How to Manage Anxiety during Exam Time
As students all over the world enter exam season – are we putting them under too much stress? Exams and anxiety go hand in hand, we all want to do well when we face a test. Jesus’ ultimate test was when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane and we are told that he sweated blood as he prayed before his arrest. This is no exaggeration – sweating blood is a medically acknowledged phenomenon, Hematohidrosis, that has been observed in times of great stress. It is probably no surprise that it is recorded in Luke’s Gospel because Luke was a physician! Hematohidrosis was recorded happening to a girl in London during the Blitz and has also been observed in people awaiting execution. A sign that, in Jesus Christ, God fully entered the human experience and is no stranger to whatever we have to go through.
Although I hope no-one is sweating blood as they revise for their exams – it is good to think about managing anxiety, so that is it becomes productive rather than crippling. It is all about getting things into perspective… On Judgement day God isn’t going to ask you how you did in your exams – he will ask you how you loved. Jesus is a sign of the fullness of God’s love for us, whatever life throws at us with Him we are never alone – and he has experienced all that we have. We can hand over to him our worries in prayer…. during revision… even at the start of an exam (before we start panicking!). Just the simple act of lighting a candle when you start a revision session, and keeping it in your sight – is a prayer and helps us to keep things in perspective. When we sit down to answer the exam paper – spending a minute in quiet prayer – centering ourselves with deep breaths – offering the next hour or so to God – means that when we start looking at the questions we are less likely to panic.
This a beautiful prayer, written by Fr Adrian Porter SJ, from the Jesuit Institute
as I prepare for this examination,
let your strength and your wisdom be present to me.
May I revise my work thoroughly.
May I understand what it is I have to know.
May my memory be reliable and orderly.
May I be calm and focused on the task ahead.
May I know & feel the love & support of my family & friends.
And may you, the author & creator of all things, enlighten me.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are a small group of students and myself getting ready to travel to Tanzania and help out at one of the Jesuit schools in Dodoma. Tanzania is a relatively stable country in East Africa thanks to the legacy of their great president at the time of independence, Julius Nyerere. Amongst that generation of independence leaders in Africa,Kenyatta, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe – Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere stands head and shoulders above them. He became a Catholic at the age of 21, and when independence came in 1961 it was achieved without bloodshed, partly due to Nyerere’s widely recognised integrity and respect and also his good relationship and co-operation with the British Governor Sir Richard Turnbill. Although many would argue that his policy ‘ujamma’ (extended familyhood) was economically disastrous, as were his links with Mao’s China. However he relinquished power peacefully, unusually for that generation of leaders, and although Tanzania was a poor and one of the least developed countries in East Africa, it was peaceful and has since proven to be safe from the bouts of tribal violence that have affected surrounding countries and is threatening to rear its ugly head again in neighbouring Burundi.
The capital Dodoma is in the center of the country (275 miles away from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest and richest city and economic hub). Nyerere moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma in 1974 in order to create a centralising force in the country to unify the different tribes so they didn’t feel isolated from the coastal Dar. In January 2005 the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a case for the beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently. Last years visit by Pope Francis rekindled hope that Nyerere may be one day declared a saint – link. The Jesuits have established a parish and schools in Dodoma, and when I used to visit with groups of sixth formers from London we would stay with the Jesuits and help out in the school. The last time I went in 2011 we were privileged to have an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Tanzania Mizengo Pinda. Pinda, an ex-seminarian would attend Sunday Mass at the Jesuit Parish and then had the reputation for being clean, and straightforward. He retired in 2015 from being prime minister and political life after allegations of corruption (BBC link). Maybe my question at the beginning of the interview, although uncomfortable was a little prescient? The video quality isn’t great but the questions and answers are informative. When we put the video on YouTube back in 2011 on returning to the UK is was rapidly taken down by someone …. maybe it will stay up this time!
Last year there was the remarkable story, here in the UK, of the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III under a car park in Leicester. Killed in 1485, he was the last Plantagenet King and it brought an end to the grim War of the Roses (which George R R Martin claims Game of Thrones is based on). Richards reputation is as unpleasant as most of the characters in the imaginary Westeros and beyond (did he really kill his nephews in the tower?) His bloody death would probably fit right in to one of GOT’s episodes ‘My Kingdom for a Horse….’ and all that, and the refusal of the Tudors to give him a Christian Burial shows the ruthlessness of the time.
Despite his bad reputation, which many say is exaggerated by Shakespeare, it was decided to give him a Christian burial in a place of honour in Leicester Cathedral. With thousands lining the streets to honour his coffin (only in England!). Then there was an interesting discussion whether or not as a Catholic King – The C of E (a Tudor development) hadn’t even been thought off – if he was to be laid to rest in a place of honour in Leicester Cathedral at least he should have a Catholic Funeral . Finally there was an ecumenically sensitive reburial presided over by Justin Welby with Cardinal Nichols in attendance which was broadcast live on Channel 4 (the Cardinal had said mass for his soul a few days before at All Souls Priory in Leicester).
So as 5000-1 Leicester City are crowned champions and make worldwide news, the same evening as another man from Leicester is crowned world Snooker Champion, is this a sign that the moral order of the universe has been restored? Is this the fruit of dignifying a King with the hallowed grounds of a Cathedral. On the BBC this morning was a wonderful fairy tale ‘The Fox and the Ghost King’ written by the childrens author, Michael Morpurgo (War Horse). Or could it be the Buddhist monk Phra Prommangkalachan who the Thai owners revere? Leicester Fans are already flocking to his temple!
Although this is obviously tongue in cheek – One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is Burying the Dead. In this year of Mercy we are asked to remember the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. Usually burying the dead means helping those without the resources to have the dignity of a funeral – rather than just be tossed into a paupers grave. Following the example of some of the Jesuit High Schools in the US, I have asked our SVP group to negotiate with Manchester Council on offering a dignified funeral here at the Holy Name for those homeless who die on the streets of Manchester. We think of all those buried in unmarked graves in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. We also pray for Burundi and the alarming noises being made by the president of the senate about ‘Spraying cockroaches with bullets ‘ and ‘Starting Work’ (echoes of Rwanda) . There are growing fears of a Tutsi genocide in Burundi, more unmarked graves, more mass burials.