The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14
This verse comes to us through Moses at a watershed moment. The Hebrew people have escaped Egypt. They now stand between the Red Sea and the anxious noise of Pharaoh’s army that is ominously breathing down their necks. Moses says to them; the Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. Let’s practise that now and have a period of silence for two minutes that begins and ends with this chime….
It’s amazing that when we still our minds and encounter silence, how much more attentive we are to noise. When we think about it, there are two types of noise we hear. The noise which we make ourselves because we can’t stand the silence and the external noise which surrounds us everywhere in the world. First let’s explore the latter, the external noise of headphones and earbuds, Bluetooth mobile phone pieces to the noise pollution of heavy machinery, aeroplanes, and traffic. A Harvard postgraduate student, Tim Gallati who has researched silence in terms of monastic spirituality and technology says this about noise;
We tend to background a lot of the sound and high volume activity that occurs around us. We might mistake that for coping or getting used to it. But you never really get used to it. Your body still has to process it. You don’t just hear with your ears. You hear with your whole body. We know this from walking by, say, a church organ and you feel that deep resonance in your bones, or a pounding jackhammer on a construction site. We really feel it. We’re almost like flesh and bone tuning forks.
The 2015 film “In Pursuit of Silence” explores the relationship between silence and noise and takes seriously evidence from the World Health Organisation that environmental noise has real negative health effects like cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, and annoyance. Let’s watch this part of the promo for the film; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64c_1MtQUlM (from 2min mark)
The other type of noise that we hear is the noise we make ourselves because we can’t stand silence. Listen to what Erling Kagge says about this in his book “Silence; in the age of noise”;
In a joint study from the universities of Virginia and Harvard, scientists left individuals alone in a room for six to fifteen minutes without music, reading material, the chance to write or their smartphones. They were left solely to their own thoughts. The participants ranged from 18-77 years old and were drawn from a variety of backgrounds, yet the results were the same regardless. Most felt discomfort.
A third of the participants who took the test at home admitted that they weren’t even able to complete the assignment without breaking its rules, cutting short the minutes of sitting quietly. One group was permitted to read or listen to music but was denied contact with other people. These participants reported higher satisfaction. Many of them also thought it was helpful to look out a window.
The scientists then took the study one step further…Each participant had been subjected in advance to a similar electric shock so they would know exactly how painful the option was. And it was painful. Nevertheless, nearly half of the subjects eventually pushed on the button to administer an electrical shock in order to reduce their silent time.
What was so striking, according to the researchers, was that being alone with one’s thoughts for 15 minutes ‘was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid’. One of the participants pushed the electric shock button 190 times. (Kagge: )
There are lots of layers of noise, distractions, anxieties for God to get through for us to hear him speak to us. Apart from the noise pollution of our urbanised world, there is also the noise that we create for ourselves because we struggle to be quiet. But as you reflect on this topic of silence and noise; the good news God says to you today just as he said to the anxious Hebrews fleeing the Egyptians; The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7
For many people, silence can be an unnerving thing. Something we crave but something we can equally be fearful of. From the senseless chatter of social gatherings to students who can’t help but talk in classes many humans hide their nervousness and awkwardness by making noise. We’d rather talk about the weather, tell a joke, say anything than be comfortable sitting and being in silence.
Listen to this passage from a book by a Norwegian explorer and publisher called “Silence; in an age of noise”. The author Erling Kagge writes of the struggle in our culture of being comfortable with silence; Contrary to what I believed when I was younger, the basic state of our brain is one of chaos. The reason that it took me so long to understand this is that my days often pass on autopilot. I sleep, wake up, check my phone, shower, eat and head off to work. Here I respond to messages, attend meetings, read and converse. My own and others’ expectations of how my day is supposed to unfold guide my hours until the hour when I lie down again to sleep.
Whenever I fall out of this rut and sit quietly in a room alone, without any goal, without anything to look at, the chaos surfaces. It is difficult only to sit there. Multiple temptations surface. My brain, which functions so well on autopilot, is no longer helpful. It’s not easy being idle when nothing else is going on, it is quiet, and you are alone. I often choose to do anything else rather than to fill the silence with myself. I have gradually come to realise that the source of many of my problems lies precisely in this struggle…
The philosopher and boredom theorist Blaise Pascal promoted this type of exploration as early as the 1600s; ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ So a discomfort with being alone, holding one’s tongue and simply being did not start with the advent of TV in the 1950s, with the coming of the internet in the 90s or with smartphones; it has always been a problem, and Pascal was probably the first to write about this feeling. The constant impulse to turn to something else – TV series, gadgets, games – grows out of a need with which we are born, rather than being a cause. This disquiet that we feel has been with us since the beginning; it is our natural state.
