The separation of Church and State was one of the more brilliants tenets of the Constitution of the United States, nestled in the First Amendment. The intent was more to keep the church out of the state then the state out of the church, but in any case, it was a firm acknowledgment that God and Caesar orbit around two different suns. A revolutionary named Jesus who threw the moneylenders out of the temple came long before Thomas Jefferson and urged us not to mix the two, rendering each its due. Jesus gave us the parable, Jefferson gave us the law.
But this is not a history lesson. Nor is it a political diatribe, questioning all those ministers and priests who speak from the pulpit to sway voters or the state buildings with Christmas trees. It’s not a look at the threat to secular education as Fundamentalists pay their lobbyists to throw out science and restore the Bible to the number one textbook.
What is this about then? It’s a simple statement of fact that 200 kids, 40 staff, a hundred plus parents all went to church today in our school’s Opening Ceremony. Like church, there was music, sometimes at a Gospel level of infectious exultation of Spirit, sometimes at a quiet decibel level that brought us to a breath-aware stillness. There was “preaching,” words meant to remind and inspire and keep us on the curvy (not straight and narrow) path of our intention to be kind, be inclusive, be courageous, be loving. There was no collection plate passed around, but yes, there was a tuition bill in the mail. So all of this defied the First Amendment and brought a bit of church into school without ever mentioning any spiritual figure with a Capital Letter.
The most impressive part of the ceremony for me was the many times 200 children between 1st and 8th grade—and do let me accent the word CHILDREN here— were pin-drop silent while the sound waves of Balinese gongs floated around the room or water poured from one kid’s glass to another could be heard in every drop. We often associate children with running boisterously, screaming loudly, shouting joyfull or painfully and yes, indeed, that’s part of who they are. But they also can be still as Buddhas in meditation, as silent as an empty cathedral at midnight. That’s what I mean by church. 45 minutes of intense attention, with humor, laughter, deep seriousness, great and varied music, children in the center of the ceremony, adults witnessing a first day of school designed to celebrate our gathering together again and begin the year with happiness, all intentions renewed to make great efforts to play and work and learn and help each other and be stewards of our tiny corner of the planet.
By all means, keep those institutional churches and states far away from each other. But don’t be shy about bringing in a quality of spirit free from dogma and enforced belief, an experience of the sacred nature of the undertaking, a ritual that catches our attention and invigorates our intention. It’s a pretty great way to start the school year.
One down. 174 to go.