Personal Thoughts on Children’s Spirituality from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
We have been very interested in children’s spirituality since 1993 when we put together a Resource Companion for parents trying to figure out how they might cultivate their sons’ and daughters’ spirituality. The first thing we noticed about children’s spirituality is its playfulness. Jesus startled his adult hearers when he told them they had to become like children before they could enter the Kingdom of God. Children who live in the present moment and delight in the play of their senses are in touch with a life-enhancing spirituality. The Creator of the Universe seems to like people who act spontaneously from their hearts.
The second thing we noticed about children’s spirituality is that we don’t give it the respect it once had. As parents, relatives, and friends of children we can do more to cherish and respect their mystical moments or feelings of oneness with the universe. They should always have a soul companion available to them when they have a dream to share, an ethical dilemma to discuss, or a feeling of buoyancy which can’t be constrained.
The final thing to realize about children’s spirituality is its cross-generational value. Black Elk, who had a vision when he was nine years old, put it this way: “Grown men may learn from very little children for the hearts of little children are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things which older people miss.” Such as a special sensitivity to the mysteries of life. Such as wide-eyed wonder. Such as an openness to the miracles around us that adults may be too exhausted or busy to see.
In sum, children’s spirituality thrives on playfulness. It demands respect. And it overflows into the lives of others bringing gifts and abundant inner riches.
Not surprisingly, then, we were delighted when we had a chance to immerse ourselves in The Center for Progressive Christianity’s A Joyful Path: Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds, Year 2 of the Inner Wisdom Series and discover that it was in sync with our ideas and ideals as stated above. We commend the spiritual largesse and writing skills of Lorna Knox, Carol Malnor, Susan Usha Dermond, Fred Plumer, and Deshna Ubeda for putting together this creative, inspiring, and transformative spiritual curriculum consisting of 38 lessons.
One of the major challenges for Progressive Christians in the years to come is paying more attention to “equipping the saints.” The dictionary meaning for “equipping” is “to supply with intellectual, emotional, or spiritual essentials.” It is derived from an old French term which means “to put to sea, to embark.” The Center for Progressive Christianity has picked up this challenge and provided congregations and parents with two years of relevant and imaginative curriculums for the 21st century. They have taken the lead in reframing Sunday school teachings and made them into invaluable resources for “equipping the saints” as they head out on the sea of our culture.
See The Eight Points of Progressive Christianity Affirmations
The Sum and Substance of A Joyful Path
This spiritual curriculum spells out in eight units the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity with accompanying affirmations. It emphasizes the mystical power of Jesus’ presence and his ability to tear down the barriers between people and bring them all together. Progressive Christians are Christians who:
1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life. Affirmation: The teachings of Jesus lead me to understand that I am one with all.
2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of the many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey. Affirmation: My heart is open to the wisdom teachings of the world.
3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to: Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, Believers and agnostics, Women and men. Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Those of all classes and abilities. Affirmation: I am part of the community of life that includes all people.
4. Know that the way we behave toward one another is the fullest expression of what we believe. Affirmation: What I believe in my heart is what I show in my actions.
5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes. Affirmation: As I ask questions and try to understand, my heart and mind stay open.
6. Strive for peace and justice among all people. Affirmation: I act with inner peace and fairness in all I do.
7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth. Affirmation: I love and take care of my earth home.
8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love. Affirmation: I will always look for ways to learn and be loving to others.
Affirmations as Learning and Devotional Tools
“We need an easily learned, relevant, and accessible form of spiritual practice that gives life to every aspect of faith. We need a spiritual practice that unites tradition and innovation, theology and practice, silence and action,” Bruce Epperly wrote in his book praising affirmations in the Christian tradition. We were glad to see these faith-boosters as a regular part of this spiritual curriculum.
The Path and Teachings of Jesus & The Gift of Joy
This first unit of the curriculum presents Jesus as a spiritual teacher who models the path of transformation that enables us to live in a new way. The three lessons cover Experience of Community, Experience of Joy, and Experience of Transcendence. These themes are woven together nicely with the main accent on the joyful path, the title of this spiritual curriculum.
When he is about to leave his disciples, Jesus tells them: “These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What a beautiful legacy — passing on abundant joy. We’re reminded of the saying of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Hasidic teacher: “Joy is not incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital.” Children are given ample opportunities to cultivate joy in this course!
Opening to the Wisdom Teachings of the World
Unit 2, a group of five lessons, covers a few of the beliefs and rituals of five of the world’s religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Indigenous. It is good to see the spiritual practice of hospitality encouraged so early in the lives of curious children. This respectful treatment can lead eventually to a life-changing focus on interspirituality and many more collaborative ventures among the world’s religions.
The Gift of Inclusivity
Progressive Christianity has a special place in its heart for inclusivity — the art of bringing people together and celebrating common bonds. The lessons in this unit deal with family, people in the neighborhood, the new tribe, and no boundaries. Separation is a toxin which keeps people apart and in these times of global interaction, it is imperative to move beyond this negative view toward a reverence for listening and truly being present for others.
