We are now on the cusp of another academic year. Since we were small children, for most of us, September has been a time of new beginning - a new start with new teachers and new things to learn and sometimes a whole host of new people and new friends to make.
This change of gear in September has two origins. It follows the pattern of the natural world, (in the northern hemisphere), as all the harvests, both literal and metaphorical, of summer come to an end and the cycle or work starts again.
It also has its origin in the Bible. The Jewish Year starts around this time - 26th September this year - and is celebrated with the feast of Rosh Hashanah, followed ten days later by Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. In my Christian tradition the New Year begins on 1st September, (as does the Methodist year).
I find it significant that the academic year is linked with the rhythm of the natural world, and indeed with faith practice. Ideally, study should be something that ever expands our appreciation of the amazing world in which we live. Whatever kind of science we study, or whatever aspect of humanity, that study can enlarge us as human beings, make us deeper as persons. Many people lament a change in education which reduces it to a kind of financial transaction: “I pay the institution a load of money, and after the right amount of work it will give me a qualification, a passport to a high earning job.” Surely something has got lost here! A sense of wonder about the world around us is something we lose at our peril.
If our education should make us deeper as persons, so should the passage of times and seasons. One of the seasons of our life is old age and death. This is currently being forcefully brought to our attention through the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Her death is a time when we reflect on her life, who she was, what she did, what she stood for. Probably the thing that I am hearing most often is her faithfulness to her calling; the way she accepted the vocation that destiny had given her. She fulfilled it conscientiously and fully, with a deep sense that she was doing it before God.
Although her vocation was unique, in fact each of us also have a unique vocation. No-one else can live our particular life for us. No-one else can repeat what each of us have been called to do - at any point in our life, whether it our student days, or our later years. God has a vocation for each of us. We discover the nature of it as our lives unfold. Our journey into the times and seasons of our lives, is always a journey of deeper and deeper discovery, of the wonders of the world around us and ourselves.
So, as we think about how faithfully the Queen fulfilled her personal vocation, let’s not forget that each of us also has a vocation to fulfil before God. A spiritual elder to whom I was close, Bishop Kallistos Ware, also died recently. One of the things he used to say was: “’When I die, God will not ask me ‘Why were you not John? Why were you not Nick?’ What he will ask me is: ‘” Why were you not Kallistos?’”