Southfields’ Sketches: Reflections from the Senior Chaplain
Mr. Edward Twohig, Head of Art, gave two exceptional talks in midweek Chapel concerning the beauty and artistry of the interior of our community’s splendid place of worship. Edward always draws my attention to something new I had yet to discover about what he calls our ‘Teenage Cathedral’! More than a few pupils hadn’t every really looked to the ceiling, where he commended to our apprehension the stars above the sanctuary and the choice of colour for the nave – a green representing ‘things terrestrial’; and, the colour above the sanctuary – a blue representing ‘things celestial’ and of course heavenly.
All of this was in time for the Advent Carols service in Chapel on Sunday evening and the plethora of candles placed seemingly everywhere and then lit in the context of the dimmest of electric lighting to emphasise the burning candles, as well as the hand candles taken care of by us all, during the service.
In my opening words from the Eagle Lectern, I shared the words of a favourite childhood song – ‘Jesus bids us Shine’. Our pupils love to sing, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, but a Sunday school song somewhat alike to their favourite which itself featured in the movie, ‘Sister Act’ starring Whoopi Goldberg, went: ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness, so we must shine – you in your small corner, and I, in mine.’ And so on Sunday night we certainly all shone bright.
On Friday, The Rev. Dr. Colin Heber-Percy and I hosted a ‘Prayer Colloquium’. The chair of the panel for the evening was Elinor Goodman, retired political correspondent for the BBC. Each of our four invited speakers had 10 minutes to ‘set out their stall’ concerning the evening’s question: ‘Prayer – is anybody listening, and does it really matter?’ Panellists then spoke aloud amongst each other and we then opened it up to audience questions and participation. With over 150 guests, at least 50 of whom were students, it was thrilling to see the interest of both the College and the outside community. Imam Monawar Hussein, the Muslim Tutor from Eton College and High Sherriff of Buckinghamshire, said that every time a Muslim, 5 times a day in fact, kneels upon his prayer mat, he is entering into the Paradise of Eden where he communicates with all creation. Madeleine Bunting, writer and broadcaster with the BBC took the Buddhist perspective and spoke of the power of meditation and mindfulness. For her, such meditation is about cultivating compassion. She said prayer should never mean seeing God as a kind of Amazon in the sky who gives us what we want on Black Friday. Instead, it is about turning down the ruminating radio in our brain that would rob of us any sense of peace and calm. Tony Stoller, editor of the Quaker magazine, ‘Friends’ Quarterly’, spoke of his Jewish roots and his choice to become a Quaker. Quakerism, founded in the 17th century, rejects the idea that you need a special somehow sacred place to pray or even a set text and words and responses to guide you. Instead, it is about sitting quietly with other people until ‘God kicks your chair and you are suddenly inspired to speak.’
It was a tremendous night, and the College President, The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam was very pleased to have been a part. He argued that ‘to be human is to pray’, and that over 85% British people do in fact pray regularly. Compellingly he said that prayer is ‘as natural as breathing.’
For me, it was a real pleasure to preach at Twyford School the following morning. Twyford is a very proud feeder to Marlborough College, and has illustrious alumni like Hubert Parry and Alexander Pope. It is always wonderful to act as College ambassador in such a capacity and to meet very excited youngsters who will be joining is in the Shell in September.
On Sunday morning to all of our current Shell, Head of History Mr. Christopher Moule gave a wonderful talk on Pilgrimages. Referring also to secular pilgrimages like those involving people circling the embalmed Chairman Mao in Beijing, he also mentioned that the Pilgrimage to Santiago Di Compostella, one I have done with my entire family, is growing in popularity. In 1986, 2000 participated in the Camino, while in 2017 that number was a whopping 300,000.
In the world of faith and the spirit, something very positive is clearly happening.
I do hope to see many of you at one of the four Christmas Carols services next weekend, which promises to offer Choir and music easily as magnificent as what we experienced at the Advent Carols service, written about by our Director of Music, Mr. Philip Dukes, on the College website.
Rollo the Beagle is just about finished writing all his Christmas Cards. Which reminds me!
Every blessing of the season to you,
The Rev. Tim Novis