This morning one of our current educational hunches was confirmed: all practical GCSE and A level examinations have been cancelled. This is reasonably big news for our family, as for many others: one of my daughters studies French, and the other Music, and both subjects involve practical exams. For now in Northern Ireland, normal school life is on hold. And, yes, though it’s hard to believe, this includes all official tests.
Learning, by contrast, is very much alive.
Epidemics, perhaps not entirely unlike the one we are living through, have happened in previous centuries. One of the most well known, in terms of the history of the Christian church, was Cyprian’s Plague, so called because Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, lived through it. And he wrote about it. He tells us that no-one from any family or creed was exempt from the terrible sickness that he witnessed and described. That’s no surprise. The thing that did differ was how people responded to it – some with compassion; others with self-interest.
Bishop Dionysius of Carthage also lived through an epidemic. Writing to his flock he called it a time of “schooling and testing”. Covid-19 arrived relatively recently in our part of the world, but it has already revolutionised the way we live. So, Bishop Dionysius’s words, “schooling and testing”, have got me thinking…
Here are five things that have I been learning this week:
To cherish family and friends. As the old Irish proverb puts it: Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine/ In the shelter of each other we shall live. This reminds me of the beautiful promise of loyal companionship given to Naomi, a returning refugee, by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, in the Old Testament book named after her: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God…May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
To enjoy the beauty of creation. In an average week, with a busy commute and the duties of full-time work, I don’t often find time to do this. Today’s morning walk gifted sunlight on daffodils; early pink blossom; and burgeoning, bright, green leaf-lings. All these are visible promises of Spring.
To find joy in creativity. For a long time now I have found myself in admiration of the talents of my friends and family. I’m grateful that, in these days, many of them have been sharing their words and their music; their science and their care; their art and their laughter. Such generosity surely enriches our lives.
To be thankful. For each and every blessing … and in each and every circumstance.
To live one day at a time. The words of St James in the New Testament have certainly come into their own: ‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”’
What about you? What have you been learning this week?
(Photo credits: Sophie Jones)