I am finding arising within me at the moment, a deep – almost a painful – longing for God to be enthroned in our lives at school and for it to be a place of peace. This is a little fragment of a deeper hunger for our national life to find a place of peace with God and to turn from our deeply individualistic culture and to a place of community. I am conscious all the time that I come from a Christian tradition – that of a charismatic evangelical – that is impoverished in terms of the spiritual disciplines, and which does not question many of the underlying assumptions of our culture. And yet all the time – like everyday – I find myself at odds, grating, with the prevailing culture and the assumptions it springs from.
And this longing gives rise to fear as well – of knowing myself and not being willing to change; of there being insufficient depth in my discipleship to sustain the life I long to live; and of losing the sense of comfort that we gain with age and experience in the West. I was reminded of this in reading Juniper’s reflections on Lady Poverty (the Celtic Daily Prayer meditation for the 29th of each month), and how much we hate being beholden to others.
So, what is it I long for? For God to be released amongst us in his glory and reality; for the Holy Spirit to guide us daily and intimately; for a routine of quiet and prayer that suffuses our school with strength and peace; for those who love working here to find the words and the actions to build, intentionally, the community of love and learning that we have held out before us.
Beyond that, I ache for those who are called by the name of Christ, who have chosen him, to act in his name and in his character, and that can only mean one thing – sacrifice. And here we get to the nub of what holds us back. It is right that we defend the terms and conditions of teachers from encroachment by a greedy government, always demanding more. It is right that we deal justly and fairly with teachers’ and TAs’ HR issues and respect all the rights accruing to them as employees in our school. It is part of our leadership of schools that we show ourselves submitted to the just laws that govern the working lives of all. And of course we need to respect whatever is meant by a “work-life” balance (a daft expression that regards work only as a means to paying for life).
Nobody who goes into teaching does it to work to rule. Nobody goes in to schools to work, expecting it to be easy. And if a Christian responds to the teaching of children as a calling, who is to say where that calling ends? There is no limit to our commitment, no end to the life we are called to pour out for others. And in that “no end” there is also no end to the resources of heaven that Jesus will equip us with.
Yesterday morning, passing Lodge Lake, I saw these lovely reed stems, displaying the most perfect reflection in the still water of sunrise. Could we live like this? Could we reflect Jesus as beautifully? Is this something worth striving for or is it all too much for us as Christian believers in the maelstrom that is our daily school life? And how could we “pull one another back” to that reflected love and reflected beauty?
I have been giving this a lot of thought because it deserves a lot of thought. This is the essence of the argument:
If we are Christians in a school, then, without any doubt, we are disciples in that school. And if disciples, then students of Jesus Christ, his apprentices, learning from him all the time and seeking to live our lives to reflect his character into that school.We will bear his name and live it publicly to the best we can, seeking his grace for everything, acknowledging that only he can work the inner transformation that will equip us to assist the outer transformation of the school we live in.
I think that this is a logical sequence. I cannot find any holes in it, nor any poor assumptions. We may decide that we will be half-hearted Christians; if so, we may as well say so to ourselves from the start and not tell anyone else that we are followers of Jesus Christ. What we don’t want to do, as far as we possibly can, is to portray ourselves as Christians and then undermine that discipleship – and Jesus’ glory – by our actions or words toward others.
And so there are some serious questions about where to begin. To help us, just as a way in – and this is far from complete – I will use Trevor Cooling’s What If Learning approach:
- What if we marked the day in a more monastic way, recalling each change of activity as an opportunity for prayer? There are few places as monastic as schools (except for the silence!) in their daily order and routine. Could we write simple liturgies that would help us all, e.g. as we finish maths, Lord, and move to another lesson, fasten our learning in our mind and give us peace as we begin our new learning. Or, for instance, at the beginning of break: Lord, set a guard over my mouth and help me encourage those I meet on the playground or the staffroom. There are many that we could use, simple, personal, practical – it’s what a prayer should be.
- What if we wrote down on a piece of paper, kept on our person, about what it was that God had said to us today, and at each change of lesson, get it out and remember it before the Father? When Blaise Pascal died in 1662, a piece of parchment was found sewn into his clothes from a time 8 years earlier when God had visited him in power, so the memory of the experience of Jesus was with him constantly.
- What if a memorised scripture opened doors for prayer each day?
- What if a psalm for each day appeared on the school noticeboard?
- What if we regarded each relationship as a place for discipleship?
- What if we adopted a simple rule of life, and asked God to keep this at the forefront of our mind so that each day we lived in consciousness of it?
- What if we called the school community to prayer at a particular time and place and saw who turned up and worked with them – parents, children, staff – and committed our lives again to him, for the service of those around us?
- What if we declared periods of silent learning, so those who wanted to sit quietly and learn could do so? Would we not, once having experienced this, thirst for it over and over again?
What we are talking about here is how a community actively lives its life under and in the affection of God. And in doing it as Christians, humbly, respectfully and invitationally, perhaps the route to blessing of others would become clear.
And then (part 2 beckons, at some time in the future) we need to think about how we approach the whole area of life lived sacrificially in a church school.