Last month, I accepted an invitation to speak at the Florida Air Academy, a college preparatory school in Melbourne.
Speaking to teenagers about spirituality isn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it comes close. While it didn’t qualify for hostile fire pay, it’s something that should be limited to “a professional on a closed course,” as they say on the automobile commercials.
Nevertheless, I pushed beyond my fears and the comfort zone of a 51-year-old columnist to define spirituality “as that sense of awe and wonder we all have about our world.
“It helps us question who we are.” I asserted. “It’s how we hope, how we pray and how we love. Spirituality is that piece of us attracted to something outside ourselves. It is that basic appetite or search engine that seeks our beginnings and helps us understand our endings.”
After admitting that my spiritual search brought me to Christianity, I allowed an opportunity for them to talk about their search.
Two students affirmed my definition of spirituality by telling me about how they’d helped others outside themselves. Tenth-grader Thomas Brock told me he is an American Red Cross volunteer and he went to Peru to teach the people how to save lives in the water.
“Yes, that’s a very rewarding spiritual connection,” I affirmed.
Arthur Macalpine, 11th-grader, told me he is a member of the Kitty Hawk Air Society, and planned to serve as a crossing-guard protecting younger children as they trick-or-treated.
“Helping kids safely obtain candy. Is that spiritual?” I asked, squinting one eye.
“It can be,” I said. “Even Jesus said, ‘If you have done it unto the least of these, then you’ve done it unto me.’ ”
Since many people affirm that spirituality helps you process life and death, I asked the students if they’d ever come close to dying.
Dakota Best, an eighth-grader, raised his hand from his wheelchair.
Dakota was the victim of a jeep accident that nearly took his life. I was eager to hear his comments.
“I was asleep for two weeks, so I really didn’t think about anything. When I realized what had happened, it was scary,” he plainly pronounced.
Twelfth-grader Conrad Page talked about the sense of loss from a rollover accident.
“I knew the rest of my summer was lost.”
But it was eighth-grader Alistair Blaha who turned the table on my spiritual quiz.
“Why is this happening to me?” he remembered asking as his father’s private plane hurled toward the ground.
“That’s a great spiritual question,” I told him. “Sometimes, we’re forced to conclude, ‘Why not me?’ ”
Venturing further, I asked, “What do you think will happen when we die?”
I got many answers from the Christian perspective. Daniel Norris (sixth grade) said you go to heaven, but qualified that “You get there by faith.”
Sam Scarpaci (11th grade) was quick to offer the assurance that “We are reunited with God, the father.”
Vivian Shipman (11th grade): “Nothing happens after we die. I don’t believe that our spirit separates from our body.”
Andrew Woods (12th grade) offered the alternative perspective of reincarnation while Ching Wai Pang (11th grade) asserts that, “What happens to you is what you believe will happen. You will get what you expect.”
At the end of the day, I had to wonder whether I’d ever do this again. Yes, I think so, because if we only look for spirituality in familiar places, we are going to miss God in a lot of places, especially in high schools.