Day is Done is the name of one of the most interesting of Brad Mehldau’s piano trio albums, another one of those where he extends the definition of jazz standards to songs by Lennon-McCartney, Nick Drake, Thom Yorke and Paul Simon. The title track can be heard here.
It is also generally a description of how I feel at the end of the last day of a long and challenging summer term. It has not ended in all the ways that I hoped for them in September, by any means, but in saying goodbye to the current crop of Y6 children, we have all realised how deeply the impact of our school life has marked these children, many of whom have been with us for less than 3 years. They were fantastic this morning in their collective worship. They showed an ability to relate the values they had been taught to the learning they had experienced and the change that they themselves had seen in their character. We also inaugurated the Potter Prize, named for Jean Potter, our founding chair of governors, to the Y6 child each year who showed most clearly in her character what the school represented. The fact that it came as a total surprise to the girl chosen was moving and meaningful in itself. It has been a day of godly confusion for children – unsure whether to look back or forward and being caught in the no-mans’s land of a true rite of passage. It was interesting watching them being sung to by the rest of the school, and having the grace spoken over them at the end of our service. Some cried, some did not know how to react and some were just blessed. Lots of them needed hugs and reassurance that everything will turn out well for them. There will be more confusion (a good thing, and to be treasured as a proper experience) over the summer weeks before they can set their minds to the future.
We have also said goodbye to Cheryl Dryland, who will not thank me for writing about her here. Unfortunately, Cheryl has made such a huge impact on our school as a teacher of skill and craftsmanship both in Year 6 and Year 4 that she has to get a mention! We would not be the school we are without her, nor had the success we have had, and so I am grateful for all she has done and wish her God’s grace as she moves to Leicestershire.
Nick Drake’s lyrics for Day is Done show the early impact of the tragic depression that led to his early death. I cannot say “Down to earth then sinks the sun/Along with everything that was lost and won”, because our experience and expectation are different. Reminding the adults and children this morning how difficult it is to learn to be loved, I nonetheless commended to them the need to affirm to each other that they are loved. God is love, and in him is no darkness at all, says the apostle John, and this is the core of how we see our great God. Not as someone to be scared of, but a king to be known, and known in love and affection, and forever, and with purpose.
But along with the glory and fulfillment of saying goodbye to such wonderful children and staff, today has had difficulties of its own, difficulties with consequences that were far from easy and which I cannot elaborate here. Suffice it to say that this the emotional experience of doing this job, whether as leader or teacher, wobbles constantly on the edge of heartbreak for individuals, and in this respect, we embody the extremes of a “Y6 leaving day” in our lives quite often. It is not uncommon for teachers to know glory and dishonour in a single day, and part of our vocation is that God trusts us with both extremes.
Two weeks ago in church we looked at the last part of a 8 week series from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, Fruitfulness on the Frontline. I have really enjoyed the series as we have gone through it and have made several changes to my practice as a leader as a result. However, the last “episode”, where we were challenged to think about what was next for us on our journey, had a couple of stories that changed perspective – or at least reminded me again of the need for a changed perspective. If God sends me problems to solve, and difficulties to overcome, and joys to treasure, then that bespeaks a certain level of trust that God has in me to accomplish these things. And if that is the case, then the correct response is gratitude, that God would allow me the grace to cope with the issues and people I face. Once I see this, then somehow I have transformed my perspective and can be of more use to him, open to the rise of faith and love that may be required. This doesn’t mean I will get everything right, but it means that the scale of the challenges and work that I see before me is a reflection of God’s desire that I should flourish in them and bring glory to him through them.
In this respect, to say that day is done becomes a reason for gratitude that God’s protection and “sealing up” of my work is part of what it means to be his worker in his ongoing kingdom.
The picture at the top of this post is a sneak preview of a wonderful illustration by Year 2 children at Christ the Sower for the book Fly, Eagle, Fly. We have not “expounded” this picture in school yet, though it merits it. What strikes me initially is the multi-coloured, diversely-feathered eagle launching into a multi-coloured sky inhabited by the goodness of God’s expectations for us. Fear lasts but a moment for the incipient, soon-to-be-turfed-out-of-the-eyrie eaglet, and is followed gloriously and immediately by the freedom and power that comes from trusting our lives to God’s care. This has to be the right way of thinking about the future for us as Christians, when day is done.