The Spiritual Child

The Spiritual Child, by Lisa Miller

Guest  blogger, Sian Hancock, reviews a must-read title – and almost puts her words to a melody!

This book made my heart sing! ‘Spirituality is our nature’. It is bursting with insight to deepen understanding about children’s spirituality.

Lisa Miller, as a psychologist, uses a scientific lens to view spirituality through. The book is written as a resource for parents to help demystify spirituality so they can more purposefully nurture their child(ren)’s spirituality. She invites parents to be spiritually awakened with curiosity and openness so they can accompany their children more comfortably on this journey but to also embark on their own journey of discovery.

The science of development, both biology and psychology, shows that spirituality is innate: we are hardwired for spiritual connection. Miller cautions the need to ‘use it or lose it’, explaining how spirituality grows with attention but can be stunted by neglect. Interestingly, she argues that spirituality can be a support in development, especially during the transitional stages and in particular through the journey of inquiry and discovery in adolescence.

While addressing her work to parents, Miller extends the responsibility of nurturing children’s spirituality to everyone. I liked her metaphor of the family picnic blanket to illustrate the ‘field of love’ that surrounds a child represented by the significant adults in their life. She highlights grandparents and writes about the ‘nod’ – an intergenerational transmission of spiritual attunement. Miller reassures parents that children need more significant adults in their lives, which may include teachers, club leaders and the children’s church team, to name a few.

Having explained the science of the brain, Miller begins to highlight approaches that help develop spirituality. When asked, ‘How do I make my child spiritual?’ Miller explains how an outside-in approach is unnecessary: the science shows children have a natural spirituality.  That means an inside-out approach is needed to help nurture what is already within the child, affirming that and helping to articulate and express it. To help illustrate this, she offers examples of ways to respond to a child. These are useful to any adult interacting with children.

‘Build your ark before it rains!’ Nurturing children’s natural spirituality from a young age will help strengthen it and build their resilience so that when faced with transitions and life’s challenges, they have an inner compass to navigate their way through. They find security in the wider spiritual community or ‘field of love’ that helps them to understand family. They become multilingual as they embrace the diverse nature of the world around them and formulate questions in response to their reflections on this. They encounter transcendent experiences as their intuition and and inner wisdom mature. Above all they learn the art of developing a culture of love.

This book is both fascinating and engaging. It is written in a style that reflects the complexity of spirituality (for some the science may seem dense and difficult to interpret), while the illustrations and insights creatively and imaginatively stop you in your tracks. The sense of wonder is seemingly contagious as it draws you in.

Miller, Lisa (2015) The Spiritual Child, New York: St Martin’s Press

Sian has worked with children and young people in a range of contexts over the years. She is based at Bristol Baptist College as Coordinator – Children, Youth and Mission (linked with the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission). Sian was previously a primary school teacher and, going further back, she ran a pre-school. Add to that her involvement over many years of church work with children and young people, and you will begin to understand her deep sense of calling to see children develop in their own spirituality and faith journey. She is a Godly Play guide and trainer and loves creatively inviting children to engage with the story of God through the Bible. Her research focuses on children’s play as a spiritual dialogue.

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