My good friend Linda Gortz sent me David Brooks’ May 22nd New York Times column entitled, “Building Spiritual Capital,” focused on Columbia University Professor Lisa Miller’ new book, The Spiritual Child.
Miller’s thesis is that spiritual awareness is a key part of children’s development. Her studies show that failure to foster spiritual awareness in young people can fuel depression and also abuse of alcohol and drugs. Conversely, Miller’s research finds that “adolescents with a strong sense of connection to a transcendent realm are 70 to 80% less likely to engage in heavy substance abuse. Among teenage girls, having a strong spiritual sense was extremely protective against serious depression.”
Lamenting that public schools — concerned about separation of church and state — shy away from spiritual education, Columnist Brooks recommends that our schools “teach the range of spiritual disciplines, in order to familiarize students with the options, without endorsing any one.”
General spiritual education in public schools is an intriguing idea, but I’d note that spiritual education is at hand right now in faith institutions all around town. From seeing our eighth grade confirmands’ faith statements written at the end of their year-long confirmation process last month and hearing our graduating seniors’ sermons, I know the spiritual thinking of youth in Wilton is rich. Focusing them on this thinking is one of the most positive things that any of us can do for them, as Miller’s research confirms.
Given below, without attribution to specific faith institution or young person, is a small sampling of those statements this spring from youth in faith institutions all around town. Each of the 15 sentences below reflects a single youth’s voice:
“How I really connect with God is by helping other people; you live in a faith community where people accept and trust each other and try to bring out the best in everyone. I’m fortunate to be well fed and clothed and to live in a supportive community; doing things to make a positive difference in the lives of others has made me aware of how lucky I am to live here and enabled me to see how much a community can do if everyone works together. In Wilton we are gifted with safety, health, a social network, and access to great education which many people across the world do not have; we must use these gifts to help others.
“I know how blessed I am: I have clothes on my back, a roof over my head, and food in my stomach; I have always been grateful for everything I have, but after helping to serve lunch and dinner and provide clothing to the homeless, I was especially thankful. It feels good to know that what I have done has affected someone’s life for the good. I feel that God was present as I was doing service for others; it felt good to be kind and helpful to others, like God wants us to. I’ve been shown how to love and share with others and how to be kind and caring.
“I believe that God accepts us for who we are and loves us no matter what and that we need to try our best to do the same. I put my best effort into helping people because I know God does his best for me. You should love your neighbor; when we help others, God is with us because that is what he’s taught us to do. I think God is present whenever you are doing selfless things like helping others. I feel as if God is at my side when I help others.
“My congregation has shaped my memories and experiences of the good, and I will always be thankful for that. [My faith institution] has shaped my life not by giving me answers but instead by provoking me to ask questions: what type of person do I want to be, how can I help others, how can I make the world a better place? [My faith institution] has taught me that nothing is more powerful than love, that a faith community creates a powerful place where people from all backgrounds unite as one, and that every one of us has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life.”
These statements confirm how rich a resource of spiritual education is at hand in our town to any who seek it. Especially in light of Prof. Miller’s study, it would be a real shame not to take full advantage of it.