Lessons in spiritual practice begin at school
This week, two Grade 6 children lit up the media with news their elementary school in Kits refused their suggestion to put up Chanukah decorations.
The story made it around the world – and the school responded by quickly changing its tune. But the question remains: what place do schools have when it comes to religion and spirituality?
Fear of Faith
I grew up in an era when we began our school day standing beside our desks singing the national anthem, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. By the time I was in Grade 6, multiculturalism was in and religion was out. These practices were deemed not only non-inclusive of other faiths but tantamount to pushing religion on children.
The picture of the Queen came down and the praying stopped.
I was okay with that, and I’m still okay with that. What I’m not okay with is the denial that religion is a part of the human condition – one of the structures we’ve chosen to create to make sense of this world. We live hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder in a world of diversity.
Religion is public, spirituality is private
Not a day goes by that there isn’t a media story relating to some religious tradition. This week alone the following appeared in the Canadian media:
- The epic fail of Evangelical Roy Moore’s run for the Alabama Senate
- The Pope’s criticism of Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
- A Unitarian reverend objected to Santa images on Kamloops buses
- And an opinion piece on the LGBT response to ongoing controversy around religious freedoms as it relates to the proposed law school at Trinity Western
At the heart of each of these stories is a need to understand “the other”. Sadly, without receiving even a whisper of knowledge as children, we grow up with no real context for understanding what’s behind the issues at hand. As such, we live in judgment of unfamiliar religious and spiritual practices, fearful of that which we don’t understand.
A recent Angus Reid survey on Faith and Religion in Public Life revealed that 69% believed the growing number of atheists in the country to be a good thing. Yet, this is occurring at the same time the country is experiencing a rise in religious diversity. In addition, when asked for their familiarity on religious practices, Hinduism and Sikhism were the least understood, and Islam was seen to be “the most damaging” to Canadian society.
It’s no surprise then that when the public and the spiritual collide in the public sphere, the result is contentious discussions such as those we’ve seen in Quebec over who can wear what in public. Hardly fodder for fellowship.
Humanity is spiritual
“If we could stand aside and let the One Perfect Life flow through us, we could not help healing people; we could not help having a perfect realization of perfection.” ~ Ernest Holmes
What if rather than framing this about religion, we speak with our young people about how humanity chooses to explain the inner life.
We’re born spiritual. We’re born with a questioning nature. We’re born asking the big questions: why are we here? What’s our purpose? What does love mean? How do I care for my neighbour? How do I care for myself?
These questions lead us to consider what we value. They form the basis for understanding both ourselves, and the other. Yes, it can be murky territory to wade into, but that’s the job of education – to illuminate the uninformed.
Without being exposed to spiritual diversity, without providing children with a vocabulary, how do we bring peace to the playground?
Learning is about understanding first
Children already know there is a difference between Christmas and Chanukah. What they don’t know is why, and we haven’t given them the tools to have the conversation. It’s probably easier for our children to discuss gender relations (and I’m all in favour of that!). Sadly, our education system cannot fathom doing the same to dispel ignorance of spirituality. Fearful of prompting conversions, we have instead become phobic, sowing the seeds of religious bigotry for generations.
We have a responsibility to teach not only math and science, but skills that can help children to create bridges with each other. To see how we are alike – no matter our gender, our skin colour, our cultural, our gender, our sexual orientation, and yes – our religious affiliation (or none).
This is our spiritual practice – to remind ourselves of how we wish to respond when something that appears unlike shows up in our world. Do we shun? Or do we embrace? If we shun, we are living in fear.
There is nothing to fear.
Many children learn about the Greek and Roman gods, and no one blinks. We can add to that early understanding of world literature by adding tales from other spiritual traditions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and of course Judeo-Christian stories. These tales describe a culture and a time – and open minds to the possibility of not only understanding our external world, but our inner world.
Armed with this information, how different would the adult conversations be if all those political leaders gathered could speak from a font of wisdom that knew there was no separation, only discernment. Would we still have religious wars, if we knew our oneness?
We live in unison with Spirit. It’s been ever thus. As we continue to cross-pollinate the globe, our children are being gifted with the seeds of knowledge that have the potential to bring peace to our universal playground.
We need do nothing more, than get out of their way.