After flying in from Chicago to visit my children recently, I arrived in time to watch them perform in the marching band for their weekly football game. My daughter, Katie, who plays the trombone, spotted me in the audience and needed to leave the stands and come weep a bit on my shoulder. She couldn’t explain exactly what was wrong, but it seemed to be a combination of loneliness, not finding enough friends in the band, and missing me a bit. Katie is mature enough to recognize that a little therapy might help to alleviate her sadness, as well as--she expressed to me this weekend--learning “how to meditate.”
Katie’s interest in meditation, combined with the fact that her World History class is focused on world religions led us to discuss her need for community and the role of religion. While I was raised in a committed Protestant family — went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir for 12 years, have a sister who is now an ordained Presbyterian minister -- Katie’s father and I were more agnostic, and did not have our children baptized in the Christian faith. We wanted them to choose their religious affiliation for themselves when they grew older.
I have reached a point in life, however, where I regret not having raised my children with more of a religious community. My children have participated in community service work, but not community spiritual work. My daughter’s tears and my long distance travel have reminded me of how important a spiritual community can be when other types of support are missing.
The recent Pew study  that received significant media attention last week demonstrates that “atheists” statistically know more about the history of world religions than many other religious faiths. (My children and I all scored well above average.) But knowledge isn’t everything, is it? When I suffered a medical accident a few years ago, it was my parents’ church that sent me over 300 cards of well wishes and gifts of chocolate pretzels to gain weight back. It doesn’t matter to me which religious community my children and I choose—just one that is inclusive, progressive, committed to community service and has good music.
I teach at a Catholic university that is open to world religions and committed to civic engagement. While I felt a bit uncomfortable with some religious rituals at first, I have been impressed by the students’ commitment to knowledge and service work, as well as by their religious diversity. Service seems to come naturally to many of these students (and we have a talented a cappella  singing group). I also believe that universities are finally incorporating what many organized religions have known for centuries — that sharing your skills with others in need is a natural way to feel better about yourself.
Katie told me that she went to a lunch table recently run by the student Christian group, Beta Chi. When I asked her how it went, she answered, “It was O.K.” I applauded her courage for investigating a new group, talked with her about doing community service work at an organic farm, and told her that we would try meditating next time I was home.
I could use a little meditation myself…