I've just bought a book I saw reviewed in the "Christian Century". After reading the review and some excerpts from The Spiritual Child, by eminent child psychologist Lisa Miller, I bought the Kindle edition so I can read the book before I become a grandparent in May. (More about that later.) I've started reading today.
One thing that caught my attention, beyond my own interest as a prospective Grampa, was Miller's audacious claim. These words are from the blurb in "Publisher's Weekly".
In The Spiritual Child, psychologist Lisa Miller presents the next big idea in psychology: the science and the power of spirituality. She explains the clear, scientific link between spirituality and health and shows that children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality:
* are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances
* are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers
* are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex
* have significantly more positive markers for thriving including an increased sense of meaning and purpose, and high levels of academic success.
Combining cutting-edge research with broad anecdotal evidence from her work as a clinical psychologist to illustrate just how invaluable spirituality is to a child's mental and physical health...
Whoa... Does that mean making our kids go to Sunday School works? No. Not exactly. Dr. Miller writes about "children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality". That's not the same as Sunday School or Youth Group or Confirmation Class. It's not just those things, though any of them can contribute to "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". They can't do it alone. Not without an environment where growing children can observe adults who demonstrate their "positive, active relationship to spirituality". It's not just about talking the talk, or making sure the kids walk into Sunday School. It's about walking the walk. Living a life that shows how important our spirituality is to us. It's recognizing that human beings are more than flesh, bone, and the drive to survive. We're also beings of spirit, and attending to our souls is at least as important as taking care of our bodies.
Dr. Miller believes we are designed as spiritual people; and designed for relationship with a higher power, or at least a set of values that calls us to more than just existing on this earth. She declares that the "Science of Spirituality" is the newest frontier of scientific discovery. It's worth reading the book just to find out what she has to say about that.
Dr. Miller is Jewish. In her work she makes room for Atheists, and all other religions. A Christian perspective on our humanity is pretty much the same as the Jewish understanding. We are "living souls", created in the image and likeness of God. The New Testament speaks more of us as beings of "flesh and spirit". But the two go together. We're not just flesh, any more than we are just the wet dirt or the stolen bone Genesis says God used to make human beings.
For most of the church's history the understanding of both the humanity and spirituality of children was that they weren't yet fully-formed souls. They had the potential to grow into the knowledge and practice of religion. They had to be taught and disciplined so they would grow into full personhood. But their capacity for relationship with God wasn't recognized. Churches today are still struggling to get beyond those assumptions about children. Those beliefs still shape what many adults in church believe Christian Education is for. Authors like Lisa Miller are calling parents, educators, faith leaders, and congregations of all kinds to see children in a new way.
I said I would say more about grandparenting. I'll just touch briefly on a widespread phenomenon among churches all over the world: the spiritual power, or the faith, of grandparents leaps a generation to offer children "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". This is especially true of grandmothers, but grandfathers can tell the stories and make the connections that feed children's spirits, too.
Many parents have to admit that, at least for now, their grown sons and daughters aren't interested in religion or-- more important-- being part of the community the church is, at least, supposed to be. Sometimes it's our fault, for not demonstrating "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". Grandparenting can give us a chance to try again. More often, though, our daughters and sons grew up to know they can be good people and have good lives without the church. Sometimes they can tell stories of how the people in church who were supposed to teach and mentor them treated them like... look back two paragraphs.
Scholars in our part of the world are just beginning to explore the phenomenon of children coming to the faith community under the influence of their grandparents. I think we parents who wish our adult offspring came to church can recognize some good reasons why they don't.
But, don't despair! This is anecdotal evidence. There's no study yet. There are stories of parents coming back to the community of faith, in gratitude to their own parents, because they see how much their kids love coming to church with Grandma and Grampa.
The faith, the "positive, active relationship to spirituality" of children can be contagious!
I'll let you know when I've finished reading the book. Probably around the time I tell you I'm a Grampa.