Spirituality and Religion
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, noted children's author (God's Paintbrush) and rabbi was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Kanuga Christian Formation Conference in Hendersonville, North Carolina. One of her morning presentations focused on the "Spirituality of Children" and how we as educators can assist parents in reclaiming their role as being primary "formers of faith" for their children.
First is the need to distinguish between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is an awareness of living in the presence of the Holy. It is rooted in experiences and can lift us up to self transcendence. For example, Moses had a spiritual experience on Mount Sinai - he experience the presence of God and was forever changed. Religion is the container for the life of the Spirit. It is grounded in responsibility. We can refer to The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) as the framework as to how we are to live as a holy people. But the two (spirituality and religion) must be connected; spirituality without religion leads to self-absorption and an occupation that one engages with alone and without others.
In today's world, many parents are afraid to talk about God with their children. They themselves don't know what they believe in anymore. So in telling stories, we share with children what is important. Sharing the biblical story and our own stories are important for passing on faith. How we teach faith and religion is important. And it is important not to simplify God; we need God with us throughout out lifespan - not an understanding that we can easily grow out of! The use of image and metaphor allow children to be open to discovery about God. Simplifying the language we use in talking about God and our experiences are what children really need.
Parents (and educators) need to be wary of the media images of God - God is not that grandfather with the white beard. We can live with good questions to discover our relationship with God. What is worth thinking about - not what should you be thinking. How can we help parents live with the questions that have no answers? As spiritual beings, our journey through life is to recapture the understanding we had of God when we were in the womb.
Wisdom to Share with Parents
- Trust themselves. Remember, Noah was an amateur. The builders and captain of the Titanic were professionals. Who was successful?
- Belief changes over time and that's okay.
- Faith isn't a destination - it's a journey.
- Faith reflects doubts and fear, not certainty.
- Live by example - children will follow what we do as well as what we say
- Time has a moral dimension. Help your children understand the meaning of sabbath.
- Pay attention. (Hebrew = give your heart)
The first language of religion is telling stories. Then comes liturgy. Then comes theology. Peter Pan needed Wendy to tell stories. The Lost Boys were able to grow up once they knew some stories. The power of imagination will help our children grow up with a full relationship with God. And it will help their parents, too.