cambodia. It was a wonderful and vital lesson of service for our students, given the poverty in much of our modern world.
This recognition of the service of our recent graduates is one example of the central mission of Great Southern Grammar as a Christian school. That is, to embed the values of service within the lives of our students. To do that requires that we have a community culture in which each individual is valued and treated with respect: students, teachers, support staff or parents. The 2018 Student Leaders have realised the importance of a 'culture of caring' and have made it a central aspect of their mission this year. I am pleased that these students who want to serve, have been appointed our leaders because that is what leaders do - serve - at least in a Christian school.
Jesus taught that service is the essence of following him. As a Christian community, Jesus insisted that we put "the least, first" and each member of the community who wants to be first, must serve. Jesus once placed a child in the midst of his ambitious followers to show them who was first in his kingdom. For Jesus' kingdom is an 'upside down kingdom' and it is the children, the poor and the needy who are first in God's Kingdom. This why children are the most important priority for any Christian community, especially a school. Jesus taught that children are the ones who are entering God's Kingdom first and if you want to enter, too, you must serve and put yourself last of all (i.e. become like a child).
To approach the goal of being a Christian school means that each member must follow Jesus' path of service and allow the kindness of God to flow through their lives to others. Of course, we'll never be perfect, that's why we must consciously practice kindness and service every day. We are all on a journey together to live as a Christian school and on that journey an essential aspect is learning to serve, especially children.