Vyners School Assembly - Where are you going?
ASSEMBLY: 3 March 2008
My point today is that life, like a journey, is about the travelling and also about the destination.
A famous Zen story pictures a man standing beside a track when from the distance appears a cloud of dust in the centre of which is a man riding a horse that is galloping at breakneck speed. As the rider approaches, the man beside the track, excited by the sight and sound of one racing so purposefully, shouts out to the rider, “where are you going?” To which the rider replies, “I don’t know – ask the horse!”
This story I think carries a strong message for us, caught up as we are in the frantic rush of 21st century living. Too often, if we are not careful, we can be swept along without a thought about where we are heading. Our horse is our current popular culture, peer pressure and what everyone else says is cool. Taken up with the ride we forget to think about either the direction or the destination. Our pace may be impressive, but sadly it provides no proof that we are on the right road.
For some though, life is a completely passive affair. It just happens around them. At best they are reluctant participants in a play for which they didn’t audition. At worst they are spectators merely watching others and taking no part themselves. To some extent I think it is a defining moment for each of us, when we wake up and recognise that if we don’t take responsibility for the purpose and direction of our own lives and seek to become the people we are meant to be, it will never happen because no-one else can do it for us.
There’s another reason though why it is important that we wake up to our responsibility to live our life with purpose. It is because each one of us is a one-off individual, and has a unique contribution to make. And just as there is only one Mona Lisa by Da Vinci and only one Fifth Symphony by Beethoven, there is only one of you and you’re it. If you don’t ever give us the real you, we’ll never get it! You’re the only shot at you we’ve got. You can do some things no-one else can do in a way that no-one else can do them. You are more than a co-incidence of chromosomes and heredity; you are a unique player in the cast of life. Without you being the real you and not just some ten-a-penny clone of everyone else, we all miss out on what only you can give.
If you look at any grave stone you will tend to find that along with the name of the person and perhaps a short inscription there is a pair of dates separated by a dash. These dates mark the birth and death of the person concerned. It is a salutary thought that for all of us here in Assembly this morning we have the first of those dates. We had no say at all in that date. We arrived on the planet one day with no prior consultation. Ready or not, here we came. We did not get to vote on our parents or relatives, on our birth place or our DNA, we just arrived as a kind of “package deal”. And one day, for each of us, the second date on our future grave stone will be known. Right now, we are all sharing a moment in the short dash between the two dates. The starting gun has fired and our race of life has begun. The big question is, “What are we going to do with what’s left of our dash?” We can, of course, spend it how we will, but how we spend it will define our lives.
One thing I really like about Sports Day here at Vyners is when in the longer races it is often the case that there is spontaneous applause for the person coming in last – sometimes last by a long, long way. It is cheering; not jeering, and we are recognising that whilst it is great to win, there is also real merit in finishing what we started and in sustaining our effort rather than giving up. If life is a journey or a race, then I think it is good to recognise that while talent may take the trophy, and while charisma and celebrity may steal the limelight, the real winners in life are those who while taking part develop strength of character and keep going, and growing, when others give up. Ultimately, I would say that it is the development of character that is the real point and purpose of life’s journey. Under an inspirational poster, I recently read these wise words:
“Watch your thoughts for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character for it becomes your destiny.”
George Bernard Shaw, the famous author and playwright, wrote this:
“This is the true joy of life. The being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one. The being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. . . . Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
On the subject of the direction and destination of our journey of life, Jesus had this to say: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mathew 7v14) And on the same subject, perhaps his most famous follower, the Apostle Paul counsels: “Command those who are rich in this present world”, that’s us, “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6v17-19
That is the end of this morning’s Assembly. Please stand.