An address given to the pupils and Staff of Bishop Wordsworth School
Salisbury Cathedral Shrove Tuesday 28th February 2017
I wonder what your perfect age is? What number would be your choice? Perhaps that number – your ideal age – uniquely individual as it will be reflects something of your relationship to time, your priorities and values. Your ideal age might also reveal some of our fears and even prejudices about age. They are rare people who are able to say simply and believe it deeply – that they are perfectly happy being just the age they are – 14, 17, 30, 55, 80. Part of what it means to be human to is to work out what age means for us. We are constantly defining and redefining what age means.
Perhaps few of us here would want to turn the clock forward and like the voice in Emersons poem (Terminus) as they reflect on the course of life as it approaches its end. Who would want to face their human fragility and its essential boundedness? In those lines there is a beauty and profundity of a reflective life – that looks backwards – articulates what is important and is able to face the things that most of us fear: failure, fear, limitation and regret. There is a quiet peacefulness and wholeness to a reflective life, well lived and lacking self-dramatisation or regret.
Lowly faithful, banish fear
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near
And every wave is Charmed.
I am all too aware that this maybe just a step too far into a world that needs not to be contemplated at your age and so relatively early in the morning. I am bidden to ask you about your relationship to age and especially and particularly older age. Your generation will expect to live longer than mine and so what do you do with age and how you relate to age will fundamentally shape the life you live and society you build. If we continue to be fearful, dismissive or just prejudiced about older people then we run the risk building walls and barriers in a world that needs older age and all ages to thrive. Perhaps one of the profoundest of moral questions that we need to face together across the generations – regardless of belief – is this: What are older people for?
Today is Shrove Tuesday – and in the Christian Church prepares for Lent: Time to stand back, reflect and where ever possible deepen our inner life, our spiritual wisdom, our desire to build a better world founded on love and justice. The Bible takes a longer view of our journey, on our spiritual pilgrimage and the place of time within the horizon of living. It is called eternity and part of our calling to be truly and freely human is to get our timing right!
So – those of you more observant might wonder (perhaps) about the theme of this cathedral service – the age or potential. And this is where I end. Whatever your age or indeed your relationship to age –locating and naming our relationship to age is an important part of understanding our potential. And whatever else you remember from this morning, remember this – your school, your parents, Your friends – your neighbours here in Salisbury Cathedral close, especially Sarum College, want you to thrive and fulfil your potential as flourishing human beings. Your potential is never limited to one stage of our life. There is potential at every age to thrive, unlock our capabilities and make a difference.
So: consider the following individuals who at various ages fulfil their potential and left the world a better place:
At 3 Wolfgang Mozart taught himself to play the harpsichord.
At 18 Norwegian mathematician Niels Hendrick Able prove that it was impossible to solve the general equation of 5th° by algebraic means.
At 32 Alexander the great had conquered almost the entire known world.
And to remind us that we keep on fulfilling our potential at all ages:
At 55 Pablo Picasso painted his first masterpiece.
At 68 The English experimentalist Sir William Crooks began investigating radioactivity and invented advice for detecting alpha particles.
At 77 John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space
At 88 Marc Chagall became the first living artist to be exhibited at the Louve museum.
At 93 PG Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel and was knighted.
And just to encourage you – and a final reminder that we can fulfil our potential at any age – as 100 Frank Shearer continues to be the oldest active waterskier in the world!
So my hope and prayer for each one of you is that we might be more reflective and wise about the nature of age and the shape it takes within us and in the process we might fulfil our human potential at every stage of our life to shape the world for good.
So – what is your ideal age?