Young children have a great openness to the presence of God in their lives and a real readiness for prayer.
“Dad this (the teaching of meditation) was one of the greatest gifts you have ever given me.”
As a parent myself I write this chapter aimed specifically at parents and caregivers and the role they play as the prime educators of their children. Parents are so concerned about the development of their children and nurture their children in their own special ways. One area that parents may not pay much attention to or think about is the spiritual development of their children.
I believe humans are spiritual beings and the spiritual development of children can be nurtured in so many ways. In this chapter I will attempt to give parents some helpful information to help them travel with their own children on their unique spiritual journeys.
In many ways the writing of this book and the whole idea of teaching meditation to children originated from my oldest son, aged twenty three at the time, to teach him to meditate before he left Australia to work in London. My son is an Occupational Therapist and having worked a few years in Australia he decided to embark on a grand adventure in England working in hospitals in his chosen field.
My son was very aware that I was a meditator as he had watched me over the years, “go to my inner room” to pray. As a young adult he always respected my practice and even thought it was a shame that the University he attended didn't teach the discipline of meditation. I would say he had a healthy interest in meditation and he certainly had commented “whatever I was doing seemed to make me easier to live with".
It was strange, that even though my adult son and I always had a great father-son relationship that it never occurred to me that I should approach him to teach him to meditate.
I always thought that meditation was something you took up when you were older. The evening two weeks before he flew out of the country when he asked me to teach him to meditate proved to be one of the most moving experiences of my life. For two wonderful weeks I taught and meditated with my son and the memory of that time is still so vivid for me. The experience brought us closer together than we ever had been before. We quickly became very comfortable to be still and silent together.
Christian Meditation does build community but it also has the power to bond people closely together. In many ways my son and I found in the silence a new way to communicate not only with our God but with each other as well. Even now when I sit down for my times of meditation I take comfort in the thought that my son, somewhere else in the world, at some other time, might also be doing the same, and during these times we are both in the present moment which is where our God is.
I cannot say with certainty whether my son meditates regularly or not but I can say with certainty that he knows how to meditate and he knows that it is simple and he can do it anywhere at anytime. The rest is up to him but I am so thankful he had the courage to ask me to teach him my spiritual discipline. I wish I had done it earlier, hence the inspiration for this whole book.
I have two more children at home with me now and I have embarked on a personal mission to nurture their spiritual development, and the ideas expressed below are aimed at providing ways that may practically help them and nurture a more contemplative way of approaching life rather than always having to consider an action approach to everything. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of ideas but rather some ideas that might create thought, discussion and creative ways to nurture a more contemplative way of looking at the world.
The following ideas are aimed at providing ways that may practically help nurture a more contemplative way of approaching life
Consider having your child develop a quiet, sacred space in their room or in the house.
This can be as simple as a small table where they place ‘natural’ things on, like shells or stones or interesting twigs or leaves. This can help them develop a sense of God in nature and think about the divine in everyday life. It can also instil in them an interest in looking for things in everyday life that make them contemplate God.
Consider including a bible and other spiritual reading resources as part of their sacred space.
If these sacred books are part of their everyday life experience they may take the time to read quietly every day.
Consider giving your child an icon or spiritual symbol.
Believe it or not children actually are interested in symbolism and respond positively to symbolism. There are some beautiful icons available and understanding the symbolism involved in icons can be fascinating for children. My son’s name is Nicholas and when in Moscow I bought him a beautiful icon of St Nicholas and gave it to him as a gift. He hangs it with pride in his bedroom and is aware of the life of St Nicholas and the symbolism contained in the icon. He hangs the icon beside pictures of his sporting heroes and his favourite rock band. It competes with space in his room but it also makes the spiritual seem normal and can fit side by side with other competing interests.
Encourage stillness and silence as often as possible.
Households can be noisy action-packed places. Encourage times when television and radios are turned off. If children can feel comfortable in silence and they see that silence can be a normal part of life they can develop an ease with silence and not feel the need to fill silence with noise or movement. Stillness or lack of movement can also be nurtured in many ways. The old saying ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is rather old hat and not necessarily a popular notion today, but there is much to be gained for children even at an early age to learn to be still and silent as an alternative to always having to speak, fill up space with noise, or be action people.
Prayer, stillness, and silence are all natural.
Whenever possible if children can see that these three things are part of everyday life rather than something to be added on to everyday life, parents can go a long way in making the spiritual part of a child’s life normal. Children should not be made to feel that the spiritual, contemplative aspects of life are remote from everyday living. The more parents can normalise a spiritual life the more normal it will be for children.
A child’s spirituality is nurtured in community, the oneness with others that springs from shared experiences, shared memories and shared hopes and dreams.
The first community a child experiences is their family. Parents can foster a healthy spirituality and a contemplative nature by modelling this for their children and creating a safe, secure environment where the spiritual life can blossom. One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is a balanced view of life. The spiritual side of life needs to be part of the everyday fabric of life to help develop and maintain a balanced life.
Build times of silence and stillness into the life of your child every day.
It is important to teach children to go within, that it is within themselves that they will find their resources, and indeed find God. Whether parents teach this in a faith context or a secular context, simply learning to go within is the key to unlocking the door. To do this children need good teachers and the first and most influential teachers they encounter are their parents. As parents we need to show our children we are not afraid to go within ourselves.
Meditation is simple; we are complex.
As parents we must try and teach our children the art of simplicity and not complicate things too much. In the early years if we can keep it simple and teach our children to be simple we can create a very good base from which they will be able to explore their spiritual selves later in life. Like so much in life a good foundation is so important to build.