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The Secret Spiritual World of Children

The Secret Spiritual World of Children

Book Summary by VerDella Denwiddie,
Atlantic University

How do early experiences influence a childís spiritual life? When Laura was seven, Adam, the family dog died. She took it very hard. While riding with her mom in the car one day, Laura was restless and talked nonstop, until her mother asked her to please lean back a take a rest. Laura did so, and awakened after twenty minutes.

She excitedly reported that she had left her body and went to talk to Adam, who had told her that her being upset was making it hard for him and that she should send him love and light if she wanted to help him. He also told her heíd come to see her so that sheíd know what to do when someone else close to her dies. After that she was completely at peace with Adamís passing, but the story does not end there.

In a few short weeks, Lauraís aunt gave birth to a baby with a terminal illness. Laura insisted on visiting, even holding the dying child, and informed the family that she was sending love and light to help this dying infant. The whole family felt better. Not only did Laura learn from Adamís "visit" but it enabled her to teach the adults within her sphere.

What problems and dangers do children face with respect to their spiritual capacities? What can we, as nurturing adults, do to help our children? Some time ago, psychiatrist Gerald Jampolsky reported an increasing number of parents who brought their children to him with concerns that they were having psychotic episodes. The children would seem to see, hear or interact with phenomena that the parents did not perceive.

Jampolsky advises that, rather then assuming the worst, parents can be much more helpful by smiling encouragement but not interference; acknowledging the childís reality and allowing further exploration. If an infant points or stares at something unseen, follow the direction and simply nod and smile or laugh with encouragement. If the child can communicate, ask the child to describe what he or she perceives, or what is taking place.

If instead, the parent waves it off, or says that it is "nothing", or describes the scene in adult terms, the child may become shy about describing what he or she thinks is happening, or may stop believing, or "seeing," at all. Rather than feeling safe to explore the unknown, the child becomes firmly entrenched in the physical world, and even that from the viewpoint of the parent guide. Such children will forgo the rich spiritual world as it has opened before them, assuming that the only correct way to see is as their parents have taught them to see.

At age 11, Alison, suddenly stopped playing in her yard to come into the house and say to her mom that her momís friend Ellen had just died. Allison could not understand or explain how she knew this. Her mom became very upset and told her not to say that. When the phone rang a few minutes later and confirmed what Alison had said, her mom became even more angry and told Alison to never tell anyone about what had happened and to "never do it again."

Alison, now grown, said that she wondered what was wrong with her and even if she had somehow caused Ellenís death. It certainly stifled her further exploration of spiritual matters. In fact, the author, Dr. Tobin Hart, is the first person, after her mother, with whom she shared the incident.

Dianeís father passed away suddenly, when she was 12. Much to her familyís consternation, she continued to feel his presence and would converse with him. When her family discovered her talking to him about continuing their relationship, she was forced to sleep in her momís room because they assumed that she was hysterical. However, Diane would not be discouraged. She continued to "see" and communicate with her dad. Diane believes that her father helped her through her motherís long illness which followed his death, and that he also supported and encouraged her writing skills over the years.

During the early years, he would help her finish sentences or find just the right words. By the time she was 24, she was senior editor of a major magazine. When her dad finally began to move away, she asked him why. He responded that she was able to be on her own and he wanted her to realize her own strengths.

Even though he was no longer in frequent communication, she continued to be aware of his presence and that he would sometimes simply hold her. Diane felt that she would have missed a wonderful opportunity for this relationship, as well as her personal spiritual growth, had she let her familyís reaction impede her further exploration of this spiritual encounter with her dad.

As shown above, not all children can be strong in the face of adult discouragement. Some are especially vulnerable to even subtle discouragement from adults they trust. So, how do we nurture our children in this area instead?

Dr. Hartís daughter was in fourth grade when he got the opportunity to help her "see" that the bridge from the physical to the spiritual world could be traversed for practical reasons, as well as emotional reinforcement. Haley needed to complete an assignment on significant black historical figure and had chosen to report on Mahalia Jackson, the gospel singer. Haley had chosen a book and gotten some information from the Internet. While typing her report, Haley seemed tense and frustrated.

In order to help her to relax and to encourage her to continue to do a good job, Dr. Hart suggested a short break and an experiment with her angel. He suggested that she lie down on her bed and ask her angel if she knew anything about Mahalia. Haley, eager for a diversion, agreed. When she returned after about 20 minutes, she was bouncy and matter-of-fact about having "seen" Mahalia and gotten substantial, personal information from the singer that was not reflected in any of the material previously gathered. The additional information enlivened and enriched the report substantially and, more than that, encouraged Haley to trust and respect the spiritual dimension.

