Nurturing mind, body and spirit

In Focus - Issue 9

The Revd David Johnson, Dauntsey's Chaplain, discusses the importance of nurturing the mind, body and spirit. 

It is easy to think of a school in terms of mind and body but the spirit and soul of the community, and of the individuals within it, is at least as important. Dauntsey’s Chaplain, the Revd David Johnson, looks at how it is nurtured and expressed in the way that staff and pupils value and treat one another.

Everything that we do in the School, in the classroom, in Chapel, in the way we look after each other, must value the human spirit and conform to the golden rule – treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

Both as Chaplain and as a teacher of religion, philosophy and ethics, I try to show pupils that soul or spirit can be understood in terms of what makes us each unique: character, memories, relationships, ideas and understanding, a sense of self-identity and self-worth and of the values and morality by which we try to live.

The fact that they know I am a minister also encourages pupils to ask what I think and to seek to broaden their moral compass, to discuss concepts such as love, forgiveness and tolerance.

I am always vividly aware that we are a community of many faiths and none, so chapel services offer an opportunity for pupils to consider some of the big questions that underpin the human experience. 

What makes a good person? What is right or wrong? What is the human spirit?

It’s important to show that religion isn’t all blind faith and superstition. We might look at the teachings of different faiths, using examples from a contemporary context. We might talk about our personal experiences, show a clip from a film or an interview, or play a piece of music suggested by the pupils. These are all rich and accessible sources of ideas and concepts that can challenge and inform. There will always be time for prayer, with the understanding that many pupils will use this as a moment simply to think or reflect.

Services are held on different days each week for pupils of various ages and on Sundays for boarders. They answer the need to be still and to be inspired, in the spiritual sense, in a way that cannot be satisfied in the classroom or on the sports field. It’s a chance to consider their own future, what they are going to do and how they are going to lead their lives.

At full School services and on other special occasions, such as services we hold at our local parish church, the School choir leads us in music and anthems that take us beyond our immediate thoughts and give us valuable moments to contemplate timeless beauty.

But the soul of the School is about much more than these moments out of our daily lives. Often, experiences outside a formal religious setting present the greatest challenges and encourage individuals to make steps in their spiritual development.

We don’t try to insulate pupils from the outside world. Rather, we offer them opportunities that open them to an understanding that life can be hard and very different to their own but that we are all human beings with a right to be treated decently, with care and respect.

Every two weeks, for example, I take volunteers to help at The Filling Station, a charity in Swindon that provides food for the homeless. In conversations after these visits, it’s clear that pupils frequently see the world in a new way and question or reject some of the values handed down by modern media or absorbed through stereotypes.

Trips abroad have a valuable role, too. On a recent visit to India, pupils were thrilled by the beauty, history and culture but challenged by what they saw through the window of a train or coach and by the lives of people on the streets or at the sites we visited.

It was moving, too, to witness the reactions of a group from the history department when we visited First World War battlefields and graveyards in France. Stops for reflection and prayer were often profound moments in the pupils’ lives.

Ultimately, there is no scientific way to measure the spiritual life of a school – but we can see it expressed in the character and thoughtfulness of our pupils, our care for one another and the values that we share.  It forms an important part of what makes Dauntsey’s special and unique.