Guest contribution by Jon Sparke –
Earlier this January a group of 15 Bennett students of all ages had the privilege of being welcomed to join the service of Evensong in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. As they walked through the North Transept they passed the life sized version of Holman Hunt’s famous painting entitled ‘The Light of the World’. This was a third version of a luminous original which was painted in 1851. The painting depicts the figure of Christ before a closed door covered in ivy, which refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, “behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him”. The ivy bound door speaks of a soul as yet untouched by grace. The handle of the door cannot be seen. It can only be opened from the inside. Hunt wrote of the “obstinately shut mind”, thinking of those who were closed to a message of salvation.
At Bennett we are beginning to look ahead and prepare ourselves for the season of Lent, itself a time of spiritual preparation for Holy Week and Easter, with its powerful narrative of Christ’s trial, crucifixion and resurrection. For Christians, Lent is often a time of reflection and self-examination. A time when we are called to consider the way in which we have failed to live up to the moral standards set for us. Even in popular culture the giving up of chocolate for Lent points to this tradition of self-denial as a token of spiritual preparation.
This can be a challenging theme to address in schools with a generation of young people who have grown up in a materially rich culture, where the internet and media occupy so much attention, providing little room for inward examination. It can however reap rich rewards as doors in the mind are opened and students begin to perceive a bigger picture.
Responding to this challenge at Bennett this Lent we will try to provide students with opportunities for refection and indeed the stimulus for this. On Fridays we will again this year provide the opportunity for a ‘frugal lunch’ where students can purchase a simple of dish of soup and thereby make a contribution to the Neema Crafts charity in Tanzania. Later on next term students in year 7 will be invited to walk the ‘Way of the Cross’ in their tutor time worship.
We have written in the past about the power of ‘open mindsets’ in relation to promoting students’ achievement. This refers to the research of Professor Carol Dweck who argues: “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.” Teachers at Bennett seek to foster such “growth mindsets”.
There is a power too in another kind of open mind. One that is ready to respond when called to an opportunity, opening doors, rather than leaving them resolutely closed. Back in December Pope Francis symbolically opened one of the great doors of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, to inaugurate the ‘Year of Mercy’, a Jubilee year. To step through the door is to accept a gift of grace. In Pope Francis’ words to “rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.” All around the world the Church is throwing open doors both physical and figurative. The Anglican Bishop of Chichester, +Martin Warner, who visited us to celebrate Founders’ Day in October, himself recently blessed and opened a ‘Door of Mercy’ in Chichester Cathedral. So we too at Bennett are focused upon opening doors at this time, both intellectual and spiritual.