The present hurts wrote Pascal. And our response is to look ceaselessly for fresh purposes that draw our attention outwards, away from ourselves. Of course, such opportunities for interruption have increased dramatically over the last century, a trend that seems set to continue. We live in the age of noise; silence is almost extinct. (Kagge: 36-37)
Why are we afraid of silence, and for some of us unable at times to be silent? Silence, solitude, being alone by ourselves is where the deep stuff happens. Silence is where we are forced to be comfortable in our own skin. It is the space we enter in which we learn about ourselves. Silence is the space where God can be heard and where God hears us.
Jesus took time away from the crowds, the pressing needs of humanity, to be alone, to spend time in silence, to hear God and hear God speak to him. One of the many passages in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus being comfortable with silence is in chapter one verse thirty-five; In the morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
All through Mark’s gospel Jesus made space for solitude and silence. So let’s spend some time like Jesus did in prayer, being comfortable in silence, before we begin the busyness of our day…
Who wouldn't want to read a book written by an Scandi man who looks like this? 'Silence in an Age of Noise' is written by Erling Kagge; a Norwegian explorer, lawyer, politician, entrepreneur, publisher and author. Kagge is famous for being the first person to complete the "three poles challenge" of reaching the North and South poles and the summit of Mt Everest.
After hearing a radio interview with Kagge and reading his book I was inspired to write a series of short devotional reflections on the importance of silence for staff briefings at my college. Even though Kagge does not write from a Christian point of view, this work still has value in informing us of the necessity and challenge of finding silence in our busy, urbanised, technological world. Silence that is indeed a spiritual practice for Christians and the stillness the Holy Spirit uses to enable us to hear God. The devotions I will be posting in coming months are entitled:
Silence and Us
Silence and Noise
Silence and Technology
Silence and God
3.4 Inspiring Excellence
The fourth descriptor in the Growing Deep Framework for leading the team is inspiring excellence. This descriptor involves holding high standards and inspiring and encouraging excellence. This includes agreeing to clear performance goals, providing autonomy to deliver outcomes, acknowledging positive achievements and taking decisive, yet pastoral action. Ensures that under performance is addressed and excellence is upheld in the best interests of students and the community.
Educationally, we want to inspire excellence in all we do. In our teaching, in our practice, in students learning, we want to inspire excellence. Sir John Jones talks of the need for schools to develop learning environments that encourage the relentless pursuit of excellence. Excellence does not mean perfection though. Seeking, pursuing, inspiring excellence comes down to these three things for John Jones; passion, warmth and righteous indignation. By passion he means, what got you into teaching in the first place? By warmth, he means the emotional connection with the student that is needed for learning to be effective. By righteous indignation, he means that outraged sense of justice over something that needs to be changed. Where these three qualities intersect Jones says you have that relentless pursuit of excellence. To inspire that in students and colleagues is to breathe life and a passion to learn into them. That’s literally what the Latin word inspiro means “to breathe into”.
Theologically, excellence is more about becoming than being. From a Christian standpoint, we might naturally view excellence as related to human effort and achievement. Theologically, it could be seen to run counter to the issues of sin, our weakness and our total dependence on God’s grace. But as Christians, excellence does not have to be about competition, selfish ambition, or personal achievement. Excellence in life and learning is about doing the best with what God has given us. This thinking presents God as the primary referent of excellence. Developing excellence then is often grounded in a life of attentiveness. Attentiveness to what God is giving us, and how we can best use those gifts for the service of others. Striving for excellence for the Christian is deeply communal, shaped by love, and focused on strengthening others. It is also a product of faithfulness and love. As Paul writes in first Corinthians twelve, verses thirty-one where he segways into his famous chapter on love; I will show you a still more excellent way... Excellence is more a direction to travel than a destination achieved.
Show us Gracious God, how to inspire excellence in the students we serve. Give us passion, warmth and righteous indignation. Breathe into us your life giving Spirit. Rekindle in us the passion for teaching and learning which brought us to this vocation. Make us attentive to what you are doing in our lives and in the lives of our students. Help us to be faithful and loving in the calling you have given us. Amen.
 Sir John Jones a noted British educator was a keynote speaker at the 2017 ACLE in Adelaide.
 K.R. Armstrong, Resurrecting Excellence; Should Christian ministry strive for excellence? https://www.faithandleadership.com/programs/spe/articles/200505/20050427f.html
As a chaplain, the most common question I get asked when I enter a classroom is; "If God made the the universe, who made God?" I've been asked this question by Pre-Prep students in our ELS all the way through to Year 12s. As my principal would say the faces that ask this question always have that "crunchy eyebrow" look, i.e. it comes from a thinking mind. The question, which is certainly to be commended, also highlights to me the genuine desire of a young mind trying to connect what they know of God, faith and the Bible with the logical scientific world they are immersed in.