Following in the Footsteps of Spiritual Heroes
The lessons in this unit revolve around biographies of the six spiritual heroes, each of whom can teach us a valuable lesson. They are Clara Barton (Comfort to Others); Desmond Tutu (Forgiving Others); Mary (Acting with Love); Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller (Compassion and Trust); Mother Teresa (Doing Something Beautiful for God); and Young People (Giving Generously). How we behave in our everyday lives is the measure of our faith, hope, and love.
Search For Understanding
Unit 5 focuses on three aspects of the search for understanding: asking questions, the Bible, and the Parable of Jesus. In the quest for meaning, we must be able to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge and understanding in the face of the many baffling mysteries of life and death.
Peace and Justice
Progressive Christians are known for their sacred activism for the causes of peace and justice so it is no surprise to see this curriculum cover four exemplary figures and their contributions. They are Mohandas Gandhi (Great Soul, Justice Through Nonviolent Resistance), Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Activist), Mildred Norman Ryder (Peace Pilgrim), and Wangari Maathai (Tree Mother of Africa). The treatment of these noble souls is designed to stir children’s feelings for peace and justice and to move them toward ethical action.
Integrity of the Earth
Unit 7 contains six lessons on our relationship to the Creation: Enjoying the Planet, Respecting the Natural World, Rhythms and Balances, Stuff, Caring for Mother Earth, and the Universe. Children are naturally curious about the world of nature and animals and the exercises in these lessons make the most of this reality. We were especially cheered to see one of our favorite quotations from John Ruskin in Lesson Two where he says: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there really is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
The last unit salutes lifelong learning with lessons on Learning/Exploration/Discovery, Open to Change, Creativity, Selfless Love, Personal Power, and Developing an Inner Life. We are enthusiastic supporters of the notion that the spiritual learning that has been presented in this course can be extended throughout all our days. Or, as mentioned in this unit, “Every facet of life is touched as we keep our hearts open and let spirit and truth guide us through every experience.”
A Joyful Path is a spiritual curriculum designed for children ages 6 through 10 years of age. The lessons have been written for a traditional classroom but can also be taught at home, in small groups, in large multi-classroom environments, or in intentional communities. The important thing to realize that any place where it is used should be considered a sacred space and hallowed as such.
A Heart-Centered and Experiential Spiritual Curriculum
Our contemporary culture still exalts the reason of the head above the discernment of the heart. People seem ill at ease looking within. More than ever, as we move deeper into a world of technological toys and programmed robots, we need to nurture the “heart skills” such as compassion, kindness, acting with love, and giving generously.
The writers of A Joyful Path understand that today’s children are allergic to the authoritarian teaching of dogma and rigid rules which have often been part of the Sunday School regimen. Here the emphasis is on the experiential with the accent on sharing experiences, telling and listening to stories, and relishing the pleasures of personal discovery on the spiritual path. The writers of this spiritual curriculum also appreciate the fact that experiential learning opens the door to seeing life as an adventuresome spiritual journey.
A Pluralistic, Expansive, and Inclusive Spiritual Curriculum
A great deal of time and energy has been put into creating a spiritual curriculum that celebrates not only the Progressive Christian Path but also the riches of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Indigenous Religions. This pluralistic, expansive, and inclusive emphasis speaks to the multifaith world in which we live and the abundant opportunities for collaborative ventures with other religious folk.
A Spiritual Curriculum to Rekindle Christian Theology
The writers of A Joyful Path have succeeded in creatively integrating Christian theology into this 38-part spiritual curriculum by taking it out of the ivory tower and placing it directly into the everyday lives and activities of children. This is a great example of practical theology.
Movement and Nature
Sadly, many children today are deprived of physical movement and contact with the natural world. There are exercises in most units of this curriculum that involve movement and/or can be done outside in the natural world. This corrects a pattern from the past where Christian teachings for children were divorced from the body and nature.
Stories, Artwork, and Other Spurs to Creativity
Poet and spiritual teacher John O’ Donohue has noted, “When the imagination is awake and alive, fact never hardens or closes but remains open, inviting you to new thresholds of possibility and creativity.” This is a good description of A Joyful Path. We salute the creative use of stories, artwork, and other exercises and practices to foster spiritual growth. God the Creator loves artists and these lessons will bring out the artists in all who engage themselves in this soul-stretching material. Hats off to Lisa Mundorff for her splendid illustrations through the curriculum!
A Sturdy Batch of Resources for Teachers
In addition to all the lessons for children, this curriculum includes a sturdy mix of support materials for teachers, including Heart of the Lesson; Suggestions for Visualizations, Meditations, and More; Quotations to Enrich the Lessons; Relevant Bible Verses; Games and Activities; Stories and Questions for Discussion; and (last but not least) Classroom Management Tips.