Last week I was honoured to deliver an address at a service for pupils leaving Park Street School. I took inspiration from the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which underlies the school’s vision and mission:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.
Growth is a strong theme of childhood, but we should not be deluded into thinking that ‘grown-ups’ have ceased to change. In the last few days I’ve been reading a book with my daughter – ABC… What will she be? – and Clara has been asking me what I will be ‘when God sends you up again’. We develop at every moment, since change is a necessary condition of living in time.
Hot, still summer days belie great change for many people at this time of year. It’s not only school children that are moving on: some of you are changing jobs or retiring from work, some are moving house or getting married. Creatures are migrating, birds are fledging, fruit is ripening and plants are setting seed.
In An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, John Henry Newman wrote that ‘To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often’. This is not simply a justification for his conversion to Roman Catholicism! Newman is challenging the common misconception that our spiritual growth is distinct from the changes and chances of our day-to-day lives.
We are sometimes lured into thinking that in order to grow spiritually we need some ‘time out’ — a brief reprieve from the chaotic business of temporal existence. But the truth is that change is the very medium of our growth. Our task therefore is not to resist change or manage ‘our’ time better, but to identify God’s invitation to grow in our evolving circumstances, to see every event as a unique opportunity to develop in love.
If we can do this, we may discover something very strange, which is that, mysteriously, we become a centre for other people’s growth. It is as if we have put out branches, leaves and fruit – and all the creatures of the earth come to shelter in our shade.