By Ed Watson
One of my favourite parts of life at St. Hilda's is giving Morning Gathering Homilies at Saint Martin de Porres Academy. SMPA is a small school geared towards breaking the cycle of poverty through education, and every morning its students gather upstairs to hear announcements and sit through a 5-8 minute talk by a member of staff.
For me, Morning Gathering a chance to do something I really enjoy (public speaking) whilst also being challenged to say something in such a way that I grab the attention of sixty young children at 8:40 in the morning. I have a ritual whereby I'll mull over different things I could talk about during the week, then wake up early the morning of my talk and write the homily itself at Blue State on Cedar. As it happens I very rarely refer to the actual text whilst speaking, but having it there gives me more confidence to ad lib as I know that if I lose my way I'll be able to find it again. Sometimes talks fall flat, but every now and again they go just right...
Last Friday was one of those talks for which more or less everything worked. I'm especially thankful for this given the subject matter: this was me taking the opportunity to tell my students that I had got engaged a couple of weeks previously. Now I'm posting it on the blog, in part to give an idea of what it is I actually do at SMPA, in part because I'm still caught up in a slightly self-indulgent blur of happiness about the whole engagement thing.
So, here's an example of what I'm working with when I give a Morning Gathering Homily. The Homily itself was different to the text in a few areas, and I tend to embellish things in the moment according to whether or not the kids seem to be engaging, but the key components are the same. I hope it's a good read!
(N.b. The stuff about me having perfect hair is a long running in-joke I've had as a way of deflecting from the fact my hair is always a complete mess!)
Good morning. Now, it's been a long time since my last gathering talk; about three weeks I think. And two important things have happened since... The first is that I got a haircut: some of you might not recognise me actually, I was the one with the massive beard last time. And the second thing is that, two weeks ago, I got engaged. [ad lib depending on response. Pre-prepped line, if reaction: I'm so glad people cheered; that would've been such an awkward silence.]
I'll tell you all about the engagement later. For now though, I'm going to focus on my hair. And there's a good reason for this. You see, not many people know this about me, because it's not immediately obvious, but I actually have perfect hair (a fact I can back up with several philosophical arguments). As in, it just always looks perfect. Its amazing, I know, but I more or less woke up looking like this. I didn't even have to do anything. Hard to believe, really...
Anyway, the problem is that even though my hair is perfect, people aren't. If you look at your prayer today, you'll see that it says people are unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred. And this is true.
Let's take unrealistic: anyone know what unrealistic means? [Wait for answer.] Anyway, when I was younger, my parents would always try and brush my hair to make it look neat, before smart events and such things. Can anyone here relate to how frustrating that is? And it was completely unrealistic: no matter how many times my hair was brushed, it would always, right away, go messy again. And yet they kept on trying to brush it. My parents' expectations did not connect with the reality of the situation: they were being unrealistic.
People are illogical too. Would anyone like to guess what illogical means? [Student answer: 'well, something is logical when it makes sense, so to be illogical must be to not make sense.'] Now, illogical means to do things which don't make sense, at least, not in a logical way (logic, by the way, is something like the mathematics of argument: believe it or not, when you have an argument, you're often relying on something very similar to an equation to make your points). As we've already covered, my hair is perfect: and yet my parents always wanted to change it. But why would you change something that is perfect? It makes no sense: people are illogical.
And as for self-centred: well, that means when we mainly care about ourselves above others. And how self centred were my parents being? Didn't they care about how I wanted my hair to look? Weren't they only thinking about themselves?
Here, however, I came across a problem. You see, as self-centred as my parents were being, I was being just the same. I was being self centred too. And it's here I've got to face up to something. Look at the prayer: it says that people are unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred. And it's very easy to talk about people as if it doesn't include me. Think about how often you say 'people make me mad', or 'people are dumb'. It's always about other people: it's important for us to remember that we're people too.
And as such, it's important for me to remember that, though my hair is perfect, I'm not. I too am self-centred, usually trying to get what's best for me out of any given situation. I too am illogical: my reactions to small points of principle, usually supposedly logical principles, are usually way out of proportion. And I too am unrealistic: I all too often expect too much of the wrong thing from the wrong people, rather than just letting the person in front of me just be themselves before I think to tell them what to change.
And yet... And yet, next summer, I'll be getting married. Illogical, unrealistic, self-centred me will be getting married to a beautiful woman who is also unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred, someone who I love very much, someone who is utterly amazing.
I'll tell you a secret: for most of my life I've been convinced that I'd never get married. Depending on when you asked me, this would either be because I didn't think I'd find anyone good enough for me or that I'd ever be good enough for anyone else. I used to think this because I thought people were unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred, including myself, and I used to think that they shouldn't be. What I've learnt is that people who are unrealistic can also be inspired; that people who are illogical can be creative; that even the most self-centred of us can be loving, generous, and generally wonderful.
Finally, I've also learnt that being good enough just doesn't really come into it: because you don't need to be anything to be loved. And this is what I'd like to leave you with: we are all unrealistic, Illogical, and self-centred. The person next to you is unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred. I am unrealistic, illogical, and self-centred. And yet all of you, absolutely all of you, are at the same time utterly, utterly wonderful: and all you are, in every way, deserving of all the love in the world.