A MESSAGE FROM THE PRINCIPAL
ARE WE PREPARING DURING ADVENT OR WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS DAY?
There’s nothing like the month leading up to Christmas.
Sure, Christmas decorations may go up in shops during October. But when the calendar hits December 1, it gets real. The anticipation begins. Christmas parties. Christmas movies. Christmas break. And then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The anticipation is definitely worth the wait.
But there’s another kind of Christmas anticipation as well, one that should be at the forefront of ours and our students’ Christmas experience.
Ideally, our hearts should be in a state of anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Mark (13:33-37) tells us:
“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”
William Holman Hunt’s “The Light of the World”
The image I have shared with you is that of the painting, “The Light of the World” which hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. A beautiful artwork to reflect upon during Advent.
The work is full of symbolic meaning, with the contrast between light and dark, and between luxuriant, abundant plants and the thorns and weeds. The painting shows Christ, the Light of the World (John 8: 12), knocking on an overgrown and long-unopened door. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3: 20). Hunt wanted to convey the evangelical message that Christ comes to a sinful world and stands at the door of our hearts.
Christ’s head bears two crowns: the earthly crown of shame and his heavenly crown of glory. The thorny crown is beginning to bud and blossom. These are not thorns from a hawthorn hedge, or briars from an overgrown garden. These are thorns from branches thrown by soldiers in Palestine on a barrack-room brazier, with spikes three to four inches long, twisted into a rough-and-ready crown set firmly on Christ’s head, each sharp spike drawing blood.
Christ’s loving eyes look directly at you wherever you stand, but the sadness of his face is painful. His listening aspect shows that even at the eleventh hour he knocks hoping for an answer. His hands are nail-pierced, his half-open right hand is raised in blessing, but his feet are turned away, as if he is about to go, for he has been knocking and left waiting.
For Christ’s royal mantle, Hunt draped his mother’s best tablecloth around his model, but the symbolism was lost on many. Christ who knocks at the door invites us to his table and to the heavenly banquet. This cope or mantle is secured by the Urim and Thummim, clasped by the Cross in a symbol of Judaism and Christianity being brought together. The robe is seamless, symbolising the unity of the body of Christ.
Christ’s lantern lights up his features, the doorway, and the way ahead. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119: 105). To those living in darkness, Christ is waiting to enter their lives. The cords of the lamp, twisted around Christ’s wrist, symbolise the intense unity between Christ and the Church.
The shut door has no latch, no handle, no keyhole – it can only be opened from inside. The iron-work is rusted, for it is long since the door has been opened. The door to our hearts has to be opened from within, through repentance and faith. The door is overgrown with dead weeds and trailing ivy that would not be there if the door had been kept open. All the plants have been overtaken by brambles, because this a place to which the gardener has not come.
Above flies a bat, blind and unable to see in the darkness, long associated with ruin and neglect. Below, the fruit has fallen to the ground and some are rotten. Yet the light from the lamp shows this fruit has come from a good tree. This beautiful painting remains “a painted text, a sermon on canvas.” You can use this image when preparing to reflect and pray about Advent season.
I urge students to find a few moments for quiet prayer. Find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your breathing as you breathe normally. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and read this reflection.
Inviting in the Visitor
Imagine you are sitting in a small room in a house that is surrounded by farmland and bushland. You have come here to seek the quiet and calm. The busy life of work, family, and the city have made you feel anxious and unfocused. You know you need something; you need some time to let your mind be quiet and your heart open. Quiet and open—those words sound so peaceful and desirable but unreachable. The room is simple: a bed, a desk, and a wooden chair. The walls are bare. You’ve brought books to read and a journal to write in, but you can’t seem to do anything but sit on the chair and absorb the silence, even as you feel restless.
As you sit in the silence, you hear a faint sound like a knock on the door. Your heart races, Who knows I’m here? I need to be alone, you think. The knocking becomes louder. As much as you want to stay in the room, something moves you to go to the door. The knock comes again, but it’s a soft knock. As you approach the door, you see a light streaming under it. “Hello. Can I help you?”you say without opening the door. A soft voice says, “It’s me. I’ve been looking for you.”Something deep inside you stirs, but you are confused. “Who are you? Do I know you?”you say. “Yes. But we have not talked in a long time. I’ve missed you,”he says. You open the door.
Standing there is Jesus. His eyes look at you with such tenderness. He carries a small lantern that gives off a bright, warm light. You stand there, unable to speak at first, allowing yourself to take in his presence and his light. You speak to Jesus. What do you say to him? How does Jesus respond to you? You invite Jesus into the house. You sit and tell him of the restlessness you feel. As you talk to Jesus, a wave of peace and calm washes over you like the warm light streaming from his lantern. “Rest. Be still. You opened the door. Now let me take care of you,”Jesus says. You close your eyes and let his words embrace you. Your heart is at peace, and your mind is still. When you open your eyes, Jesus is gone. Sitting beside the chair where he sat is the lantern, still emitting that bright, warm light. You smile and rest in the glow of the light.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
BOSTES to NSWESA: New name, new structure, new powers
From 2017, the BOSTES will be known as the NSW Education Standards Authority. According to the Minister’s recent press release, the Authority will be strategically focused to better support quality teaching and learning.