In our technology driven scientific society, science is sometimes portrayed as being in conflict with Christian and religious thought. New Atheists like Richard Dawkins play on this apparent divide. That's why the book "God and Science; In the Classroom and Pulpit" is a good read. In it, Australian authors Graham Buxton, Chris Mulherin and Mark Worthing encourage teachers and pastors to engage in genuine conversation and dialogue between science and faith especially for Christian schools and churches. Chapters include:
Why Science matters to the Christian.
The marriage of heaven and hell? Faith and the Natural Sciences and Rumours of Divorce
Science and the Pulpit; Proclaiming the ancient faith in a an age of science and technology
Introductory thoughts on science and the history of science
Integrating science and faith for pastors and teachers today
God science and the classroom
Science and theology; a brief history
Assumptions of science and the Christian tradition
Science; the language of God?
"God and Science; In the Classroom and Pulpit" is published by Wipf and Stock and Mosaic Press. I would recommend the revised edition. It is available at; www.amazon.com/God-Science-Classroom-Pulpit-Revised/dp/1532659520.
3.3 Growing Capacity
The third descriptor for leading the team is growing capacity. This involves growing the knowledge, skill and leadership capacity of others. It includes providing space for thoughtful reﬂection and support, as well as presenting effective learning opportunities that stretch the capacity of others. At its deepest, it involves creating an environment where team members are encouraged to take responsibility for their own self-care and self-development. It includes fostering both their wellbeing and enthusiasm as they serve students in Lutheran education.
Growing capacity is at the heart of a Christian educator. We want to grow professionally in our capacity as teachers and staff, but we also want to grow holistically as people of God who care for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. For a Christian, our whole lives are about growing in Christ. Growing our capacities through prayer, through reflecting on the Bible, through a lived awareness of the presence of Jesus who effects our relationships with family, students, as well as our teaching and staff colleagues.
We want to grow in our knowledge and skills, in our enthusiasm for teaching and learning. We want to grow in our care and concern of others as well as each person’s wellbeing as we serve students and their families. We all know from our students that one of the best ways of growing in our learning is through making mistakes. Being comfortable with that, taking the risk of stuffing up and learning from it, that’s quite a process for anyone to learn. Whether it is from a failed interview for a job promotion to blundering through a public presentation, to students not fully completing an assessment task, these are all struggles that can be viewed catastrophically or as an opportunity to grow. Having the capacity for this perspective comes from a growth mindset.
Martin Luther had a similar mindset when it came to theology. Luther said a person learns theology not through the wisdom of philosophers or through reading multitudes of books on God. Rather a person learns theology through lived experience in the school of hard knocks, through mistakes and failures and through journeying specifically through the pain and suffering of life. Luther famously said while commenting on Psalm 119 that a person learns theology through engaging in prayer, meditation and testing.
Luther shows us two things here. One, theology is no ivory tower experience for academics but is for real people involved in the daily grind of life who learn from their mistakes. Two, Luther’s thinking is quite modern as it reflects some of the principles behind a growth mindset. When people come to life with a fixed mindset learning is a chore, growing from your mistakes is avoided. Rather proving yourself and hungering for approval becomes pivotal.
In a growth mindset people have a passion for learning; they are not discouraged by failure but see their responses to failure as a key to learning and developing character. Luther realised that this is also the case in our spiritual formation. God makes himself known to us and grows us as people of character and depth as we learn to deal with disappointment, failure, even suffering, pain and death. All the things our society encourages us to avoid are used by God to grow us as his people. If you are being tested, what will be your mindset? Will you persevere and let God grow your capacity through it?
Luther reminds us that we do theology as we communicate with God in prayer. We do theology as we become still and reflect on who God is from encountering his Word. And we especially do theology when we are stretched and encounter the challenges and disappointments of life. When we experience testing and trials, Christ the crucified who suffered on the cross dwells amongst us, as we are directed to the wisdom of his weakness.
Luther’s concern here is that people can grow in their awareness of God and how he is present for us in Jesus throughout all the joys and sorrows of life. This is “doing theology”. No ivory tower academic experience but practically wrestling with questions in real life situations like where is God in my suffering? How am I growing and learning as I experience this life situation?
Gracious God, you know our limits and our capacities. You know the hard lessons we need to learn and how far we can be stretched before we succumb to the pressure. Grow us in our capacity to teach the children entrusted to us but also grow us in awareness of our own wellbeing. Help us to support and inspire one another as we grow in the grace and knowledge of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Luther uses the latin term ‘tentatio’, which can also means trial or temptation.
As indicated on previous posts, making a temporary labyrinth is easy. Whether on a carpet, wood, or lino floor, a temporary tape labyrinth is easy to install with the right tool. I regularly make these labyrinths at camps, in our early learning centre and in classrooms. In this video I am using a packing tape dispenser I have modified on a long handle to make a simple six circuit spiral labyrinth in a kindergarten setting. With this tool I can make it in a couple of minutes and not break my back. Even the youngest of kids can walk it and the best part after they have each had a go at practicing stillness is that I invite them to help me rip up the tape off the floor, which they love.
