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A few days early, but I’m off again to Pormpuraaw. It seems a little weird driving two days back from Charters Towers only to do my washing and get on a plane to fly back up FNQ. My head feels as though it is still spinning from my time at ASSG. Usually I need at least a week to process my trip to Souls. It will be a challenge to rush straight from that into another three weeks of nursing. Though I am looking forward to my time at Pormpuraaw. Just driving back into Brisbane city trafic the other day reminded me of how much I’m beginning to dislike the busyness of suburban – city life and how much I enjoy the slower pace of places like Charters Towers and Pormpuraaw. I like them because they give time to think and to be. Something which seems to be sadly lacking of opportunity in the ‘big smoke’.
Recently I sat through a viewing of The Divinci Code; an interesting drama and mystery, but not more. I’ve actually not been all that interested in viewing it, but did so out of interest and because the person I was viewing it with was interested in watching it with me. What I’m intrigued about is how readily some people are to accept Hollywood dramas regarding religious content and matters of faith yet quick to dismiss the reality of a personal experience of the Divine. That is, it seems to be that movies such as the Divinci Code take questionable material and some how sell it as fact and people will believe it; perhaps because they need to, perhaps it helps them to ignore the reality of a personal faith, perhaps it offers an easy way out for them to not do their own soul searching about what it is they believe in.
What is more interesting to me, is that people assume that because of the Church’s sometimes dubious and roller coaster past that when ever something comes along ‘putting down the Church’ people are quick to dismiss the reality of a lived faith with God. The trouble with this is that it assumes a shallow understanding of faith and belief in the Divine. It assumes that those who have a faith and belief in the Divine do so only because of the human existance of the Church, and not the lived experience of a personal encounter with God.
I would be the first to admit that if I relied on the frailty and sometimes unworthiness of the Church I would have no faith or belief at all. As some who know something about me know I like many people have more excuses to distrust and dismiss the Church than reasons to believe in the Church. Fortunately for me, my faith and belief in the Divine does not rely on the humanity of the Church alone, for all it’s frailties, faults and positivities. My faith is based on a living encounter with the Divine in my life.
I’m aware of brief moments in my life when I have truly encountered a moment (even if for a nano second of time) of being in the presence of the Divine. In small, miniscule ways; through looking into the eyes of a dying person, washing the feet of a woman with infected sores, seeing a baby born, watching a person make their first Communion or Confirmation, being a part of a football team who pray together (not to win but to give thanks to God and intercession for their loved ones), seeing a person survive tremendous abuse, I see that there is a God who is alive and who does carry us when we most need it. There are times too when it is much harder to express; but moments when, for a blink of the eye, I see and touch the presence of God. This is from where comes my faith and belief in the Divine, not some man made Church which seems to agree or disagree at the drop of a hat.
The Church is falable, despite how much we might try and make it not so. We are human, trying to interpret and express an encounter with the Divine. And we can do this only in so far as our human language and frailty can allow. Let us give thanks to God that our faith and belief in the Divine does not need to depend on the humanity of the Church, rather let us give thanks that our faith and belief is derived solely from a personal encounter with God.
One of the difficulties of helping people today to understand this (that faith is a lived real experience and not something we get from simply reading words on from an ancient manuscript) is that we cannot give them our ‘God experiences’. They need to discover this for themselves. The trouble too is that it requires that people be willing to be open and vulnerable to the presence of God in their lives. Often people can be to content to be wrapped up in their own sense of self and self-righteousness to bother to look at how God is speaking to them today. They dismiss that a personal experience of God can be real and lived and encountered, often doing so by finding the path of least resistance in attacking the humanity of the Church rather than encounterting the Divinity of God.
No, the Divinci Code cannot shatter my faith. My faith and belief in the Divine is not reliant on humanity but rather the Divinity of God and the reality of the Graces that God gives in my life. The moments of encounter with the Divine in the simple acts of being in the human world. The Church will fail us, as surely as we will fail the Church and God on more occassions than one. But it is important to know that God will never fail us and the Divine will continue to exist within the world for all of us. We simply need to open our hearts and minds, the be vulnerable, trusting, and open enough to take off our blinkers and see that God not only exists but God calls us into a relationship with the Divine.
Leave movies like the Divinci Code on the shelf of the video store. Or at least remember what they are, Hollywood selling it’s latest blockbuster. Take time to find your own ‘God experience’ allow God to become real and lived in your life. For it is here you will discover what is true faith and belief.
It seems to become increasingly harder each year; leaving All Souls that is. I’m constantly blessed with the way in which the students of ASSG welcome us and take time to befriend us. The way they take us into their community and share their lives with us is overwhelming. Being a smaller school it has been easier over the years to get to know students more closely than in larger schools. I guess that’s why leaving seems to be getting that little bit harder each year. It was particularly so this year as a number of the year 12 students will finish school this year and I’ll miss seeing them next year. We did have an opportunity to have a small service of blessing and annointing for some of those who we have come to know well and will leave this year.
