When I was asked recently what I had been reading theologically, I had to admit that most of the books I read over the summer had been novels. Some were recommended by friends, others I had picked up because they looked interesting and not too heavy for a summer’s evening. I don’t think that was the expected answer, but I suspect I have learnt at least as much from reading good fiction as I have gained understanding by reading more academic works.
Although I am by no means an expert, for me a good book tells me something about myself, and the world in which I live. In one way or other I can identify with the characters, or recognise some of the scenarios which are brought to life. One particular book that has stayed with me is ‘The Cut Out Girl’ by Bart van Es.
A short reflection for the second week of Marlborough College Summer School
The reading set for today is the well-known parable of the sower (Matthew 13.1-9). We hear how the sower’s seeds fall on different type of ground: a path, some rocky soil, amongst thorns, and some of them fall on good soil. It is a story familiar to many of us, I suspect, and there is a lot that can be said. In this short reflection, I’d like to apply the image of the sower and the seeds to our approach to teaching and learning.
As with many Gospel stories, we are presented both with a challenge and a reassurance. The reassurance this time is on the side of the sower: you can’t always guarantee that your seeds will flourish, as the soil needs to be receptive. It can be an encouragement for all those involved in some sort of teaching: we can sow the seeds, but their success will still depend on the soil in which they fall.
A short reflection in week 1 of Marlborough College Summer School
“you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” – Matthew 11.25
The daily Gospel reading for today doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for the first week of Summer School. Surely we are here taking or teaching courses to learn, to become wiser and more intelligent? And here Jesus says that the important things in life are actually hidden from the wise and intelligent and shown to infants.
However, when we think about it, we realise that they are actually words of wisdom, conveying a truth we intuitively already know. Because I think, or I hope, that most of us here at Summer School are not here to achieve something, but rather to enjoy the process. There is no certificate, no diploma at the end for most of us, but what remains will be hopefully the memories and the discovery of skills and talents we didn’t know we had.
Here we are, on the last day of term. I’m sure most of us are looking forward to the holiday, to a break: a change of scenery and a change of rhythm. Some of us will travel far, others will stay closer to home. However, all of us, at least hopefully, will make it out of Marlborough. And, I also suspect that for most of us, the rhythm of the days and weeks will change for these two months: no check-in, Studies or prep. No assemblies, Chapel or fixtures.
And of course, although you may take some friends with you, it is also a break from those you see every day, whether that’s people you like or those whom you find slightly more challenging. The summer gives us an opportunity for a change of scenery, a change of rhythm, and a change of company.
Although not for all of us, for most people, July and August are the months in which our pattern changes, and our normal routines are suspended. Not only schools take a break, but also many reading and study groups don’t meet over the summer months and the number of administrative meetings is reduced. It is a time and opportunity to unwind, to pause and to reflect. Even if our lives are no longer dominated by school or work, it is important to change the way we use our time occasionally, although I’m not denying the significance of a regular pattern of living!
Firstly, refraining from our routine activities gives us the opportunity to make time for other things, such as visiting family or friends, or pursuing something we have always wanted to do. Also, it gives us a chance to reflect on our priorities: when the way we use our time is no longer given by our routine, we have to make choices how we want to spend the days or weeks.
The Feast of Pentecost has always had a particular significance for me, as it was the day on which I was baptised and confirmed at the age of seventeen. Apart from the embarrassment of spilling the wine when it came to the Lord’s Supper, what I most vividly remember is the feeling of both joy and apprehension at making this public commitment to the Christian faith.
Joy and apprehension, I suspect, is what the disciples may also have felt on that first Pentecost – literally the fiftieth day – when they became filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different languages. Both the disciples themselves and those living in Jerusalem were caught by surprise, because although Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit would come, at the time his followers did not know what this meant or what it would look like. It is also a moment of commitment, both demonstrating God’s loyalty to His people as well as the charge given to his followers to proclaim His message to all people, in all languages.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. (…) The Israelites wept for Moses for thirty days; then the period of mourning was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses has laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Deuteronomy 34.4-5,8-9).
Our friendships are not limited to the people we meet. We can meet friends in books, films and poems: fiction or non-fiction, and occasionally feel a connection with them just as we would feel with those we meet in person. In this reflection, I will look at the way in which those who are no longer with us can continue to influence our lives in a similar way that our friends can. This ‘type’ of friendship is not about getting stuck in the past, but acknowledging that our present and future are shaped by it. Whether we have known a person well or not, their stories and memories can teach and influence us, inspire and guide us not unlike our present friendships can.