I just finished reading a new book called “The Spiritual Child” by Lisa Mille, PhD. The book was mentioned in a fairly recent David Brooks op-ed in the N.Y. Times. The thesis is, if I can get it, that we are born with a spiritual component and the nurturing of that element within our soul is a key to how we develop and that the teen-age years are key for how that spiritual element is played out. This “natural spirituality” “appears to be the single most significant factor in children’s health and in their ability to thrive”. Miller believes that spirituality is “an inner sense of living relationship to a higher power (God, nature, spirit, universe, the creator, or whatever word is for the ultimate loving guiding life force”) Her research showed that spirituality was ” a vital sense of daily guidance” and very personal.
Miller emphasizes the importance of what she calls “spiritual individuation”, a process especially keen during one’s teen years as a person attempts to become an independant person from parents. She maintains that this spiritual growth is very important in how a person will relate to and see their self in the world, and of course, the foundation for this is laid in that first decade of life. So, as I read this book (I will probably assign it to students in my HUC classes this Fall) I began to think how this can apply to our age. How do we go from that phase of spiritual individuation to a spiritual maturation?
Many people, I think, get “stuck” at a particular phase of life (I think maybe in the late teen or earl adult years) in a certain spiritual rut. They take what they have untuited from family and religious community (if any) and place that in their pocket, so to speak. There is precious little attempt to keep that spiritual element growing until, I think, a crises hits, or real life says hello. This is another argument for the need to keep that spiritual muscle in shape; to have the opportunity to ask questions, to study, to doubt and question how I can relate to life and the big questions of existence. Miller writes that some of the questions that teens may ask are such as: “This is who you are spiritually. This is how I perceive the world as a spiritual place. What is good, worthy, full or empty? What is life-giving, and how do I join and become part of what is good?”
Not a bad series of questions to keep in front of us as we grow. I would suggest that the answers many of us give now would be different than the ones we would have given at age 20, or 30 or 40. They place before us that we never outgrow that need for our own spiritual growth, for a “maturing spirituality” that can speak to us now. Think about how you would respond.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.