Virtual Chapel – Monday 20th April 2020

Senior School
19 Apr 20

Virtual Chapel Transcript:

Good morning to you all and I hope that you had a peaceful weekend, not that there is much opportunity to do anything else at the moment.  Two things have struck me deeply during this current crisis.  The first is the way our communities are coming together, ‘carrying each other’s burdens’ as Saint Paul advised the early church in Galatia to do if they want to truly be in Christ.  The other is the gratitude and appreciation that we are showing toward those who do vital work, often those we absolutely take for granted and don’t give a second thought to.  Perhaps even the type of workers some of us would be tempted to, ashamedly, look down our nose at.  I’m not just talking here of those in the caring professions, who of course are rightly lauded for their self-sacrificial work in trying to keep us all healthy.

But what about the refuse collectors, the checkout attendants and all those who work in the food supply chain, from farmers to lorry drivers to store workers.  The bus and train drivers and associated workers, as well as many others.

We are learning a new appreciation of them as society comes together, and that has to be a good thing.  We are learning how vital they are to the basics of life, in a way that perhaps what we do really is not!  The other thing that struck me is the new appreciation for immigrants or descendants of immigrants, and if we go back far enough we are all that, who work in these vital roles.  Only this week farmers had to club together to put on flights to bring over essential workers from eastern Europe to pick their crops, as they could not find enough people here to do it.  Where now the poisonous division in our society caused by Brexit?  Where now the implicit, and sometimes explicit, racism expressed by a shameful few in our society as medics and vital workers of many different cultures work to keep us and our families fed and safe?  Whichever side you were on, and I’m not going to revive that insidious debate, it cannot be denied that it was heinously divisive.

And now we have the cure, it sometimes takes that, it sometimes takes dramatic adversity for people to realise who we truly are, and how grateful we should be for each other.  It is almost as if this virus is some kind of dramatic surgery on a macro scale to remove the tumour of division caused by recent politics.  I hope that we don’t forget all of this when the crisis is over and go back to the way we were.  I spotted a video on YouTube, made by people of immigrant lineage who are working in these vital roles, asking that we don’t forget them and who they are when all of this is over.  I will put the link at the end of this message.  I hope that we all get to see it, and remain grateful for who they are.

This week should have seen a visit from an Old Suttonian who is now a Buddhist monk, in fact, the Abbot of a Buddhist Monastery.

In honour of him, Amaro Bikkhu, I would like to emphasise the common themes of Christianity and Buddhism.

Having studied both, I agree with the scholars who believe that Jesus must have been in some way influenced by the teaching of Buddha during his so-called lost years, he certainly would have come across them in Egypt, both Buddhists in person and Buddha’s teachings in the Great Library of Alexandria, destroyed in antiquity by the emerging Christian Church so that they could control information – a story as old as time.

I am an unashamed universalist, I believe with all of my heart that different religions are just different attempts to get at the great mystery behind all life and the universe itself, that which we call God in our tradition, but which the Buddhists call Ultimate of Absolute Reality.  These attempts are all ultimately futile, bound up in their own cultures, time and frames of reference.  Whatever God or Ultimate Reality is, I do not believe God cares at all to which faith you belong, they all lead to Him in my view.  The idea that the source of all being could be bound up in one human book or one human tradition, to the exclusion of all others, is beyond imagination for me.  As the Anglican Bishop Jack Spong said, ‘I honour my tradition, I work through my tradition, but I do not believe that my tradition contains God, it only points to God.’

I would like to leave you with an enlightening conversation between one of the greatest living Buddhist teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, and a Benedictine Christian monk called David Steindl-Rast.  It is a deeply powerful conversation between two friends on acceptance of what is, of gratitude for the opportunity to learn compassion even in suffering.  I have put a link to that video at the bottom.  I have also put a link to a meditation video on the ‘End of Suffering’ from a Buddhist perspective.  It is the Great Bell chant which comes from Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in France, it is him chanting.  The meditation itself is 7 minutes long but someone has put it on a loop.It is a great aid to finding inner peace. Again, I hope that you find that too.  The upshot of all of this is that since time began, when humans become complacent and just expect the world to carry on as it always does, we become too comfortable and unappreciative of each other and life generally, finding artificial reasons to quarrel.  It takes adversity to bring us together, and perhaps that is the reason for suffering, that it shows us who we really should be.  It’s a tale as old as humanity, a tale that is encapsulated in all of the old stories that Sam spoke to Frodo about in Lord of the Rings, mentioned last week.  Lord of the Rings is one of these stories in itself.  It is even in the old fairy tales, which can be understood on many different levels like all ancient writings, tales immortalised by Disney and other such film companies.  It is the same old, deeply human, message;  you can’t have the gold without facing down the dragon.

God Bless you all, 

Mr Davies, Chaplain

Video of immigrant workers – 

Thich Nhat Hanh and Br David conversation on ‘Gratitude in Adversity’ – 

The Great Bell Chant meditation –