We are not a secular school. This may be a strange statement, but I start with it to be a bit provocative and maybe entice a few more readers than usual.
Secular means not being connected with religious matters or anything spiritual. But we are blessed with a variety of religious traditions represented in our little community, so we are most certainly connected to religions in this way. At Kairos, we aspire to honour diversity and difference as much as possible, including diversity of belief. We celebrate religious festivals that coincide on the same day, or nearly so, and seek to acknowledge as many of these events as possible — in a minor way via a prayer before Social Lunch or a song or blessing during our daily choir (as we’ve done with Sivaratri and Chinese New Year this term), or in a more significant way such as an organised event in the school.
There might be philosphical enigmas to confront — for instance, in two weeks, we will celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim and the Hindu Festival of Holi on the same day. Even though Judaism rejects the use of any imagery that represents God and Hinduism employs imagery and statues to evoke devotion and reverence as much as possible, the differences are only contradictory at the relatively rigid interpretations of each tradition. On the one hand, the Jewish devotee might accept that Judaism rejects idolatory not idols, and that idolatory can be a state of mind rather than a religious ritual. On the other hand, the Hindu devotee might accept that each Hindu deity is just a different name of the one Divinity, which is everything that exists.
And more importantly, those of us at Kairos who peer into these minority traditions with curiosity and openness may deepen one’s appreciation of our world’s multicultural heritage. Similarly, our celebrations this year of Eid-Al-Fitr, the Jewish & Muslim New Year, Easter, Pesach, Halloween and Diwali might evoke a similar appreciation.
Also it’s difficult to engage in the path of teaching without also having something of a philosophical temperament, and there’s a fine line between the philosophical and the spiritual. Even the atheist philosopher may experience herself having a profound passion for truth — something many would say is a spiritual temperament. We have occasionally had passionately atheist pupils in the school, and this viewpoint is also acknowledged and honoured.
Reverence for each other, for one’s body, for groups of people that are different to our own, for all life — this does not necessitate a religious belief system or dogma of any kind. Reverence is a primal human experience, and perhaps this is the intention behind Mark Twain’s phrase, “Man is a religious animal.” Reverence helps grow in us the capacity for multicultural awareness, for tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance, and for an aspiration towards working on our conscious and unconscious prejudices.
In times where latent xenophobia flares up, such as currently in our own country as well as in America and Europe, it seems pertinent to consider the importance of curiosity of the Other, allowance for difference, and even a willingness to change one’s own ideas, perhaps. We are born into a cultural tradition by quirk of sociological fate — but perhaps it is our personal destiny to transcend these boundaries and investigate the traditions and understanding of others.
I love the example of the Jesuit monk of India, Tony de Mello, who wrote, in the dedication of the book, “The Song of the Bird”,
I have wandered freely in mystical traditions that are not Christian and not religious and I have been profoundly influenced by them. It is to my Church … that I keep returning, for she is my spiritual home; and while I am acutely, sometimes embarrassingly, conscious of her limitations and narrowness, I also know that it is she who has formed me and made me what I am today.
As a great, great grandchild of a rabbi I know little about, I too honour my Jewish heritage, which has shaped me prior to my wanderings.