Over the course of the last 10 days we have had opportunity to laugh, play and eat with the students, as well as challenge them and stretch their minds in the classroom. I was all too aware that some of the things we asked of students was hard for them. However, I appreciated the effort they put in stepping up to the challenges thrown to them. I was also particularly appreciative of the efforts of a group of students who braved the cold and wet to join us each morning at 6.30 am for a Eucharist service. I think these are exemplars of why I appreciate coming to ASSG; that is the student’s ability and willingness to try and to be a part of things. They are genuine down to earth people who will make an effort if and when asked. I’m already looking forward to 2008.
Following from the account of making Holding Crosses with the students in year 12 we found that making Anglican Rosary or Prayer Beads with the students in year year 11 was also a success. Again I was wanting to do something meaningful with the students which gave them something concrete to take away with them. Initially I was unsure how they would receive the idea of making a set of Rosary Beads. But again, to my surprise, the students were quite receptive. The students seemed to enjoy making their set of Prayer Beads. It was certainly a challenge to fit making 30+ Prayer Beads into a 50 minute session (twice). But fun nonetheless.
After making the Prayer Beads we had a session on the history and symbolism of prayer beads, as well as giving them some simple short prayers to use with their Prayer Beads. A few of the students came up to me later to tell me that they had tried using the simple prayers with their Beads. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that a number of students were wearing their Beads on their arms and wrists around school.
It is the first time I’ve tried doing a session on Prayer Beads in this context. In the past I’ve usually done them with groups that have requested to do the Prayer Bead workshop. Feedback from students, and some staff and parents were very positive and there were also requests from junior students to make sure they got to make them in year 11 too. I’m pleased that we had the opportunity to have some fun, make something practical students could keep, and give them a brief insight into one way of learning how to pray.
As I was planning for this year’s visit to ASSG I was wanting to do something special with the students in year 12; most of whom I had known since year 8. I wanted to do something not only interesting with them, but something that they could take away and would remind them of our visits over the years. Then I had a thought that it would be very appropriate to make Holding Crosses with them. Holding Crosses, first developed by Sr Angela, have a story behind them which seemed fitting for the occasion. Sr Angela developed her Holding Cross for a woman who had been under house arrest because of her anti-apartheid activities in South Africa. The Cross was sent with the message as you hold this know that we pray for you or words to that effect. This seemed an apt way to offer the students something meaningful which expressed a sentiment of similar thought; that it, as we said to them, this is a gift that we can give them that they could take away and when they hold it they might remember the times we spent together at ASSG.
We were overwhelmingly surprised at the positive response. Students spent a great deal of time preparing their Crosses; frequently coming up to us to show how they were progressing with their Crosses. Even students in junior years were wanting to make their own. We explained, however, that this was something we wanted to do with the year 12s and that we would do the same with them when they leave school. Some of the year 11s said they hoped they’d get a chance to make some next year.
Sometimes the simplest thing is the best.
For the past few years I have been visiting All Souls St Gabriels School in Charters Towers. It is one of the events in my calender that I truly look forward to. The school is made up of All Souls school for boys established by the Brotherhood of St Barnabas in 1920 and St Gabriels school for girls established in 1921 by the Society of the Sacred Advent. Originally a Diocesan school ASSG is now an independent school which retains its Anglican identity and traditions.
The Chapel has been, and is, the heart of the school community. Yesterday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel. The place was full, bringing community members, past and present students, Diocesan Bishops and Clergy, friends and supporters all together to mark 50 years of service to the school community. In his address Archbishop Aspinall recounted how the school has maintained it’s focus of to serve is to rule throughout it’s history. Indeed, he added, that the school it self was living testimony to its motto; having served in various capacaties, including as a makeshift hospital during the war.
One has to experience ‘Souls’ life to appreciate the reality of its place as both school and community. What particularly strikes me is the sense of welcome and inclusion one feels on entering this community of men and women. Their willingness to participate and have a go is their strength. We have been made most welcome by all here at the school. We have found both staff and students willing to befriend and share with us in meals, in play, in work, and especially in prayer.
Well as they say, all good things must come to an end. As always I was a little saddened to leave the school community I had been a part of over the last 10 days. It feels as though I was just beginning to develop relationships with the school community and then it was time to leave. As always I am grateful for the welcome I receive when I attend TSS. The hospitality, fellowship and willingness to be open to sharing part of their life with me is always moving. Being a part of the preparations for Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation is a particularly wonderful experience. As are the opportunities to just hang out with students during lunch and other social occasions. Occasionally, there are boys with whom I seem to develop some connection who want to share with me some of the rewards and challenges of their lives as members of the school community. I’m deeply honoured by their trust of, and openness with me.
I am already looking forward to other opportunities to share part of the activities in the school as well our annual visit next year. My thanks to the school community, students, parents, staff for their welcome and hospitality.
Last year I facilitated a series of prayer workshops at St John’s Anglican Church, Canberra. It was then I met Rev Greg Thompson. Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to attend his Ordination as a Bishop in the Church of God and his installation as the Bishop of the Northern Territory.
The Cathedral was packed. People had come from near and far to be with Greg during his Ordination. Clearly this was a man who had touched many lives. The service was very moving with a mix of traditional and cultural. Of particular note was the reading of the Epistle in one of the local languages and the rousing singing by members of a local college choir.