Is it possible for children to experience faith before they can understand words? What would a child experience in your church as faith if they didn’t understand words?
Bruce Stevens book Before Belief, discovering first Spiritual Practice -explores the space of experience in playing foundational work to a child’s encounter of the spiritual. Bruce’s understanding of Psychology and Theology takes you on a deep journey of life as a child.
Bruce highlights some interesting connections between how a child connects with faithful adults can reflect on how they attach to God. He highlights the importance of being held by the community, not just as a notional thought, but as Aunties and Uncles of faith who show love to this child before they even understand. One of my favourite part of the baptismal service is an ancient prayer we include reminding us of God’s love before we even know it or understand, it was refreshing to hear the importance the community of faith plays in being the embodiment of this idea.
We know that families play a key role in faith sharing and that often families live priorities of faith in ways they do not realise. Stevens states “We inherit beliefs, expectations and behaviour from our families, the things we value.” For example a family’s love of travel will happen from a lived experience of travelling.. So how is our lived experience of faith enacted in our lives?
The second half of the book explores the implicit learning that occurs through the 5 senses. The kind of things that we carry through with us from our childhood into our adulthood without even realising. A couple of years ago I created a large Easter installation in the art space of the University I was working as a Chaplain at the time. I found it fascinating that one young woman said that each time she walked through the space she was reminded of the smell of the church her parents had taken her to as a child. There was no obvious Christian imagery, no pews, yet the space to explore Easter had triggered a long held memory showing itself through smell.
Sitting through a service today I am reminded of the churches love of words, we love wordy liturgies and sermons, wordy songs, yet there is so much more to the human experience that we take in unconsciously, images, smells, sounds, tastes and touches. We are trying to connect with an invisible God. How can we be more intentional about making spaces which use this experience to intentionally show the love of God, helping us all to see great positive images of God, enhancing our relationship with God even when we do not know it or understand?
Bruce’s book was a great articulation of the depth of faith experience beyond the word, that our Children take in.
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Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.