June 19, 2013
There’s something you need to know about me. I don’t consider “spirituality” to be its own autonomous category. One of the reasons people partition off religion into a separate corner of their lives is because that very division pervades our language.
Pastors (like myself) and other Christian leaders often bemoan the fact that people don’t take their faith with them into their everyday lives. ‘God only gets one small piece of our busy lives,’ we lament. Yet, how many times have you heard a pastor ask, “How much time did you spend with God this week?”
How many spiritual leaders have said, “We don’t dedicate enough time to prayer.” But underneath such statements lurks a troubling assumption: the idea that communing with God is some activity abstracted from the rest of our lives. As Molly T. Marshall says, “…the idea that God is to be found everywhere is widely accepted. However, the way we often speak about the Spirit seems to deny this reality. We locate the Spirit in rather specific, at times restrictive, places.”
I’ve come to believe that spirituality infuses meaning into all aspects of life. Jürgen Moltmann wrote that God’s Spirit—ruach in Hebrew—represents “the confronting event of God’s efficacious presence which reaches into the depths of human existence.” I’m not sure “spiritual practice” is something that’s supposed to be done for 20 minutes each morning or evening but rather an abiding awareness of God’s Spirit, allowing it to transform the way I do everything: eat, drive, walk, talk, etc. Spirituality is the world re-seen with God glasses on, and I’m trying to navigate what Christian parenting looks like with those lenses.
On the rare occasion that I’m God-aware enough myself to invite my children into that space, I try to engage them in what we could simply call “taking notice.” These are those precious opportunities I have to make the values taught in my living room or at church enter that every day life (because no one learns spirituality in a vacuum or conceives of God in the abstract).
As we walk by someone who looks different from us (in some way or another—ethnic dress, missing limb, etc.), I await a comment from my children (hoping it’s uttered out of earshot), and then talk with them about that person’s worth to God, or what kind of struggles they might be having and how we can pray for them. We take notice. I am both intimidated and emboldened by the task of teaching my offspring to value all of God’s children.
Sometimes, I listen to music with my children. I’ve been known to spiritualize that experience as well, especially since music has always been one of my own primary spiritual languages. I fondly remember one conversation I had with my son about the song “Little Drummer Boy” last Christmas. As I asked him to tell me again what the song was about, his voice broke and his chin quivered as he spoke of how the drummer boy was poor and couldn’t buy baby Jesus a gift so he played his drum instead. (No, it’s not a biblical story, but I sure wish it was!) Call me naïve, but I’d like to believe that in that moment, something clicked, and he “took notice.”
But before you think it’s always about sentimental stuff, you also need to know children have informed me that I’m a “mean dad.” They, like any other privileged, Western kids, show a little ungratefulness from time to time (OK, often). Whenever they inform me that their toys are dumb and they don’t get the cool stuff, I proceed to pack up the toy in question to take with me as a donation for children who would appreciate it more or don’t have all the things they enjoy. Crying ensues, and in the midst of it, I am hopeful that they “took notice.” If there’s one value I want to instill in my children more than any other, it’s gratitude. “Give thanks in all circumstances . . .” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
This “taking notice” can be done anywhere, at any time, with anything. Barbara Brown Taylor calls it “the practice of paying attention” and writes, “Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection.” This is nothing new and centuries-old spiritual classics refer to such ideas. So some may understandably argue that it doesn’t count as a “practice” or that it’s not worth writing a blog about. My children are still fairly young, so this journey is largely incomplete. But I know that I personally have found truth in the idea that spirituality is not abstract or safe. I have become spiritual, for example, not during my bedside prayer for patience, but when God answers that prayer by giving me a practice session with that unresponsive store clerk or when nothing is going my way.
So my encouragement to fellow parents would be this: don’t be discouraged when your child doesn’t seem to listen to or care about what you’re teaching them. Put it in your back pocket for the next chance you will have to help them “take notice.”
 Molly T. Marshall, Joining the Dance: A Theology of the Spirit (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003), 19.
 Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneaplois: Fortress, 1992), 42.
 Taylor, An Altar in the World, 30.