Chapter four: The Soul Arrives
The existential question all human beings must answer is “Are we a soul in a body or a body with a soul?”
Based on psychological and human development research the evidence is accumulating that we are a soul in a body. The concept for this is “incarnation.” Viewed from this perspective, the birth of a child is a sacred event. The day a child is born, parents are born as well.
Lisa Miller describes in her book, The Spiritual Child, on p.104, a series of studies done by psychologists Annette Mahoney and Kenneth Pargament at Bowling Green University which found that 80% of people said that becoming a parent is inherently sacred,
Miller describes three distinct features of spiritual cognition in young children. First, when a child is an infant and growing into toddlerhood, it is apparent that the child perceives an intentional universe which is intelligent and of which they are a part. The innocent child has a love for the interdependent web of all existence which is destroyed by society with increasing objectification and conditioning. Second, the child sees the parent as all knowing with a God-like omniscience and is the child’s first conscious experience of what a transcendent being might be like. Third, the young child is aware of non egoistic existence with reverence for an intergenerational and transcendent reality beyond the tangible here and now. The young child feels a connection with the immortal souls of people and animals which often gets remarked on in passing to the alarm of adults.
In other words, the young child’s awareness of its existence is non dualistic, perceives the primary caretaker as all knowing and all powerful, and is still in tune with the non egoistic reality.
Given these three characteristics of spiritual cognitive functioning, Miller outlines five natural capacities that will expand if not neglected or destroyed. They are a natural love for spiritual ritual and prayer; a heart knowing unitive empathy of oneness with others; a proclivity for generosity, compassion, and caring for others; a love for family and other attachment figures; and affinity for nature and the life cycle.
Given these three characteristics of spiritual cognition and five capacities what should parents and caring others do to enhance them?
First., we should create and protect special time for reflection (prayer) with the child.
Second, the adult should demonstrate though their own lives reverence, gratitude, and respect for the interdependent web in which they navigate. In other words the “sermon” which parents provide is their example.
Third, we need to name things and experiences. As parents sometimes say to an upset child, “Use your words! Tell me what’s upsetting you.” The same naming is important for spiritual thoughts, feelings and behavior. Over time a vocabulary, a glossary develops which contributes to satisfying communication and self awareness.
Fourth, welcome and play in nature. Let your child get dirty. God may well be hidden in a mud pie.
Fifth, be sensitive to what Miller calls “sympathetic harmonic resonance.” The psychologists call it “mirroring.” Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see? Do you feel what I feel? Can you do as I do? This works two ways and works best if the parent mirrors the child having initiated engagement.
- To what extent do you believe that parenting is sacred?
- When have you felt most spiritual with your child?
- When have you been surprised by a spiritual awareness that your interaction with your child has evoked?