Working with Wonder

 This world is not conclusion
A species stands beyond –
Invisible as music
Positive as sound.
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson


Waking to wonder

Anglican Schools, as placing of faith and learning, participate in the work of the Triune God in calling people to wake, watch and walk with wonder.

Wonder has been the unifying theme and provocation across Caulfield Grammar School this year. The intention has been to enable frontier conversations in the community between the known and unknown. Making space for creativity, connection and contribution.

Whilst wonder is an intrinsic part of created beings it also requires discipline in the modern world to wake, watch and walk with wonder.

At all Year 6 and Year 12 Commencement Chapels students were encouraged to wonder by asking a question of significance. We asked them to be theologians and philosophers, openly inquiring and engaging with the ‘quest’ions of life.

Questions included…

  • Will this year be as difficult as I am expecting?
  • What will life be after high school?
  • How will new experiences this year shape me as a person?
  • Is this world but an illusion?
  • What is the real purpose of life?
  • How will Donald Trump impact the world?
  • What is God like?
  • Is it always better to know or be naive?
  • How much better the world could be if we all tried to leave others better than we found them?
  • What am I going to be remembered for?

Watching the Wonder

At our annual Founders Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, the questions were revealed to the community through prayer flags, enabling a new ‘prayer space’ to be formed in the historic setting. The questions also helped inform the liturgy – the prayers, the homilies and dance.  The use of prayer flags infused the space with colour but more importantly was an instrument for student voice and theological engagement.

Reflecting upon the experience we have been considering further ways to prompt inquiry, conversation and considered action. Steps taken have been to partner with the arts, namely, story teller and visual artist Reverend Lynton Allan. Engaging with our junior school, Lynton has given testimony to the power of story and questioned the story students tell about themselves. Sketching a beautiful Queensland landscape without notice Lynton preceded to scribble over his work and ask – ‘Should I start again?’ ‘Or make something new from this image?’ A profound message of God’s scandalous grace emerged.

Walking with Wonder

One of the marks of Anglican Schools should be a willingness to question and be questioned. As Daniel Migliore in Faith Seeking Understanding declares,

Faith in God revealed in Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept the things as they are, and continually calls into question unexamined assumptions about God, our world and our ourselves.                                          

Questions arise at the edges of what we know and what we can do as human beings.

Theology resides at this edge.

As places of learning how do we engage in the project of theology?

We often equate the theologian with scholar or academic. Theologians may indeed be scholars, learned people in a particular field of study but is the art and discipline of theology reserved for specialists in academia?

Dr Kevin Vanhoozer a scholar and theologian helpfully writes,

‘Theology is the project of seeking, speaking and showing understanding of what the triune God is doing in and through Jesus Christ for the sake of the whole world, and this is far too important to be left to academics’ 

… Kevin Vanhoozer, Becoming a Pastor Theologian.

Anglican Schools reside in a largely secular pluralist landscape, multiple narratives are lived and fundamental questions of life are often assumed or not acknowledged. Faith is deemed a private matter by many Australians with no legitimate place in the public square.

I ‘wonder’ what is the place of the Anglican School in such a context and where are our theologians?

‘Seeking, speaking and showing understanding of what triune God is doing in and through Jesus Christ for the sake of the whole school’.

Acknowledging the need and opportunity we have included in our Chaplain’s position description ‘reflective theologian’. They are not the only theologians at the school but they are set apart to enact what it means to seek, speak and show the life of the triune God for the sake of the whole world.

As we meet as a chaplaincy team we strive to move through pragmatics to larger questions about what we are learning about God, ourselves and with others and the world. This practice encourages our seeking but held together with speaking and showing invites us beyond theory to the drama of living and ministry. In many Anglican schools, the chaplain is often solitary and finds it difficult to converse with like-minded colleagues.

How can schools and the church support all leaders seeking to embody the theologian?

As spiritual leaders in Anglican Schools we may be more than a theologian but not less. Acknowledging our own learning and enacting this wisdom with the community is a good place to work with wonder.


Ryan Holt Written by:

Ryan is the Head of Chaplaincy at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne, Adjunct Lecturer in Chaplaincy at Ridley College and is currently completing a doctorate with the Australian College of Theology, exploring the culture of service in Anglican schools today.

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