The Authority will:
- be led by a streamlined Board of up to 14 educational leaders (down from 23 members);
- introduce random, risk-based school inspections and thematic reviews;
- identify schools needing support to meet regulatory requirements; and
- ensure teachers have more curriculum flexibility to engage students with deeper learning, using regularly updated syllabuses, particularly in technology-rich subjects like IT.
In addition, the Authority will also have enhanced powers to lift school compliance and teacher quality with the ultimate aim of improving student results. Non-government schools will also be subject to an increased number of random and risk-based audits, and the ‘authority will also have the power to formally warn and ultimately deregister any school not meeting regulatory requirements.’ This power is similar to those found in other States and Territories
Please keep the following people in your prayers this week:
- Mrs Robyn Allan who lost her beloved mother over in New Zealand at the grand age of 102 years.
- Miss Field whose father is gravely ill at present; and
- Mr Donlan who is on sick leave.
OVERCOMING “TOXIC PERFECTIONISM”
With research finding 52 per cent of Year 12 girls have clinical levels of anxiety, perfectionism has been identified as a risk factor for anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Here’s a quick test: If your teenage daughter makes a mistake in her written work does she cross it out; erase it and keep going; or does she rip out the whole page and start over. Does she do draft after draft after draft? Does she come down on herself like a tonne of bricks over small mistakes or a test result that is worse than expected?
If you answered yes to some or all of the above questions, your daughter may have a problem with perfectionism – and it can be linked to serious mental health problems.
The paradox of perfectionism is that it can be experienced as either incredibly frustrating or deeply satisfying. Repeated failure to reach set goals, procrastination, catastrophising mistakes and feelings of guilt and shame are indicative of unhealthy perfectionism. Driven by an underlying fear of failure and coupled with extreme self-criticism, this form of perfectionism has been associated with low self- esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and relationship difficulties (Egan, Wade & Shafran, 2010; Schweitzer & Hamilton, 2002). Beyond psychological concerns, Dr Danielle Molnar (2006), a psychologist at Brock University in California, suggests perfectionism should be considered a risk factor for disease. Her research with adult perfectionists indicated that socially-prescribed perfectionists had greater episodes of illness, more doctor visits and higher absenteeism from work compared to non-perfectionists. In contrast, self-oriented perfectionism has been associated with greater physical health, conscientiousness, endurance, academic achievement and success (Molnar, 2006; Stoeber & Otto, 2006). Healthy perfectionists have been shown to feel more motivated for exams, spend greater number of hours studying and engage in more discussions with teachers (Stoeber & Otto, 2006). In addition, university students high in healthy perfectionism have been shown to receive a higher grade point average than both unhealthy perfectionists and non-perfectionists (Grzegorek, Slaney, Franze & Rice, 2004).
One factor distinguishing healthy from unhealthy perfectionism is the amount of self-criticism perfectionists engage in when their expectations have not been met. Individuals who blame themselves and react negatively when they feel they have failed fare much worse than those who can put things in perspective. So, perfectionism is far from straight-forward and is perhaps best summarised by Dr Linda Silverman:
Perfectionism is an energy that can be used either positively or negatively depending on one’s level of awareness. It can cause paralysis and underachievement, if the person feels incapable of meeting standards set by the self or by others. It also can be the passion that leads to extraordinary creative achievement an ecstatic struggle to move beyond the previous limits of one’s capabilities (‘flow’).
Warning signs for unhelpful perfectionism
- constant self-criticism and comparison with others
- seeing any mistake as a failure
- spending hours on school tasks that should take minutes
- unable to accept constructive criticism
- rigid thinking, i.e. there is only one way to get it right
- withdrawing from social groups and activities over the fear that “others won’t like me as I am”.
According to Dr Szymanski (author of the The Perfectionist’s Handbook), the problem with perfectionism is not the aspiration to be perfect, but rather what people do with this aspiration. Rather than extinguishing perfectionism altogether, Dr Szymanski suggests perfectionists consider the strategies they employ and whether these are helpful or not. An approach he suggests involves asking the following questions:
- My intention was …
- The strategy I used was …
- My desired outcome was …
- The actual outcome was …
I recently used this method with a student who was experiencing anxiety regarding an assignment. Her intention was to do the absolute best she could, yet the actual outcome was that she had not completed much of the task, was feeling paralysed with fear and was in floods of tears. After some discussion, she was able to identify that her strategy of avoiding talking with her teacher, due to fear of making mistakes, was not proving helpful in terms of reaching her desired outcome. Rather than lower her expectations and submit an average assignment, my student was able to preserve her desire to excel by adapting her strategy and facing her fears. This may not be appropriate in all cases, especially when time has run out and the only strategy left available may be to alter one’s desired outcome and use it as a learning experience. However, given it is often the intensity of the challenge which determines the amount of triumph one feels, rather than rescuing young women from the throes of perfectionism by telling them to lower their bars, it may be wiser to assist them to tolerate their distress and engage in helpful problem-solving strategies.
If your daughter is exhibiting these warning signs at home, please contact her Year Coordinator or the Counsellor at school so that we can work with her. A quick chat to her GP and a referral to a psychologist can help your daughter to deal with her issues and find personal strategies and “self-speak” to assist her in combating negative thoughts.
Our mantra:“Girls can do anything. Bethany girls can do everything!* (*except divide by zero)” Vicki Lavorato Principal