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From the Chaplain

2019

Week Seven, Term Two: Failure 

Simon (Peter) said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! ... you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” — Matthew’s Gospel

Failure is crucial to learning. If we never fail, we will never learn patience, persistence or resilience.

My advice: fail repeatedly, but not deliberately. It is essential, however, if we are to learn from failure, that we always get up and try again.

It has been said, “Failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts,” and we can only learn courage by being courageous.

To live a fulfilling life, it is essential to reject some common ideas about success and failure, such as the lie that, “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.”  — Og Mandino.

It is a common lie, and manifestly untrue, to assume that: 'I can do/be anything I want. I just have to believe I can do/become it.' This belief is an intolerable burden. Parents, you can help your children doing exams (at an already difficult time of life) by having high, but realistic, expectations of them.

In our society, there is an urgent need to redefine, for ourselves, the meaning of success and failure so that our view of who we are and what we can do is firmly connected to reality. This requires that success is not dependent on others' expectations of us, or our own unrealistic perceptions of ourselves, but on a realistic assessment of who we are. The truth is, that you can only be who you are, but only you can be the best you, and success is being the best you. Becoming that person is a lifetime work in progress.

Reflecting on regarding ourselves as ‘poor and needy,’ Celia Kemp observes, “We think believing that 'I am a wonderful person who can be whatever I want to be' represents freedom and opportunity.”  On the contrary, “this is a crushing burden. The need to be that good. To have to spend your days demonstrating this to others and your nights alone in your head demonstrating it to yourself. Admitting we are poor and needy is the easy burden.” Becoming ‘poor and needy’ is the only path to God and discovering who we are.

Jesus saw who Peter could become. That’s why he named him Rock – a solid, strong model for Jesus’ followers yet to be born, like you and me. That is who he became. Peter was the first to say out loud what Jesus’ followers had come to believe about Jesus – that he was their long-awaited Leader/King/son of God.

“God bless you,” Jesus said, “God, Himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.”  Then, Jesus let Peter know who he was: “You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church.”

Peter must have thought of himself as a success! But what are the next words of Jesus to Peter? “Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.” Failure, big time. Peter was further traumatised by failure when fear prompted him to deny three times that he knew Jesus. Failure, failure, failure rang in his head. However, through acceptance of failure, forgiveness and courage, Peter became the Rock Jesus predicted he would be.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm," a quote oft incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill, is apt nonetheless. So fail, again and again, but fail well so you can learn who you are and you can learn to draw on the enormous resources you have to rise and fail better again.

Week Six, Term Two: Don't Worry

"Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today... I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing?"  — Jesus  

"Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything." — St Paul

It is exam time for Senior School; a season of increased anxiety and worry time.

Exams and tests are designed to allow teachers to collect evidence of achievement and make 'on-balance judgements' of a student’s level of achievement, 'below, at or above the standard.' (ACARA).

Exams make students vulnerable because they submit themselves to others’ judgements to decide whether they are 'below, at or above the standard.' No wonder students feel anxious. Fear, stress and worry are natural responses to being judged as adequate, inadequate or more than adequate. The result: pride and joy if students reach or exceed their own, or others’ expectations; distress; feelings of inferiority when students fall short of their own or others’ expectations.

First, Jesus' advice is: don’t worry about the future. Worry is wasted emotion. Worry cannot change a future outcome. Jesus’ advice, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.”

Corrie ten Boom elaborates what Jesus said: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength —carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”  So, students, in exam week, don’t waste your energy on worry. Your mental energy is needed for other tasks.

Second, students, trust in your own value, then you won’t worry. Jesus told his listeners, “Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear,” or housing, work, health, a job, the future, the flu, Trump... or exams. Why not? These things very real and relevant concerns. Jesus' answer: You are loved, cared for and valued, independent of the value judgements of success/failure, wealth/poverty, approval/disapproval, ability/disability fears/dreams etc. You are loved, valued and accepted, no matter what. Ultimately, Jesus was referring to trusting God’s love, but students need, particularly at exam time, the physical and emotional support and acceptance that comes from a loving family.