An interesting sidebar is how Haley made the connection. The author had asked her to ask her angel, an excellent precaution to abate fear or negative spiritual influences; beyond that, he left it to his daughter to use and respond to her own internal guidance.

Haley said that after she asked her angel, she went, in her mind, to
www.mahaliajackson.com; instantly the singer came to stand before her. Show them the right path for positive spiritual influence and let them develop their own ways.

What might a spiritual curriculum look like for children? If we want to avoid making our children a clone of ourselves, one good way is to leave their many questions unanswered. At the supermarket, seven year old John suddenly asked his father: "Why are we here?" His father responded that they needed to get dinner. John quickly clarified that he meant why they were "alive." The father, too shocked to give a stock or well-thought through response asked John why he thought they were on earth.

Johnís reply shows that he didnít really expect a pat answer. "I donít know yet; Iím working on it." A stock answer, no matter how spiritual in content, may have in fact impeded Johnís further growth. Why should he find his own answers, when an adult whom he trusts, can give them to him. Perhaps, in his own way, he did not want an answer, just "permission" to explore the question.

Another way to help our children is to return the favor, ask them "big" questions. "What do you think about God?" "What would make your school, the world, your parents, or the universe better?" "What would you do if you were the presidentÖ?" "What is the most important thing about being you?" "Whatís the most fun?" "Draw what you think a terrorist feels like on the inside and tell me why?"

Spirituality is not all in the head. Cultivate your childís imagination, instigate and encourage playtime, and listen with all your senses. Back rubs or gentle touching before bedtime or while the child studies is a way of being present without intruding. Sometimes this may open a door of trust that enables a child to speak of their deepest concerns or share with you their most guarded spiritual moments.

Nine year old Jesse started crying on the night before his birthday when father put him to bed and gave him a goodnight kiss. When his father was able to calm him enough to find out what was bothering him, Jesse responded that having another birthday meant that he was "another year closer to death, and it means you are too.

I know thereís such a thing as reincarnation, but I donít want things to change." His dad did not have perfect verbal response. Instead, he held Jesse close and cried with him until they both felt better. Karenís six year old daughter announced one day that she knew she died in a street fight because sheíd had numerous dreams and waking visions about it.

She included details in her description about which she would have had no knowledge or exposure in her current life. She then asked her mom; "What does this mean?" A pat response could close a fertile mind forever; a better answer is to explore the possibilities together, leaving ample room for the childís own fancy and interpretation.

Do children serve as spiritual teachers for adults? If children can be our spiritual teachers, how can we best instigate the flow of knowledge that they hold within their minds and hearts? How do we, intentionally and unintentionally, inhibit this flow?

One three-year old taught her mom a game she said she learned from "an angel" in heaven. The mother was amazed. It was a game that she had learned many years earlier, from her own deceased grandmother. Another three year announced, at the dinner table, that heaven was a fun place but he was glad he was with them. When they responded that they too were glad, he continued "Yeah, when I was in heaven I asked God to give me telescope, and I looked down here.

And I said I like her and I like him." The mother responded with encouragement that that was nice and they knew they were going to have him. The child quickly replied: Yeah, but this was before you knew Daddy. I helped bring you guys togetherÖ" This struck a deep chord in both parents who had a strong sense of their son long before he was even conceived.

Why is the spiritual nature of children so important? Canít formal religious instruction suffice? There is something remarkable about the presence of children in our busy lives. Our hearts reach out to a child in pain. We gladly touch an infant, if just for a moment, and feel blessed by the experience. We do silly things to get a childís attention and our hearts sing if we get an unbidden compliment from a child. Children open us up to the spiritual nature within ourselves, a need to love and to be loved.

The great spiritual teacher, Black Elk, 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." Moreover, children seem to awaken within us the childhood we once enjoyed or perhaps, missed, due to circumstances beyond our control; the adventure, body wisdom, living and experiencing everything directly.

Carl Jung stated that "in every adult there lurks a childóan eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part the part of the human personality that wants to develop and become whole."

Children take us back and forth on the continuum of discovery; they are evolutionís angel. When we open to and nourish their natural spiritual nature, we become part of the wave of evolution, through which eternal Spirit reveals itself. Let us nurture the secret spiritual world of children that we may understand our own biggest challenge, the secret unfolding of our spiritual selves.

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