The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

The Mysterious Elsewhere

Frank Lloyd Wright once reflected, “I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over the country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the ‘Dakota Badlands.’ What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere—a distant architecture, ethereal… an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” Many summers of life I spent working alongside the Oglala Lakota in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. As soon as the Badlands and other signs of entry to the reservation were in sight, I felt the world kind of fall away. What were essential—the moments for connection and relationship in a sacred place—took precedence and were the only things that mattered. Holy encounter met me.

Equally extraordinary are the deep and abiding friendships with the Oglala Lakota nurtured for more than 20 years. Up to and until this pandemic time began, and over the past several summers, faculty, staff and students where I currently serve as Chaplain have partnered with the reservation and walked this “mysterious elsewhere,” investing themselves by being in community with the Oglala Lakota. Bringing to my mind’s eye this landscape and the many who call the Rez home draws into focus our kinship with and responsibility to humanity. 

In remembrance of this spiritual and ethereal place in South Dakota where I met the expanse of the natural world and multiple generations of Oglala Lakota—stewards of this sacred land—I am drawn to the time and place we inhabit now. The rugged regions of pandemia move us to pause, to turn interiorly as we navigate together the upheaved terrain of a country’s people calling out for healing, unmasking, reconnecting and reckoning with the long deferred response for justice. 

For many of us in Episcopal schools, Covid-era Chapels in Zoom have served as essential community meeting points, valued opportunities to prayerfully and contemplatively take in the horizon together. Albeit a seemingly limited vista, there is the call to much needed moments of stillness. Very close, here and now, is a destiny we share. “Mitakuye Oyasin,” as the Lakota prayer reminds, “We are all related.”

The Rev. Sarah Anne Wood is Lead Chaplain at Trinity School in New York City.

The Repair Shop

One might say it's a cop-out to just blog about whatever I've been watching on television recently. As the person tasked with editing this blog, I am constantly wowed by our writers' depth of lived experience or vast wealth of highly nuanced texts from which they draw inspiration.. However, these are the times of Covid, creative pickings are slim, and so I will continue doing what most of us have been for the past year or so—making do. Read More »

Jesus of Nazareth Walks Into a School…

One of the most vexing questions in an Episcopal school is how to be authentically Episcopal and welcoming of all. This question is especially vexing when it comes to religious pluralism among and within the school’s many constituents: students, parents, faculty, trustees, alums, and, if your school is associated with a parish or cathedral, parishioners and Episcopal clergy. Read More »

Becoming a Nobody: an Ash Wednesday Reflection

One of the many reasons I have enjoyed being Chaplain in Episcopal Schools is that I probably spend more time than the average parish priest reading, thinking about, and teaching from wisdom traditions other than Christianity. I’m a Jesus guy at heart—and I know where my allegiances are—but my experience teaching the great wisdom traditions of the world has opened my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching problems that arise in life. Occasionally, I learn something from another tradition that feels entirely compatible with my Christian faith, so much so that I have to remind myself it doesn’t appear anywhere in the gospels. Today I’m referencing the Buddhist idea of nirvana. Read More »

More Patriots, Less Patriarchy

On Monday and Wednesday of this week, we observe two monumental national celebrations, both of which have significant implications for the moral life of the nation—the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and the Inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. The juxtaposition of these two celebrations invites us to think deeply about two major themes, patriotism and patriarchy. Read More »

Another Way

Last January, I preached a sermon on the Sunday nearest Epiphany, focusing on the theme of “another way.” Matthew’s gospel tells us about how the Magi, having paid homage to Jesus, were warned in a dream to return to their homes “by another way.” What other ways, I asked that Sunday, would God be asking us to ponder, indeed travel this year? Little did I know just what dramatic “other ways” would befall us in 2020. Read More »

Morning Meditation from Biennial Conference 2020

When I first began teaching, I thought academics were all that really mattered. But the more I worked with young people, the more I came to see that great intellect did not always come with a warm heart or a clear moral compass. I saw students crippled by sadness in their lives, or worry, or anxiety or anger and hurt that made learning a shadowy process. Slowly, I came to see not merely their minds but the totality of who they were, and who they were becoming. Read More »

Foundation and Community

In my twenty five years in education, I never thought I would see the day when our country was at such unrest. In every corner of the world, there seems to be chaos. The health and well-being of our neighbors, along with the major shutdown of our country is a stark contrast to what it was this time last year. Read More »

What goes on when we pray?

I find myself thinking about this seemingly simple question once again. This time it was prompted not by a student but an adult. Last month, Church Publishing released Common Prayer for Children and Families, a collection of daily liturgies and prayers for all sorts of occasions that Jenifer Gamber and I wrote together. A parent who saw the book congratulated me and then asked if there was an accompanying companion piece or a guide. She suggested that parents and teachers often need both prayers themselves and an additional resource to assist them in theologically explaining to children (and perhaps themselves) what is going on when we pray. Read More »