Third, love and prayer are the best antidotes to anxiety, says St Paul. Not prayers like 'help — I haven’t studied at all. Rescue me, now!'  God answers such prayers by allowing the natural consequences of our action/inaction to ensue. However, when we understand prayer as entering into the presence of God and allowing ourselves to experience the self-acceptance that love brings, then worries fade.  Our worries (fear of future failure, shame or catastrophe) will always fade when we accept we are OK as we are, where we are.

Both Paul and Jesus use a word for 'worry' that describes distraction, fragmentation and disintegration. When we worry too much, we, literally, 'fall apart.' Love and prayer are the ways we can protect the centre and be put back together in a season of worry.

Only individuals can pray (for prayer is internal and a matter of the heart) but the context of parental love and practical concern for a Senior School adolescent is the way parents can support their child to not fall apart in a ‘season of worry.' Perhaps it is no accident that the word for worry that Jesus used (to scatter, distribute) is also used to describe showing concern, compassion and care for others. So, to turn our worries into concern for others going through a similar trail (it’s called ‘loving your neighbour’), is the partner of prayer in helping the worry factor fade in our own and others’ lives.

 

Week Five, Term Two: Reconciliation

“God was in Christ, offering peace and forgiveness to the people of this world. And he has given us the work of sharing his message about peace.” Paul’s summary of his message of the good news of Jesus. 

The process of reconciliation is vital for Albany and Australia. In 2001, Reconciliation Australia was established with the purpose: to inspire and enable all Australians to contribute to the reconciliation of the nation, and the vision of a just, equitable and reconciled Australia.

National Reconciliation Week concludes on Monday 3 June. As a Christian school, we recognise the vital role we can play in reconciliation and this week I shared with students some reflections on the theme of this year’s Reconciliation Week: Grounded in Truth.

Hereis a video describing the National Reconciliation Week 2019 campaign.

At the heart of reconciliation is the relationship between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To foster positive relations, our relationship must be grounded in a foundation of truth. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long called for a comprehensive process of truth-telling about Australia’s colonial history. Our nation’s past is reflected in the present and will continue to play out in future unless we heal historical wounds. 

Today, 80 per cent of Australians believe it is important to undertake formal truth-telling processes, according to the 2018 Australian Reconciliation Barometer. Australians are ready to come to terms with our history as a crucial step towards a unified future, in which we understand, value and respect each other. Whether you’re engaging in challenging conversations or unlearning and relearning what you know, this journey requires all of us to walk together with courage. This National Reconciliation Week, we invite Australians from all backgrounds to contribute to our national movement towards a unified future. 

Noongar Pastor, Mark Kickett says, “Christians really need to understand that the call to be involved in reconciliation is not an “'If you would like, please' or 'Would you like to...' When we became reconciled to God we are in the system! God has brought us to be co-workers with him.” 

The word 'reconciliation' itself is plucked from the Bible. Reconciliation is a central theme of the earliest Christian message about what God was doing through Jesus. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” is how the 1611 Authorised Version (KJV) puts it. A modern version of the Bible uses “offering peace and forgiveness” to describe reconciliation.   

Our modern age has discovered that we cannot do without this word or, more importantly, we have no future unless we "become friends again" (another modern Bible translation of reconciliation). In South Africa, Bosnia, Rwanda, and here in Australia, many people are working toward a just, equitable and reconciled nation. 

All Australians must ask themselves: “Am I working toward a just, equitable and reconciled Australia?” and if they answer this question in the affirmative, we must, face-to-face, engage in challenging conversation and unlearning and relearning what we think we know.  

Our school can contribute to these necessary conversations in the community of Albany. Holding these face-to-face conversations is the only way to lead to Noongars and settlers learning to value and respect one another.  This is a Christian vision and Christian journey. As settlers, we must, first of all, listen because reconciliation is always based on truth-telling. As individuals and families, we are invited to take steps towards understanding, valuing and respecting other Australians, especially local Noongars who share their Boodja with us. 

