Published in Cygnus Review August 2017
Your Daily Bath in Paradise – Earth and Fire
What kind of spiritual education do children deserve? Or to put it another way what would you have liked when you were a child?
This question was triggered for me when I recently helped develop a personal and social health education programme (PSHE) for a large secondary school. I started to think about what I had received and not received from my parents and schooling. There were some good things but there was also an awful gap.
Starting with the good things, my parents definitely gave me a sense of ethics, of what is right and wrong, of social justice. They gave me a sense of valuing every individual. From school I also learned about fairness and the unacceptability of bullying. There was a general ethic too that our work lives and careers should in some way benefit society. Good guidance.
But then there was the gap. Spiritually there was nothing. We had some Bible study at school, with dismal hymn singing and a shallow look at world religions. At home there was atheism and a suspicion of anything religious.
There was not a single person in my childhood who shared with me their sense of the sheer wonder, energy and beauty of nature and all existence.
And that is the very heart of spirituality, isn’t it? Our natural experience – by whatever name you call it – of the beauty and awesome benevolent wonder of life. Like many children I had a sense of this wonder. Watching clouds changing shape. Standing next to big trees. Sensing there was something deeply special about Jesus beyond the church pomp.
But no adult, parent or teacher ever affirmed this spiritual dimension to me. Like most of us I had to develop it alone.
Today many years later I work as a spiritual companion and mentor.
Probably the most important thing I ever do for people is this: I reassure and affirm that the spiritual dimension is real and true.
On top of that I encourage and challenge people to develop a spiritual life style in which day by day they consistently connect with and fully experience the wonder, energy and benevolence of life.
This spiritual connection I advocate is our only truly reliable fuel, support and nurture. One colleague recently called it her ‘daily bath in paradise.’
So thinking again of our childhoods I wonder if it would be useful if parents or teachers said to children:
Look. Feel. Sense. Notice how wonderful and awesome life is.
The spiritual dimension is true, real and good.
Being reassured of that would surely be beneficial. It is the appropriate balance to the crude demands of materialism, isn’t it? It points to what really matters.
There is then a next step.
We then need to take regular time actually to experience our spiritual connection. Don’t just dip your toe in the water. Swim.
Here we meet the challenge.
I have supported many people in starting their daily spiritual practice. It is like a New Year’s resolution. The intention is clear. The fulfilment and self-discipline are unreliable.
People find it difficult to maintain a practice on their own. As a solution some people join a religious group for a group rhythm of worship or meditation. This can be very useful but also has risks such as fundamentalism and emotional harm.
So Yes I do want a companion, parent or teacher to point out and affirm the spiritual dimension of life. But I also want a realistic awareness of the self-discipline we need to develop a daily spiritual practice in which we consistently connect with the beauty and wonder of life. It is a balance of beauty and purpose.
I do not want to force spiritual discipline on anyone. But daily practice requires a clear purposeful decision, an act of will.
Some people might bandy back that human beings are already too wilful and we just need to surrender to a divine will greater than ours. To this I respond: look at the spiritual teachers who inspire us — are they weak and without self-discipline and purpose?
Spirituality is not just air and water. It is also earth and fire.
(If you want some help developing your spiritual practice my book The Power of Modern Spirituality may help.)