Last week I organised some training on fostering children's spirituality led by my mum, Gill Goodliff (a lecturer in childhood studies at the Open University) based on some research she has been doing. Several interesting reflections emerged for me.
1. many of us confuse faith and spirituality - we think spiritual development = faith development. There are many Christians who have 'faith', but lack a nourished spiritual life. In the same way, children often have a spiritual life, which is not yet 'faith' or is not yet translated into that category. Does finding faith often mean losing spirituality? As we begin to construct a more defined faith and theology, does our sense of imagination, questioning, delight, wonder and celebration, etc receive less attention or is even nullified? Maybe this sheds some light on the words of Jesus to receive the kingdom of God as a child. For faith to ultimately grow we must attend and nuture our spirituality. We should not focus on children finding faith (in terms of a set of agreed beliefs and experiences), but on nuturing their spirituality from which at the right time faith will emerge.
2. the spirituality of most adult christians leaves our children without role models. In our churches there is little room or time for questions | there is mostly only a uniform and uncreative expression of worship | in a lot of medium-size to large churches we do not know one another's names outside our little circle of friends | we do not develop or foster relationships of trust (the problem of individualism) | we do not regularly experience or practice times of silence and stillness | we do not find time to be thankful and find delight in being alive and the wonder of God's creation | we do not celebrate each others joys and achievements and neither do we share in each others sorrows and sadness. If we are to foster and encourage children spirituality's many of us need to examine our own spirituality.
3. our focus as the church with regard to our children is not primarily to provide services or to educate, but to create and maintain spaces 'in which they can experience the fulness of God's love with every fibre of their being and soul' (Keith White, 2005).
4. to consider our being church (worship, mission, bible, world, faith, theology, spirituality) from the perspective of the child. This does not mean that we abidcate our role as adults, but to open our lives to listen, to create space for our children to contribute and even shape our life as God's church. This does not mean we turn our children into adults, but to allow our children to be children. Just because they are children does not mean they are merely those who receive, they are those who can give and show us glimspes of the kingdom of God, which from our adult and grown-up perspectives are susceptible to miss.