 

Week Four, Term Two: Compassion

"Love your enemies... Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And He sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong….. you must always act like your Father in heaven." Jesus

In recent Chapels, we have been thinking about the school values; Integrity, Respect, Compassion and Commitment. In this week’s Junior, Middle and Senior School Chapels we reflected on Compassion.  

Being kind and caring for others is a central theme of Jesus' teaching. Every culture and religion, in different ways, seeks to emphasise the centrality of compassion in human life. St Paul said that the evidence that God’s Spirit was at work in someone’s life was that they are, “loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled”.  

In Monday’s Senior School Chapel, Jesus’ message of kindness was brought to us by the Pastor of Albany’s Grace and Glory Ministries, Mr Steve Marshall. Pastor Marshall spoke of the incredible potential that lies within each of us, a potential to become the person God made us to be. He challenged students to find and develop that ‘seed’ of greatness within. He shared the difficulties of his own schooling experience. Because of his deafness, heart problems and being ‘big’, he experienced isolation, bullying and rejection. However, he trusted he could become the man God wanted him to be. He rose in business and came to mix with high ranking politicians and leaders. He thought these important people either had "their heads in the sand" or "their heads in the clouds" in their understanding of the challenges facing ordinary people.

Pastor Marshall asked students to believe in themselves as God believes in them. As an illustration, he spoke about the Christmas luncheon he organised for many years in Rockingham and now, for the past few years, in Albany. He faced many organisational and financial challenges, but through persistence and faith, these challenges were overcome. "The 2018 Free Community Christmas Day Luncheon was the largest we have held in over 40 years and it is now one of the biggest in regional Western Australia. In excess of 425 people gathered together to celebrate Christmas Day in a staggering display of true community spirit,” he said. As a result of his work, Mr Marshall was nominated as a finalist for Albany 2018 Citizen of the Year.  He urged students to face up to their challenges and use their lives to show God’s care for others. He challenged all students to rise to achieve their potential.  

In Middle School Chapel, we reflected on the fact that the only way to learn to be kind is by practising kindness and, every day, to make a habit of performing random acts of kindness. Examples of random acts of kindness that Middle Schoolers can exhibit are: share a smile; congratulate someone; thank someone; give a compliment (eg I love your new haircut); help cook or wash up tonight at home; stand back and let someone through a door before you; chat with Mum or Dad and ask how they are going; share something about yourself; let others into your life; do something for someone without expecting a return; and Facetime or ring a grandparent and tell them why you think they are wonderful. 

Pastor Marshall reminded students that they have three names: their family name, their given name and the name they make for themselves (their character or reputation). Part of that character for each human is compassion.

  • Plant a thought and reap a word; 
  • plant a word and reap an action; 
  • plant an action and reap a habit; 
  • plant a habit and reap a character; 
  • plant a character and reap a destiny.

 

Week Two, Term Two

"Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head — Christ, the One in Whom we are all incorporate." — Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church

Training for leadership is an important part of the school experience for students at Great Southern Grammar. The 2019 Year Twelve Prefects and Leaders are providing wonderful leadership for the whole school. In Junior School, Year Six students, and the House Leaders in particular, become important role models and guides for other students. In Middle School at Monday’s Chapel, Class Leaders for Years Seven and Eight received their badges from the Year Nine Middle School Leaders. 

For early adolescents (EAs) Years Seven to Nine are an emotional roller coaster. During this stage, it is essential that parents provide both loving support and firm boundaries. Parents — your children’s school is a partner in helping your child to grow. Do not expect the school to provide your child with loving support and firm boundaries without your cooperation at home. Parents require great wisdom and persistence to provide support for EAs because adolescent children will push the boundaries. Parents, you will need the school’s support to guide and support your child through the turmoil of the EA years. It takes a village to provide safe harbour and a secure launching pad for EAs. 

Teachers and parents can support EA student needs, but something else is essential — EA student help. 

EAs are beginning their ‘leaving home’ journey to become their own person. They are searching for a new ‘tribe’ and their own place in that tribe. All of us, however, take years to get to know the person to we are. Even as adults, we are still growing up. EAs are beginning that journey and will take many years to find true friends who will walk with them into their own vision of who they are. During these years, we must be patient and present with our children.  

