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We welcome the Reverend Andrew Haviland, Chaplain at Bryanston, with his guest blog considering life’s important questions.
“Remember that thou are dust and to dust thou shalt return...”
What a charming thought! Who wants to be reminded of our mortality? These words were said at our Ash Wednesday service which marks the beginning of the period Christians call Lent – 40 days of preparation that ultimately culminate in the glorious festival of Easter. This reminder that our life on this earth will come to an end seems an incongruous thing to do, especially when so much of society is concerned with valuing the individual’s youthful exterior. Just seeing the adverts on TV or in the papers for skin or hair care seems to suggest that we value being young and hanging onto life for as long as we can. There surely is nothing wrong with that as long as we accept that no matter what we will all get older.
Of course these words said in the context of a school seem even more strange: what is the purpose of telling those who have their whole life ahead of them that life will come to an end? Surely we have an obligation to protect young people from their mortality until much later. We need, some may suggest, to wrap them up securely and let them learn and grow without the anxiety that considering one’s mortality brings.
Any school that thought that would be doing its pupils a significant disservice. Young people are surrounded by their mortality much more than we would like to think: grandparents die, at times parents die and occasionally a young person they know might die unexpectedly. At times like this, those who are bereaved and those around them grieve and need support, and being able to talk appropriately about death with all people is essential.
Whatever one’s faith or persuasion, being aware of our limited life on earth is an important thing to consider every now and then; it focuses the mind upon the important questions in life: what am I here for, what is the purpose of my existence and how might I be remembered when I am gone? And while it is important to understand one’s own significance as an individual, it is by considering these questions and realising one’s own role in something bigger and more important even than oneself that leads to true emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.
At Bryanston we encourage all pupils to consider their roles in life, not only to the school community, but also to the world at large; whether by encouraging them to find their talent that will allow them to make a difference to their world, or by giving them occasions, like the recent A2 Charity Day, to appreciate the difference they can make to the lives of others.
We all have a need for spiritual thought and sustenance and, whether we find it through religion or a personal, humanist spirituality, it is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. During the time of Lent perhaps we can all spend a little time thinking on these questions. While there are no easy answers, talking to each other can’t be a bad thing and, once we have started the thinking, whoever we are and whatever we believe, it might spur us into action.
Whatever you may do this Lent, may it be productive, thoughtful and lead you to a glorious celebration at Easter.