Lesson 101 in essay writing class is always ‘define your terms’ and I realized as I continued with this blog that I could really do with writing a post talking about what spirituality is! It is one of those terms that you probably already have an instinctive idea about. We just sort of know what it is. But it is also one of those terms that is really hard to pin down when you do try to define it. What does it mean to have a spiritual life? Do we all have a spiritual side or is that something for the religious only? And if we do all have a spiritual life, how is this different at different stages of our life?
Why am I here and What is this all about?
Hopefully this isn’t the question you are asking yourself about reading this blog!! But this is one of the parts of many definitions of what spirituality is. The spiritual part of us is that part which wonders about and seeks to explore the mysteries of the universe. That’s sounds very grand, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to mean sitting down of an evening to ponder the eventual fate of our solar system. It could mean seeing a plant growing through the cracks of a pavement and wondering about the power of life to spring up in the most unlikely places. It could be seeing your brand new baby and wondering about the irrepressible and overwhelming feeling of love that washes over you.
As children are so absorbed in their world and pay so much attention to it, they are asking these questions all the time. Though we might miss it, or consider it to be simply making a big old mess, they are engaged in exploring the nature of reality – what the world is and their place in it – all of the time. As Robert Coles put it ‘how young we are when we start wondering about it all, the nature of the journey and the final destination.’
God’s with kids and kids way with God
Spirituality doesn’t have to include a religious aspect. You can be atheist and wonder about the nature of the world and your place in it. But, quite naturally, wondering about the nature of our world leads many to consider God. This, in particular, seems to be a mark of children’s spirituality in our culture and is, of course, part of the human quest for understanding all over the world. One study found that 80% of seven year olds mentioned being aware of God’s presence compared to 30% of adults surveyed.
I love the definition above (slightly paraphrased!) from Rebecca Nye. It reminds us that an aspect of spirituality in the all our lives, and the lives of many children, may include experiences of and ideas about the divine. Sometimes these experiences may be such that we cannot really explain them in words. There are many things that are beyond what we can explain or even think our way to. This is worth bearing in mind should a child open up to you about their spiritual world, it might not seem logical or thought out to you. Nonetheless it is so important that children feel listened too and respected in what they share.
We also might have to work through some of own discomfort about the things we don’t know or haven’t figured out for ourselves yet – or even, perhaps, our children expressing completely contrary views to the ones we have! Children quickly pick up the ‘no go’ areas of conversation and the things that adults value through their praise. This important part of a child, their wondering about the world, can be squashed by us. As the early years writer Marion Dowling writes ‘aspects of today’s society severely constrain children’s spiritual growth and contribute to the dangers of disenchant with the wonders of childhood’.
Part of what I hope to offer on this blog is practical ways to support children in their spiritual lives such as how to support children in their big questions. There are also a few posts already up on the blog about aspects of spirituality that are especially important in the world of the child, such as wonder and awe and being in the moment, so do check these out if you would like to read more.