Cultivating a Spiritual Life

Lately I’ve been thinking and reading about spiritual growth. I’ve been thinking about it primarily in the context of my work as a Jewish educator with a focus on early adolescent spiritual growth. Thus far my thinking has been all about questions. What do people mean (what do I mean) by spiritual growth? What exactly is it that does the growing or developing? How does the spirit develop? Does the spirit develop in ways that can be assessed, studied, and replicated? What sociocultural “tools” (in the Marxist/Vygotskian/ Geertzian sense of the term) promote spiritual growth? What role do educators play in promoting spiritual growth for early adolescents? How can educators be most efficacious in terms of promoting spiritual growth for early adolescents? What kinds of educative experiences impact the spiritual lives of early adolescents? What milieus in the Jewish world today are most well-suited to support adolescent spiritual development? What specifically Jewish cultural tools can be resources for promoting spiritual growth in adolescents (i.e. tefilah, Hebrew language, Torah study, Israel experiences, summer camp, Jewish day school education, synagogues, youth groups, tikkun olam projects)?

Obviously I’m starting from the assumption that spiritual development is important– for children, adolescents, and adults. I’m also assuming that spirituality is something that can be learned, transmitted, and acquired and that adults (educators in particular) have a responsibility to support and challenge young people to grow spiritually and not only cognitively, emotionally, and physically. In terms of Judaism I’m assuming that spiritual growth is part of living a vibrant Jewish life– that is to say that Judaism condones and values spirituality and that spirituality can be achieved within the cultural framework of Judaism (as opposed to arguing that spirituality and religiosity are somehow at odds with one another).

I know that there are lots of great people out there who are working on the question of adolescent spirituality both within and beyond the Jewish community. I also know that a better understanding of this issue would help educators (would help me ) feel like I could assess whether my efforts and those of my colleagues are on the right track in terms of promoting spiritual growth for the young people that I have the honor and joy of educating in my capacity as a teacher and rabbi. If you’ve read this far and can think of people I should reach out to, please share their contact information or encourage them to reach out to mlapidus@davisacademy.org.

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