Wednesday 19 July 2023

School’s out

This week our schools will break up for their summer vacation. For many students the stress of exams is over, for now, and for others they bid farewell to their familiar place and prepare for pastures new, “big school” or university. The long summer days (which seem to get much shorter as one gets older) stretch long before them. No doubt amongst the valedictory addresses and end of year sermons, the students — eager for their recess — will be reminded that we never stop learning, that our whole life is a school room. And so it is.

In the Gospels, the Lord exhorts us to become like little children. We know him, of course, to mean in the simplicity of our trust in God, in our faith, in the dependence we must have on him. But it must surely mean something else — emulating their sense of wonder. It is a classic scene when children are taken on a day out to a castle or a cathedral. Unlike their grown-up supervisors, their first reaction is to look up, wide-eyed and wide-mouthed in amazement at a building that dwarfs them. Being awestruck, giving in to wonderment, being amazed is one of the loveliest experiences of life. It makes our learning at school come alive and so often we leave it behind when we move on up the classes and out the other side.

St Benedict, in his Rule for Monks, describes the monastery as being a “school of the Lord’s service.” Here the monks learn to serve the Lord by prayer and works and learn to serve one another in charity. If we want to see the fruit of that particular school we need only look to many of our great cathedrals or the great abbeys of Europe to see that in their architecture, their libraries and their industry great things came out of that learning. And what about us?

“The monastery” in St Benedict’s rule could easily stand for the life of the Christian wherever we finds ourselves. Our life too should be a school of the Lord’s service and we must never give up on that learning that runs deep, that changes us, that acquaints us with the things of God and, most importantly, prepares us for eternity. But do we often give in to amazement? God works in our lives in ways that, as the scriptures tell us, are greater than we can ask or imagine, and they are there for us to discover. If only we could recover the glee and delight we once had as we lifted a log to find a beetle or followed a maze and got lost and followed it again, but in the real things of life, in our life with God.

Remembering St Philip’s words that, “the great thing is to become saints,” perhaps we could begin to characterise our life, as he did, as that great adventure, searching for and learning in the virtues so as to prepare us for heaven. Wouldn’t it be something if we allowed ourselves to be amazed by that search.

School might be out for summer for the kids, but for us it just begins again.

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