All children have an inborn spirituality. However, if spirituality is not nurtured, it can wither. Spirituality is not the same as religious faith but it is the bedrock on which faith is founded.
Spirituality is like a bird - if held it too tightly it will choke, but if held too loosely it will fly away. It is not easy to put spirituality into words because it is about unknowable things rather than everyday concerns.
However, a healthy spirituality can be recognised in children in three ways:
These are what help a child to be absorbed - listening, watching and just delighting.
Being spiritual is not simply about being quiet. An active imagination, joy in discovering new skills and simply having lots of energy can make for a very exuberant spirituality. When this energy is channelled into creative outlets, it can revive our jaded spirits by helping to put us in touch with our inner child.
It should be the job of faith to nurture spirituality but, sadly, this is not everyone's experience. Religion has sometimes been used as an instrument of fear and as a way of controlling people rather than as a means of nurturing love for our world, each other and God.
Giving birth is a very powerful experience and, whether a pleasant or horrible experience, it can be a shock. The arrival of a baby can also mean the loss of something else - your independence perhaps, or the end of an exclusive relationship with an older child. This extraordinary combination of birth and loss touches us in the deepest parts of ourselves. This is why painful births can still be joyful and easy births can be experienced with tears. One of the great gifts of babies and young children is to put us back in touch with our spiritual selves.
It is all too easy for a child's spirituality to become hidden, if not crushed. By the age of 10 children often protest they are too old for 'that sort of stuff'.
Of course children grow up and, for their own protection, they must learn to be streetwise. However, spirituality is not the same as innocence. In fact, a healthy spirituality strengthens character and enables children to tell the difference between good and evil in the world around them. The innocent child can too easily become a victim. The spiritually developed child, on the other hand, has a healthy intuition, a strong moral sense, a keen interest in the world and a love of what is good.
Sooner or later children have to confront death, illness and the dark side of human nature in themselves and others. They may experience feelings like intense jealousy when a new brother or sister arrives, or a sense of betrayal when parents get things wrong. But if so-called bad feelings are denied, or if we pretend they do not exist or are unforgivable, then a child's understanding becomes damaged and damaging.
Nurturing spirituality is difficult in today's society because we have come to expect instant gratification. We try and avoid things that are difficult or unpleasant. We demand our rights but have neglected our responsibilities. We find it difficult to create a healthy balance between work and family, making relationships very vulnerable. Nonetheless, there are things we can do.
Read to your child every day. Stories feed the imagination, especially those such as fairy tales, which are about good and evil, courage and weakness, in an imaginary place or a mythical time. Bible stories, particularly those from the Old Testament, are great stories in themselves about what it is to be human as well as creating a knowledge base for future faith development.
© Revd Elisabeth Morse (St Luke's Battersea)
The congregation at St Luke's and Christ Church takes seriously the requirement to help the newly baptised grow in their faith. We have a whole range of activities for the newly born right up to teenagers thinking about confirmation.