The latest book that I am reading about children's spirituality is called From the Ground Up by Kathryn Copsey. It was suggested to me by my friend Helen and got a resounding "yes" from Rebecca Nye (Godly Play Trainers' Trainer and author of Children's Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters) when I was asking her about further reading.
So far I have only finished the first chapter, because there was so much in it that I read it three times! What I love about this book is that Kathryn's experience and philosophy do not come from orderly, white, middle-class Sunday school rooms. Rather this book is the fruit of her long-standing work with urban children in London, the majority of whom have not had easy lives.
One of the most helpful thoughts from chapter 1 is the difference between spirituality and faith. Most of us know that children's spirituality is fairly hard to define. (I personally like Rebecca Nye's basic definition that spirituality is the attempt to connect to that which is beyond yourself.) And then to differentiate it from faith is even harder. Copsey had a group of children's workers brainstorm words associated with "spirituality" and "faith". The words that people came up with for "spirituality" tended to reflect awareness, mystery, and otherness. The words associated with faith, however, appeared to be more secure, grounded and linked to the beliefs and practices of a given religious community.
She goes on to say that all children have a spirituality, and that faith is the framework that is built around this spirituality. A child might have a Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim framework around her spirituality. And it is even possible to build a secular atheistic framework around a child's spirituality. These sorts of statements are exactly what make the subject of children's spirituality a bit controversial in more conservative religious circles, because it becomes clear that spirituality is not limited to Christian children. In fact, all children are spiritual beings and some sort of framework will be built around it, either consciously or unconsciously.
And that is where our work as a Christian mentors comes in. Copsey writes " . . . as Christians, our belief is that spirituality reaches its full expression when a Christian framework is applied - when the original image of God imprinted in each person is consciously recognized and responded to in Jesus Christ."
All children start out spiritually open, but far too many become less open to it and even closed to it in late childhood and adolescence. This happens in part because their spirituality is either not nurtured or ignored. My dream is to mentor children who will continue to be spiritual their whole lives.