Somehow the morning miracle of Chapel continues albeit under the constraints of these ‘covidious’ times. Many thanks to the Chapel Prefects under the leadership of Sarah Hilborn for helping to get readers and servers organized and ready to go all in the flurry of ten minutes before we actually begin. The challenges are particularly great for the Junior School in having at present only one service a week and for the Grade Tens caught in the transition from Junior School to Senior School and needing to be with more than just their own peer cohort. The whole experience reveals the importance of what was one of the special features of the School, namely, the degree of interaction and connection between students not only of different cultures and languages but of different ages.
The challenges are about the teaching of a programme that focuses, through the lenses of Scripture and in the context of worship, on matters intellectual, spiritual and, especially, ethical. Chapel provides a counter to the mere moralizing of contemporary culture by grounding us in the traditions of spiritual reflection about the human condition. Such is the significance of thinking about the concept of creation and about sin and evil. I have taken the time to ponder the kinds of questions that the proverbial story of the Fall raises since it speaks so profoundly to the questions about what it means to be a self; in short, to be self-aware. That has meant reading Genesis 3 in all four of the Chapel services for the 11s, 12s, 10s and Juniors though with different points of emphasis.
For instance, why do we wear clothes? “Their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked.” We become self-aware, self-conscious. We are made conscious of ourselves as selves through the awakening to sexual difference. These are remarkable images that speak to our current anxieties about the self and bring out the realization that we can only know ourselves as selves through our relation to one another within the created order and with God. We learn this negatively but God’s questions bring us to account. That is the great positive. It is found in the very idea that we are brought to account. It means that we are responsible for our thoughts and actions. This speaks to the idea of human agency and responsibility. It counters completely the idea of being a victim and blaming others.
The story of the Fall considers the origins of sin and evil. It faces the realities of suffering and death through the sense of separation from creation as a Paradise and from God as the author of its goodness including the goodness of our humanity as part of the created order. We are awakened to ourselves through contradiction, through the negation of what in some sense we know as truth. The theme continues in powerful ways with the story of Cain and Abel, the story of the first murder. The point is simple and clear. In the fall-out from God and the immediacy of the goodness of the garden, we not only discover suffering and death; we confront enmity and hatred in ourselves towards one another. Yet once again, the questions of God call us to account.
God’s questions to Cain echo the questions of God to Adam and Eve. “Where are you?” and then “where is Abel your brother?” The last question of God to Adam and Eve is God’s question to Cain about the murder of his brother Abel. “What have you done?” In a lovely and compelling image, God says that “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” The image recalls us to God and to the ground of creation. Our actions towards one another necessarily belong to our relation to God. This is, in its negative form, the basis of what will become the Judeo-Christian ethic of the inseparable love of God and the love of neighbour.
How do we look at one another? In anger? In envy? With hatred? If so, what does that mean? What does this say about ourselves? We confront the contradiction in ourselves in assuming that we have the power of life and death over one another. But the voice of your brother’s blood counters that lie. We are recalled to the common ground of our humanity as formed from the dust of the ground and as made in the image of God, even as the dust into which God breathed his spirit. That is the truth which we contradict in assuming to take the life of another. We are not the authors of our own life let alone that of others. Murder is one of the great self-contradictions, the great denial of the brotherhood which we share with one another, a betrayal of our common creatureliness.
The power of the story lies in the way we are awakened to ourselves. God speaks to human conscience. His question brings us to an awareness of sin and evil in ourselves as the denial of what is good and true. The point lies in our being called to account. The conviction of our conscience belongs to our awareness of truth and goodness. Such stories belong to a way of thinking ethically and intellectually about ourselves, our thoughts and our actions and in relation to one another. They counter the destructive ideas which pit one against another in endless divisions and animosities, the world of “the war of every man against every man,” as Thomas Hobbes famously says so many, many centuries later. Yet the other is not the enemy. We are the enemies to ourselves in hatred and enmity. We betray our own humanity. God’s questions recall us to the truth of ourselves.
Such is education. We are called out of ourselves to respect and to honour one another in the dignity of our humanity. It is the very opposite of murder, the very opposite of seeing one another as enemies. It belongs to the miracle of Chapel that we are called to account.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy