By Canon Theologian Morwenna Ludlow
In one way or another, I’ve been in education for 45 years. From primary school to my current job at the University of Exeter, September has always been a time of new beginnings: a new term, new classes, new people to meet, sometimes a new uniform, nearly always some new stationery. September is a time for sharpening pencils and buying notebooks with crisp clean pages. For me it is also, even more than January, a time for new resolutions.
This academic year I have no parking space, so my New (academic) Year’s resolution is to cycle to work more. And, if I get the bus, to walk the last bit of my journey to the campus. This week, at least, this has been a blessing as I have enjoyed the bright sunshine on my back and relished the last smells and sights of summer plants.
Of course, this academic year is a new beginning in a more serious sense too: this is the first time staff and students have been in a classroom for a good few months. And what a joy that has been! But it has also taken some time to get reoriented. I need to remind myself of the arcane mysteries of university photocopiers and retrain my body to remember how long it takes to walk from one end of the campus to another. (I even arrived at the wrong location the other day: for so long my life has been dominated by Zoom that I misremembered the name of the building!)
These new beginnings are both exciting and sometimes intimidating: the start of term can often feel like the moment of standing nervously poised to jump into a chilly swimming pool. But once you’re in, it’s reinvigorating. I find these times of new beginning a blessing, whether they are the start of a new academic year, a new calendar year or a new liturgical year. They offer us an opportunity to reflect on what we hold to be really important and to ask God’s blessing on our tasks.
We cannot know what lies ahead, even if we have travelled this same path through the year many times before. Each year is a new stepping-off point in our journey with God. But we can know that we are journeying with God beside us as we step out.
In the ancient world, before Google maps (and even before old-fashioned paper maps), travellers in a new place would hire a guide to accompany them to the next city. Priests (who often had to make long journeys in strange places themselves) used this as a way of understanding God’s presence through each stage of their life.
May God be with us as our accompanying guide, whoever we are and whichever stage of our life’s journey we are on.