Faith Matters: D.A. students on the value of a relationship with God

  • Jan Flaska, dean of spiritual and ethical life at Deerfield Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, talks with students. Left to right: Saher Al-Khamash, Jeffrey Sun, Madisen Siegel and Fernanda Ponce. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jan Flaska of Deerfield Academy talks with students Jeffrey Sun, Madisen Siegel, Fernanda Ponce and Saher Al-Khamash as a portrait of former Headmaster Frank L. Boyden looks on. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy
Published: 9/16/2016 10:48:28 PM

(Editor's note: The following is a submission to The Recorder's weekly column titled “Faith Matters.” Each Saturday, a different faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. For information on becoming part of this series, email or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

By Jan Flaska

Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy

In contrast to faith and scholastic communities that have a pronounced religious grounding, moments of spiritual reckoning for students at Deerfield Academy come with each ascent to the Rock on the Pocumtuck Ridge, as we “Look to the Hills.” Moments of spiritual reckoning come with each call of our motto to “Be Worthy” of those that came before us, recognizing the fact that many once walked where we now walk. Moments of spiritual reckoning come with each narrative re-told of the influential and venerable lives of founders Helen and Frank Boyden. The servant leaders of the Deerfield Academy Student Spiritual Council exist in this setting, and their words are offered below, grounded in their particular faith journey, in consideration of the question of the durability and worth of a relationship with God during one’s adolescent years.

For additional information about spiritual life at Deerfield Academy, please contact Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life, at or 413.774.1486.

“A relationship with God has taught me to be humble. Since I could remember, my grandmother always told me that our fortune in life was thanks to God. Believing her words, I see the advantages and comforts in my life as blessings, not as entitlements. When I pause to thank God by saying ‘Alhamdulillah.’ it stops me from seeing myself as the sole reason for my successes. As an adolescent, I believe this modesty has made me forgiving and less judgmental and has made my interactions with my peers more genuine. A relationship with God also brings hope in the face of difficult times. I have seen other Muslims find hope and consolation through God when dealing with depression, death, and misfortune. Additionally, I see how Islam is a source of positivity and hope for Arabs hurt by the countless tragedies in the Middle East. Although I cannot say I have experienced such difficulties, seeing the struggles of others, and keeping them in my thoughts and prayers, does give me some consolation. The positive mentality I have developed through Islam helps me cope with the more hardships I see and experience as I grow up.”


“Ask a Rabbi a question, and he will answer it with another question. This exemplifies an important aspect of Judaism: learning. Judaism encourages questioning of the issues that confront the foundations of our beliefs. Judaism is a living religion, as is its main text, the Torah. The Torah can be interpreted in many ways, as seen in Talmud and the diversity of sects. Judaism has varying degrees of observance, ranging from atheists (those who are ethnically and culturally Jewish) to reform to orthodox. Some believe the Torah is G-d’s divine words, while others believe it is wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Being able to question the words of the Torah or even the existence of G-d is incredibly empowering. Judaism has taught me that it’s OK to question my relationship with G-d. This is especially important when growing up. The teenage years are confusing and difficult; it is a time that requires guidance. I turn to Judaism when my moral compass vacillates or when faced with a tough choice. Should I get the fake ID? How do I respond to friends with anti-Zionist beliefs? I think: What would Rabbi say? It helps to keep things in perspective and makes it easier to do the right thing. For me, having a relationship with G-d is fundamental. During a time in my life when much is up in the air, Judaism and the community I have gained because of my relationship with G-d has provided support and stability.”


“My freshman year at boarding school, I hung a picture of Jesus above my bed. Despite people saying they did not mind it, I saw the way they awkwardly stared, and one night, when my roommate’s friends were over, I overheard one of my classmates ask quietly, ‘Is she really religious?’ I wanted to stand up at that moment and tell her, ‘This picture represents my inner struggle with God.’ Simply because I go to mass every Sunday, a custom my parents inculcated in me since I was very young, and I keep a picture of Jesus, it does not necessarily mean I am devoutly religious. As a teenager, I have questioned my faith in God, even though much of my morals, values, and beliefs have been founded in part by my Catholic religion. Many times I have thought to myself: If I rebel against God, then why continue to be Catholic? Why keep pretending I am one? The answer to those questions are that I am not yet mature enough to understand the mystery that is God, but I have slowly started to realize the gifts He has given me, such as health, family, wealth and a strong community of family and friends I find at my church. Adolescence has proved challenging to keep a relationship with God, but I know if I manage to hang on, I will be much happier, like those I have seen find God.


“I lived a life without faith until I was 15. That was the exact year my mother suddenly — and quietly — became a Christian. This change was tremendous, almost disorienting. The impact of her conversion was only made greater by the timing, which was during my formative years and transition to the United States. In a secular China, and in an unbelieving family, my mother had made a decision that was not easy to comprehend. That was when I decided to find out what Christ was all about. First, as an onlooker, I began to attend Christian Fellowship at Deerfield Academy. Two years later, I served as a guitarist during worship. In my time with friends at the fellowship, I’ve come to learn how invaluable a connection with God can be for people my age. Some of my close friends and their testimonies illustrate this well. One of them used to be a bully, and terrorized virtually everyone at his previous school. Seeking a genuine relationship with Christ helped him transform his disposition. Now, I can confidently say that he is one of the most gentle and caring individuals I have ever met. Computer science teacher Mr. Bakker put it aptly and said that a balanced wheel of life has Christ at the very center. A relationship with God can serve as a compass for navigating the negativity, temptations, and challenges of adolescence. For the youths who are lost, getting to know God may help light the way.



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