3.2 Nurturing Faith
The second descriptor for leading the team is nurturing faith. This descriptor involves providing opportunities for the spiritual formation of others appropriate to their spiritual journey. It includes demonstrating a commitment to one’s personal faith journey, leading the school community in faith, reaching out to the wider community to build faith and deepen their understanding of Lutheran beliefs and values. It also includes creating an environment where Christian spiritual reﬂection and formation are valued and strongly encouraged.
The Apostle Peter is his letter to the early Christians in Asia Minor who were experiencing persecution penned the following words which also impact how we nurture faith in our school communities; Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
How do we encourage the nurturing of faith or spiritual growth in our early learning centres, schools and colleges? You might think I am not a pastor, a chaplain, a Christian studies teacher, I am not a regular churchgoer, I not a person of great faith, that’s not really my thing. But we are all part of the Christian community present in our school, so we all have a part to play in being formed in faith and influencing others to grow spiritually. Whether we are strong in our Christian identity or not we all impact and influence other people, either positively or negatively. The spiritual values and beliefs we model have an impact on others.
Reflecting on your own spiritual journey, how comfortable are you in talking about your faith, your spirituality to others? Many people find it hard to talk about their faith for a variety of reasons. They don’t have the language, the background or the confidence. The advantage of teaching in a Lutheran School is that we are all on a spiritual journey through life, growing in our knowledge of the Bible, God, and the teachings of the Church together. We are not doing this alone, we are part of a community which welcomes the growth and grace that comes from questioning together; where are we and where is God in this?
Check out this list of seven “ush” words below. Seven reasons why people find it hard to talk about their faith.
1) Blush (it’s too personal or private)
2) Hush (I wouldn’t really know what to say)
3) Rush (I would struggle to find the time)
4) Push (I don’t have a right to force my faith on anybody else)
5) Gush (I wouldn’t feel able to speak intelligently about my faith)
6) Mush (my own faith feels confused or unclear)
7) Crush (I’m worried or scared how people might respond)
Gracious God, help me to take time out to reflect on my own faith journey. Encourage me to engage in those spiritual practices like prayer and worship which will grow me closer to you. Give me the grace to live out my faith in my school community and when the opportunity arises to share my faith. Teach me, Lord, that you are with me in a very real way in all the ordinariness of life, of work and of family. Bless me with your presence, Jesus, as you bless others through me. Amen.
 Modern day Turkey
 1 Peter 3:15
 From the resource “Faith Pictures” which is produced by the Church Army UK, Getting started, Session 1, Leader’s Notes, http://www.faithpictures.org
Jesus said this about the eyes in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:22-23; Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (The Message). Or as it might be remembered from a more traditional translation; The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (NRSV)
A person’s eyes are said to be a window into their soul. That’s why that exercise of standing in front of a person and staring directly into their eyes for an extended period can be very disconcerting but also deeply personal and highly bonding. Writers on spirituality talk of soft eyes as compared to hard eyes. Soft eyes help us look at the world in a different way to the usual; they help us see things in a more soulful way. Seeing with soft eyes is a receptive mode. It is receiving and being open to what you are receiving. Seeing with hard eyes is the judgmental, analytical, harsh way of viewing the world. Soft eyes help us step into the world aware but compassionate, welcoming mystery and grace that we might otherwise miss with hard eyes alone.
Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren state in a training manual written on conflict resolution for schools in the US which uses this technique; Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision. We see the individual in front of us, but we also see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in everything and are distracted by nothing. Seeing in this way sends an entirely different set of signals to the brain from seeing with hard eyes. As our eyes see more, somehow our brains become more open to the diversity of possibilities that always surround us. Soft eyes also tend to have a calming effect on the people around us, and often on ourselves as well.
Physiologically, we normally use what’s known as our foveal vision. A tiny area of the retina which helps us see details in a focused, analytical way. Things like threading a needle, reading a newspaper or looking at a screen. Foveal vision is about actively retrieving information through our eyes. It’s great for detail but too much of it, and we end up with eye strain, tension around the eyes and in other parts of the body. When we use our soft eyes, we use our much neglected peripheral vision. The aim is to see the detail still but to maintain our wider field of vision so that we are in the moment, more fully are aware of what’s around us. Soft eyes can be particularly useful in a sport where players can receive a pass focusing on the ball while sensing where everyone else is positioned on the field, in their periphery.
Parker Palmer in “The Courage to Teach” writes; Soft eyes, it seems to me is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery.
Our eyes are a window to the soul, to God, to other people and how we view the world. As our sight is transformed through the grace of God, may we gaze on people, on the world with soft eyes as the light of Christ shines through us.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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