Our first aim must be to help EAs survive the years of turmoil and stress. For survival, they must learn anti-bullying and self-esteem strategies, and much more. These strategies will enable students to survive, but they are not sufficient to enable them to flourish.

To flourish, damaging behaviours, bad choices and negative attitudes must be replaced by empathy, acceptance and peer support in classrooms, playgrounds and sporting grounds. 

Parents and teachers can and must provide this help, but the most important support for EAs to flourish comes from the culture they build themselves. That is why practise in leadership is vital for EAs. Those appointed to be leaders soon discover that their fellow students voted for them not because of their popularity but, rather, they were chosen because their peers see in them the peer-support and guidance they intuitively need and want for themselves. 

Like all of us, EAs want to be seen and accepted. Middle School leaders and class leaders are the key to building a classroom and school culture where each member is valued. Students choose peers to lead them who are able accept and value them. Now, both parents and teachers must support these young leaders to be the best leaders they can be. 

All student learning and achievement is based on a school and classroom culture of acceptance, belonging and wellbeing. Parents, teachers and students (particularly student leaders) must support one another to create a culture of acceptance, belonging and wellbeing. Like our journey through life to find our self, this will always be a work in progress. The attitudes and actions of each member of the community determines whether we are growing in love “into Him who is the Head — Christ — in Whom we are all incorporate.” As always, it is up to us. We make our choices and then our choices make us.  

Term Two Middle School Class Leaders

Seven A: Kaleb Germain; Angelina De Giambattista
Seven B: Patrick Quartermaine; Itsuki Tomita
Seven C: Rosie Nicoll; Pippa Wilson
Seven D: Samuel Jeffery; Madeleine Warren 
Eight A: Brianna Harris; Lachlan Steytler
Eight B: Harrison Apostoles; Jack Carson
Eight C: Annalise Wilson; Darcy Barrett
Eight D: Pierce Newman; Lauren Spinks 

 

Week One, Term Two

The earliest Christian missionary, Saint Paul, visited Athens, the home of Greek philosophy and culture. He noticed an altar to an "Unknown God”, so he decided to tell them about the one God who…… “made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, …..He isn’t far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. We are his children, just as some of your poets have said.” 

Last year, the Prefects prepared a Reconciliation statement of behalf of Great Southern Grammar students. At an emotional lunchtime ceremony last year, Claire Bradshaw (Head Girl) and Angus Milne (Head Boy) presented the statement to Noongar Elders. The above photograph shows the framed statement along with the Noongar Native Title Journey for the Wagyl Kiap region. This statement was given to the school by Elder Carol Petterson. Our school has a role to play in ensuring that the emerging generation of Australians are aware of our local “true history”.  

Here is the statement Angus and Claire presented to the Elders.

Saint Paul is a good example of the humility with which Christians should approach Noongar people and culture. He believed that the God who made the world and everything in it had always been working in amongst the Greeks so that they would look for him and reach out and find him. Indeed these “pagans” themselves recognised that in God they lived, moved and had their being. All peoples, all over the world are God’s children (according to St Paul). In similar humility, reconciliation requires Australians the receive the gifts that Indigenous people are offering to share with our nation – their relationship with the land.  

At last year’s Garma Festival, Richard Flannigan quoted Galarrwuy Yunupingu, “At Uluru we started a fire, a fire that we hope burns bright for Australia.”  Flanagan continued: 

"Yothu yindi. Garma. Makarrata. Yolgnu words that mean: coming together. Working together. Making peace together. This is our indispensable task as a nation and we cannot shirk it one more day. It is our time. Let us begin our country, as nobly as we are able, with kindness, with courage, with the love of brother and sister for brother and sister. Let us seize the fire."

Term One, Week Ten

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Nine

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

Paul’s letter to the Church in Galatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Term One, Week Four

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

Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life:

  • Pay attention
  • Be astonished
  • Tell about it

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

  • Forget about yourself
  • Love your neighbour
  • Follow me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prayer for Lent 

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

John Birch

Term One, Week Three

Belonging

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

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

Paul writing to the infant Roman Christian community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Amen

 

EMBARK ON A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY