In my last blog post, I explored how lives of impact and purpose, taken on the whole, are actually comprised of the daily purposeful choices an individual makes.
Institutions, like people, are living entities. As such, they also have purposeful daily choices to make as they aspire to be the best version of themselves.
In the midst of cataclysmic changes in our complex global society, especially in the world of education, and given the context of the “perfection pressure” to which I alluded in last month’s First Monday, schools like Parish must carefully evaluate what they do purposefully.
You are aware of our conscious attempt to “Reimagine School,” a process well underway in pilot form across all three divisions with more systemic changes to come in the next five years. More on that will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
For today, however, I’d like to focus on another element of our culture, one which we uphold each day with the same purposefulness with which McRaven’s SEALS made their bed: our intentional spirituality and daily chapel.
Today’s world asks much of us, our children included. Last month, I referenced the milieu of academic and social factors complicating student lives and shared sobering statistics signaling that today’s fast-moving world poses a particular set of challenges to their mental health.
Dr. Lisa Miller, whose book The Spiritual Child I commended in my August letter, notes that the “grooming” of students for what she calls the “A-train of success,” has left many with “severed spirits” devoid of a connection to the transcendent. She also cites recent brain research demonstrating that children possess an innate spiritual capacity – akin to their cognitive and physical capability. Left neglected in the first two decades of life, this spiritual capability will be underdeveloped and negatively impact an adult’s mental well-being, vital relationships, and a sense of higher purpose.
One antidote to this disconnect, Miller writes, occurs when parents, schools, churches and communities surround children with a “field of love” comprised of their collective love and support. Here, “in that relationship space our children find the spiritual values lived out…and their own spiritual development flourishes.” Parish’s inclusive community is a huge field of love comprised of teachers and coaches who counsel and advise, not just instruct; administrators who know students, not just manage them; and parent volunteers who coach, connect and care for grade levels of our students, not just their own children. Beyond this, however, Parish embraces its role as an Episcopal School and weaves spiritual formation into all aspects of our program. Our ParishLeads programming promotes self-reflection and acting with empathy and compassion within its framework. We require religion classes in each division. And, yes, we attend chapel daily.
It’s important our community understands what our daily 20 minute chapel is and what it is not:
Indeed, daily chapel IS a wonderful, and perhaps underappreciated, blessing. As the world moves more quickly and demands more from us, how fortunate we are to have this time to lift our eyes from our screens and to do lists, embrace reflection and practice decompressing.
And, therefore, it is important that we do chapel every day.
Now, I hear occasional grumbling from constituencies who wonder aloud or under breath, “does chapel need to be every day; wouldn’t one (two or three) day a week work just as well?”
No, purposeful choices by their very definition involve commitment and discipline, both of which can at times be more difficult than embracing the more pleasurable alternative. I’m doubtful one’s personal trainer would accept a once a week fitness plan. It is unlikely that Admiral McRaven would approve of his SEALS making their beds to specifications just three days a week. And certainly, eating healthily each day is less enjoyable than indulging in daily desserts!
But, over time, daily, purposeful choices pay dividends. I believe it to be the same with chapel. What our 6 or 16 year old might question now about daily chapel will at 46 or 66 be valued for its shaping influence.
We will stride fearlessly into the future, adjusting our program nimbly to meet the challenges posed by our rapidly changing world. As we do so, though, our center will hold. Our foundation in faith and recognition that tomorrow’s leaders will need the restorative energy of a rich, spiritual life will keep our Episcopal identity, daily chapel and intentional spirituality among our most purposeful choices.