Our Rich Liturgical Heritage
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain
My memories of school are all good. I have every reason to be thankful to God for my schooling at North Sydney Technical High School. Though I did not become a follower of Jesus until the end of 1964, the year after I had completed High School, I had enjoyed the privilege of an encouraging youth group followed by Evening Prayer most Sundays.
I mention this, because without knowing it at the time, my mind was being formed, thankfully in a Godward direction by careful instruction in concert with my peers at youth group and worship. This heritage kept me from divorcing God from the education I was receiving at school. There was no specific prayer for schools in the BCP but there is in our recent 1978 and 1995 Australian Prayer Books. The AAPB (1978) runs:
`Almighty Father, who commanded us to love you with all our mind; look with your gracious favour, we pray, on our Universities, Colleges and Schools. Bless all who teach and all who learn; grant that they may seek and love the truth, grow in wisdom and knowledge, and in humility of heart ever look to you, the source of all wisdom and understanding. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen’.
Reminding us that loving God includes using our minds in our learning and in humility of heart is a timely corrective to entitlement, laziness and pride. With God firmly at the centre as the source of all wisdom and understanding we look up to him in gratitude for all that there is to learn from Creation. Relationships forged at school, TAFE and university, enable us to show the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. Such love keeps us from isolating our education from God who has made it possible, and from others whom we learn to serve, rather than our own egos and agendas.
One of the joys of Evening Prayer was being introduced to the Psalms which spoke about God and increasingly I realised about myself. This is reflected in the title of Tony Nichols 1996 Lenten Study: ‘Mirror of the Soul’, where he noted Richard Hooker’s wise question: ‘What is necessary for man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach?’ Let me suggest three ways the Psalms can help us, especially students and teachers, to navigate the challenges of these formative years.
The first is that elusive question of who am I? What defines me as a person? Is it my academic or sporting achievements? Is it dependant on my looks, beauty or brawn? Here is an issue that can be made more difficult by the proper pursuit of our best, or the unhealthy expectations conveyed in comments like ‘you are the most important person in the world’ or ‘the world is your oyster, you can be whatever you want to be’. Thankfully the Psalms point us in a much more realistic direction. We see this in Psalm 8, where though dwarfed by the splendour and majesty of God’s creation, the psalmist stands in awe at the value each one of us has in God’s purposes: crowned with glory and honour, cared for by Him as masters of His handiwork (as stewards not owners). Psalm 139 adds: the Lord is familiar with all my ways and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are not randoms, nor are we to value others as pawns to meet our needs, but as fellows to be served.
Flowing from this is our accountability to God for how we live. Our accountability, found in Psalms like 1, 15, 24, 95 assures us of the nobility of being made in God’s image. Just as we ought to value the teacher who loves us enough to hold us to the agreed deadlines for assignments, so too we cherish God our primary teacher. The person blessed by God therefore, is the one described in Psalm 1 whose delight is in the law of the Lord.
As our teacher, God has given us two books to explore. Psalm 19 speaks of the books of Creation and of Scripture. The wordless creation and the Bible’s words. The creational book bids us stand in awe of God and his created order. Scripture reveals him who orders creation with such consistency that we can do science and trust him. The Scriptures explain why there is disorder, not only in creation but in ourselves. Both are needed to make sense of life and are lovingly given to us by God to keep us from the idolatry, and uncertainty, of investing ourselves in the ultimate folly of accepting his gifts whilst ignoring him as Psalm 14 warns. Psalms 32, 34, 116 and 119 invite us to enjoy fellowship with our Creator God; pointing us to forgiveness through Jesus Christ.