Tuning our ears to hear and support children’s spirituality

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Mustard SeedOne of my goals during my time at the hospital has been to help the full time chaplains and chaplain residents think about how they “chart.”  Yes, just like the medical staff we are required to document our visits with patients, families, and staff in the medical charts.

As part of team of family support services, the chaplains work with the social workers and child life workers in the hospital.  What is sometimes hard to discern is how the work of the chaplain is different from what these other professionals are doing for children and families.  We know we are there to support their spiritual lives while they are being treated for physical issues, but how do we write and talk about that in meaningful ways.

I experimented with this when I wrote a verbatim – a word for word report of a visit I made with a family, complete with my analysis of the visit.  By way of an analysis I “combed through” the conversation to look for the ways the patient and the mom were expressing their spirituality, and how I was supporting it by what I did, said, or by what I didn’t say or do.  I used Rebecca Nye’s description of children’s innate spirituality which she calls “relational consciousness” – an awareness of our relationships with the self, others, the transcendent, and the environment to guide me.  The conversation revealed this awareness in the patient in many ways.  As I considered how I supported and nourished her awareness of these relationships, I looked for how I used Rebecca Nye’s six principles in the visit – Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy and Trust.

I also looked through the conversation for the times when the patient or her mother were grappling with existential issues such as aloneness, freedom, questions of meaning, and death; looking specifically for how my actions or words (I told a Godly Play story) helped give voice to these issues.  The staff and residents in the pastoral care department took that work and began to think about how they might better chart these things on a daily basis.  I wonder what their chart notes will look like going forward?

I think this kind of thing could go far beyond the hospital and the work of chaplains.  The goal of the chaplain is to support the child’s spiritual life while they are being treated in the hospital, but of course all of us who love children want to do this whether they are in the hospital or not.  We need to “tune our ears” to hear the child’s spirituality and then set to work to find ways to support and nourish it so it can flourish.  As we get better and better at hearing our children, we can find more and more opportunities to nurture that spirituality.

We know that “relational consciousness” comes naturally to young children.  But as children move through adolescence and into adulthood they often repress or discard it altogether as the values of the culture press in on them.  If the adults in their lives can listen for it in their daily conversation and encourage it, perhaps that can change – perhaps the children will begin to feel as if this awareness is valued by the world and theirs will grow stronger and stronger as they move into adulthood.  

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