2015/05/25 Leave a comment
Lisa Miller on the need for spiritual multiculturalism:
If a spiritual compass, commitment to family, and spiritual community as a sustaining source of love are must haves for children’s life journey, then spiritual multilingualism is their passport. Having our own spirituality and sense of community, whatever that may be, is important to a child. But you want your child to be able to see the sacred in others. Spiritual multilingualism enables us to cross familiar borders and embrace the essence of spirituality in its many cultural narratives.
Children come to understand that diverse spiritual traditions share common themes and often have parallel ideas and observances: the rhythm of the seasons, the birth of a baby, ceremonies of commitment, or rituals around death and mourning. Having your own spiritual or religious orientation but being able to hear and understand others doesn’t only make it easier to engage with other people; it also enhances your own access to sacred experience by making these universal inner connections available to you wherever we go. A child who is conversant in the “many names, many faces” of spiritual practice can find the sacred in others— engage more meaningfully with other people in our diverse global culture.
“The biggest mistake people make when first beginning to look at unfamiliar perspectives is immediately to make comparisons between the familiar and the unfamiliar,” writes Buddhist feminist theologian and author Rita Gross. “The power of the comparative lens comes not from making positive and negative comparisons; rather, it comes from seeing each perspective clearly, in its own right. In other words, one gets a deeper understanding of one’s own perspective by understanding how others understand their own perspective.”
In childhood, natural spirituality of the heart very quickly attaches to the names, stories, and rules to which our children gain daily exposure. Starting as early as age four and certainly by age seven, children absorb the language and customs of thought used to express spirituality in their family or spiritual community. Research shows that for children these names are prioritized as spiritually “more real.” A team of Harvard psychologists led by professor Mahzarin Banaji, investigated whether very young children, ages four to six, already had in- group versus outgroup—my God is better than your God— perceptions around the names of the higher power. The team found in controlled experiments, a child as young as age six will rate “God” as named by her faith as more omniscient than “God” as named by another geographically remote unfamiliar faith. No matter what we may think about religion, we want to be sure children are open to other possibilities. You want your kid to be as open minded as possible. As parents, we want to act early, deliberately, and swiftly. We do not want a child to build tribal superiority, which has nothing to do with a clear and open pipeline for natural spirituality. Theology competition is a misguided form of implicit socialization that ultimately distorts access to transcendent love in all three forms of self, other, and higher power.
The early mental packaging of a child’s natural spirituality makes imperative— read urgent— that our children become, in essence, spiritually multilingual and multicultural from an early age if we genuinely want them to have respect and appreciation for natural spirituality in other people and cultures. This “many faces, many names” perspective is the opposite of religious chauvinism and all other “isms.” Offer your child a window into the religions of other families and peoples. As ambassadors, offer the opportunity to feel transcendence in many places and ways.