Have you ever watched a child as they marvelled over, what to you, is a completely ordinary object? Or watched them as they turned an ordinary object into something extraordinary – the tin becomes a drum, the basket becomes a hat, the fall of leaves becomes confetti to dance under? One of the most special aspects of children’s spirituality is their capacity for wonder and awe.
Our Strange World
Imagine yourself for a moment in the place of the small child in your life. Think about all the things that they are yet to experience. Have they seen snow yet? Have they been to the beach? Have they heard an orchestra strike up its first chord? And even closer to home, what things in your own house are they yet to explore – through if they are anything like my two year old they will have had a good go at exploring everything already!!
My point is that for children so much in the world is new. Their little brains are making thousands of connections each day as they explore their environment. Ordinary things, that we have gotten used to, are anything but ordinary when you are experiencing them for the first time. And children really experience them, with all the senses. If something hasn’t been smelt, licked, thrown into the air and bashed with something else, then has it really been explored at all?!
Love of the New
All this exploring, though, seems to give children an ease with discovering new information and an openness to learning new things. It is a fierce drive within them to get out and explore, as anyone who has tried to get a toddler to sit in a buggy when out and about will well know! Today it is chucking it down with rain and my toddler was determined to splash in his new rain boots the whole way home. He just had to explore what on earth this water falling from the sky and landing on the ground was all about! Where we as adults have become quite confident of our environment, so much so that we hardly notice it much of the time, children are immersed in the world around them, always seeking to understand it more.
But I think that for us adults this sometimes does us a bit of a disservice because it causes us to miss so much. Have we really fully experienced and understood all the world has to offer, or even everything that our own little world, our homes and immediate environment, has to show us? Or is there still joy for us in the crunch of leaves under our feet, or the feeling of flour between our fingers, or the colours of paints splashed across the page?
And sometimes we can become afraid of learning new things, that by admitting we don’t know we are showing that we are lacking in some way. Learning new things can be a scary thing, not a joyful thing. Children can help us to return to the wonder and joy of exploring what we don’t know and learning something new.
This openness of children to the world also seems to go beyond what is right in front of them. They are often happy to go beyond what is known and obvious. They are comfortable with mysterious things, finding joy in being lost in wonder rather than needing to have all the answers. Rather than being dominated by thoughts the child can simply experience.
In this way the spiritual world of a child can be a very rich place indeed. I can’t think of a better attitude to have when it comes to exploring the big questions of life. Imagine approaching the world with this openness, with this willingness to be surprised, being content to just wonder about all that is around you, even those things you really don’t understand.
Making space for wonder
And so what can take from all this about nurturing the spirits of the children in our lives? Most importantly, perhaps, is remembering that what is ordinary for us can be extraordinary for a child. The greatest gift we can give their spirits is time and space. Space to explore and time to experience wonder and awe. Children will find a whole world of things to marvel at but it’s a joy too to seeking out new experiences for them. These don’t have to be complicated things, just turning over a log in the back garden is enough.
My favourite moment when I take baptisms is when I take the child in my arms and hold them up to my body so that they can look over my shoulder. Just there, behind the font, is the beautiful, enormous Easter candle. Their eyes widen as they see the flame dancing about, reflecting off the gold of the cross. I can never get them to turn and face their families for the photo they all so desperately want to take. But for that little one, that is their moment of awe on their special day. I just love to see it.
So how about you? Have you experienced the children around you showing wonder and awe? And have you found any great ways to encourage them in their explorations?