Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 9, 2009
Children's spirituality needs adults' respect
Children's experiences of God should be honoured, says psychologist
BY CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Long before they ever set foot in church, pray for the first time or an adult tells them about faith, children have a special relationship with God.
Dr. Nancy Reeves, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, spiritual director and best-selling author, said that The Toronto Sun researched children's views on spirituality. Confirming her own views, a high percentage of children interviewed said that spirituality was very important and made their lives worthwhile.
"Spirituality is what gives meaning in our lives. Without spirituality, life would just be eating and drinking and sleeping. We would be bereft without it," said Reeves, emphasizing that this same principle applies to children as well as adults.
Children experience God in a direct way, she said. Instead of a little boy saying he sees a bluebird, he might say that he sees a gift from God. The child will feel a sense of presence, a sense of oneness. For a parent to dismiss these observations and experiences, says Reeves, may bewilder the child.
ONLY IN CHURCH
"If we just tell children that their own experiences aren't real, they get the feeling that they can only experience God in church," she said.
Reeves, from Victoria, B.C., works extensively in the areas of healing, spiritual discernment, loss and transformation. Known for her heartwarming stories and lively way of presenting, her next workshop, Nurturing Children's Spirituality, is Thursday, March 19 at Providence Renewal Centre at 7 p.m.
"This is an evening for adults who care for children, whether they are catechists, parents, grandparents or in support of teachers," said Reeves.
Of schoolteachers specifically, she said, "We cannot teach religion in public schools, but we can support spirituality."
The workshop involves small group discussions, story sharing, and other interaction. Not only a practical way to nurture children's spiritual needs, the workshop can also be faith deepening for adults.
Reeves shows adults how a child experiences God. Feeling a presence, a child will gaze upon a patch of grass with awe and wonder, experiencing a sense of sacredness that an adult would not.
She shared the tale of a six-year-old girl who saw people kneeling during Mass. The girl saw something that the rest of the congregation did not. The girl said that she saw a "white love" coming down from the ceiling, a white light that stroked the men and women.
When the light touched them, some of the people smiled, their faces brightened. When the light touched others, they did not react. The girl questioned why some did not know God's love.
When a saint like Mother Teresa made such a claim, people believed them, but not so with children.
Cases of liquefaction, odour of sanctity, levitation, bilocation and stigmata, while documented in saints, are deemed inauthentic when a child makes those same claims.
Yet Reeves insisted that the little girl was not fibbing and could not have made up such a story.
"I don't think we are going to talk about God's white love like this in church," said Reeves, but those are the subjects children will bring up.
A background in grief counselling prepared Reeves for helping adults deal with a child's difficult questions about death and loss.
Through the workshop, she helps adults deal with those same difficult questions. "A child will say, 'Jesus killed my dog.' How do we deal with tricky questions, like when a child asks why Jesus let his grandma die?" said Reeves.
Reeves' early view of God was Sister Mary Elizabeth, her Grade 1 teacher. "When I heard that God loves us so fully, I immediately thought of her," she said. Children will make the same parallel between God and the people they love most.
"I see a lot of wounded adults out there who can't say 'God the Father' because their own father was abusive, so they have to work through those issues," she said.