The Spiritual Child: A book review by Bob Morris

The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving
Lisa MIller
St. Martin’s Press (2016)

Improving the world “starts with each child, and his or her birthright: the spiritual child.”

As the father of four and the grandfather of eleven, I read this book with special interest because I have struggled for many years to understand the significant differences between living a spiritual life and living a religious life. Many adults I know claim they lead both. I do not. Many of them think the terms are synonymous. I do not. Serious questions remain.

That said, having read this book, I now have a clearer understanding of the aforementioned differences and thank Lisa Miller for that. I am also grateful to her for revealing so much about a subject about which I previously knew so little: man’s inborn natural spirituality that can serve as a foundation to mental health and wellness, “particularly as it develops during the first two decades of each human life.”

These are among Miller’s key points and recurring themes:

o “Spirituality is an untapped resource in our understanding of human development, resilience and illness, and health and healing.

o “Awareness of spiritual development creates opportunities to prepare teens for the important inner work required for individuation, identity development, emotional resilience, character, meaningful work, and healthy relationships.”

o “Biologically, we are hardwired for spiritual connection.”

o “In the first decade of life, the child advances through a process of integrating his or her spiritual ‘knowing’ [and awareness] with other developing capabilities, including cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development, all of which are shaped by interaction with parents, family, peers, and community.”

o “The science of spirituality enables us to see adolescence in a new and more helpful, hopeful light: the universal developmental surge in adolescence, previously viewed as a fraught passage toward physical and emotional maturity, is now understood more fully to also be a journey of essential spiritual search and growth.”

o “Parents and children share a parallel developmental arc in which a child’s need and yearning for spiritual exploration coincides with a similar ‘quest’ phase for adult life.”

Each of the major religions — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism — offers order, structure, rituals, policies, procedures, obligations, and traditions that are unique to its articles of faith. All, however, attempt to nourish the spiritual health of those among its members. Many other people seek that nourishment elsewhere from non-religious sources.

Some of Miller’s most valuable information, insights, and counsel are provided in Chapter 13 when she identifies and then examines each of seven “approaches” to helping children build a spiritual life. These approaches can also be helpful to those who have direct and frequent contact with children.

1. Speak: Use Spiritual Language Daily (Pages 331-333)
2. Share: Transparency and Voice of Spiritual Experience (333-336)
3. Connect: Meet Them Where They Are (336-340)
4. Teach: Build a Spiritual Practice Together (340-341)
5. Nurture: Embrace Relationships with Animals and All of Nature (341)
6. Care and Repair: Tend the Field of love (341-345)
7. Strive: The Inspired Life (345-348)

Each is thoroughly explained and based on scientific principles and personal values that can guide and inform efforts   to nourish spirituality within oneself as well as others.

I think there is another approach worthy of inclusion: Protect. Why? The answer will become obvious while watching a network news program, reading a daily newspaper, or observing children’s behavior during recess on a school playground.

According to Miller, “Science tells us that adolescence is the launching pad into biologically predetermined spiritual seeking. Furthermore, much of the troubling adolescent behavior we have come to expect — thrill seeking, substance use — is part of the journey (though misdirected)…we know that a spiritually supported life is important.”

She then observes, “Now we’ve reached the most critical point: in adolescence, continuing to incorporate spirituality into his life or her life is crucial to your teen. And my research and others’ shows it’s much more likely to be for the better if you’re there to help. Just about the time you feel you have become irrelevant to your teen — dismissed, ignored, or out and out aggressively pushed away –you need to know the science of adolescent spiritual development says you are absolutely essential.”

There’s the challenge…and there’s the opportunity. I agree with Lisa Miller about its importance, presuming to to add that many of the children being raised today will one day be raising children of their own. Nourishing a child’s “inborn natural spirituality” then will be even more important than it is now.


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