here is a certain melancholy and poignancy about the last chapels of the year; all the more so in our current distresses and uncertainties. It has been wonderful, thanks to the Headmaster, that we have somehow been able to continue with Chapel via Zoom. While not the same thing as Chapel with all of us present together, our virtual Chapel has provided a way to think and pray about our world and School. It has, perhaps, helped us to appreciate the strength of the principles that belong to the life of the School and to its educational programme. It has very much to do with the formation of character, about a learning that informs our living beyond ourselves and for one another especially in difficult times.
For the most part we have been able to complete the School year even with the absence of all of you from the campus. That itself is a testament to the “wisdom, zeal, and patience” of the teachers and to “the spirit of truth, honour, and duty” on the part of the students, as the School prayer puts it. You have not lost your year! The wonderful Arts Gala happened virtually as did the Sports ‘Banquet’, and the Grade Nine Celebration. We will have a virtual graduation and prize day. But no Encaenia service in the Chapel for the Graduating Class. Because of that, the lessons on Monday and Tuesday of this week were the ones which would have been read at that service by the Head Boy, Evan Logan, and the Head Girl, Ava Benedict. They are lessons which speak to endings and beginnings which is the nature of that classical event derived from the traditions of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Encaenia recalls us to the principles that define our spiritual and intellectual identity as a School and, in turn, shape your service in the wider world.
“If you love me”, Jesus says, “keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever”. They are words that are read on the Feast of Pentecost this Sunday. No doubt we wish for the end of the lockdown and of the dreaded Covid but we are also reminded of another sense of an end: end as purpose and fulfillment signaled in Christ’s Ascension. In the Christian understanding, this is about an end in God through the return of the Son to the Father. He has done all that belongs to the redemption of our humanity and returns to the Father having accomplished his mission. This is the exaltation of our humanity. That is one kind of comfort or strength for us. We rest in the end of his work for us but how are we held in that vision and truth? Through the Holy Spirit we abide in the love of God and God in us. As the lesson from 1 John 4 reminds us, God’s love is the ground and basis of our love and care for one another.
The other lesson from Luke’s Gospel is the story of Dives and Lazarus, Dives means rich man. There are in the Gospels two figures called Lazarus, the one the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany whom Jesus raises from the dead; the other, a figure in a parable. “A certain beggar named Lazarus lay at the gate of the rich man full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table”. The point is that he is completely ignored; only “the dogs came and licked his sores”. The parable is told to convict the privileged and the rich not because of their wealth simply but because of their indifference to the needs of others. It is really about a failure to attend to what belongs to our common humanity. In ignoring Lazarus, we ignore the truth and dignity of our own humanity. The deeper point is that in ignoring Lazarus we separate ourselves completely from truth, from God. We create a chasm and all because, as the lesson powerfully shows, we have not learned from “Moses and the Prophets”, from ancient wisdom, and so cannot learn even “though one rose from the dead”. In short, we are dead in ourselves because we are dead to one another.
Our indifference is a failure to attend. Simone Weil, the great philosopher of attention, reminds us of the significance of prayerful and careful attention to one another in our needs and our attention to the pursuit of truth. Our learning always has to be ethical; always to be reaching out in care and compassion. That has been, I think, one of the strong features of Chapel. There is no learning that is not about living ethically. Perhaps it takes a pandemic to help us relearn this basic and ancient truth. Marilynne Robinson, an American writer and theologian, recently wrote a thoughtful critique about American (and North American) culture. She notes the destructive reduction of our institutions to the profit principle at the expense of life and the betrayal not just of the American dream but of human compassion and human flourishing ethically considered.
Word and Spirit, understanding and love, go together. You cannot love what you do not know. “There are the known knowns”, as Donald Rumsfeld somewhat famously (or infamously) stated, the things that we know that we know; “there are the known unknowns”, the things that we know that we don’t know; and “there are the unknown unknowns”, the things that we don’t know that we don’t know. As the brilliant Slovenian philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižekobserves, this is a bit of amateur philosophizing, a piece of sophistry really, that overlooks the most important category, “the unknown knowns”, the things that you know but don’t know that you know. Learning more and more about abiding in love is learning more and more about what is known but not fully known. That is the whole process and point of an education worthy of the name.
The very last Chapel service recalls the great mystery of Pentecost. It is the mystery of the true unity and good of the human community which is found in God, not in the denial of the differences of language and culture, but in and through them. “We do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God”. I cannot think of this passage without thinking about how our School embraces such a wide range of cultures and languages in and through which we discover the things that belong to the common good of our humanity and to the possibilities of cooperation, compassion and care among the peoples of our world. That vision is about being grounded in the life and love of God, in the necessary interplay between Word and Spirit. The Holy Spirit is “another Comforter”, the one who keeps us in the truth of God and guides us into all truth. That is a real strength and comfort for all of us, a strength and comfort for all of our graduates as they leave the School as students in just a few weeks’ time but remain always as alumni of the School. We are at once sad and glad to see them go and wish them all the best in their future endeavours.
We abide together even when we are apart if we abide in the love of God. I wish you all a good and safe and restful summer ‘reading break’! Be of good courage, be careful but not fearful.
(Rev’d) David Curry,
Chaplain, English & ToK teacherChair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy