Wednesday, 9 February 2011

We cannot hope to transfer more than a little of our wisdom to our young people.

(Title quote from Faith and Practice, 22.70. Kenneth C Barnes, 1960)

 What do you teach the baby quaker about religion? We have no creed, no dogma. Our theology is something like a group work and subject to interpretation and personal scrutiny. I'm finding it tricky to know just where to start.

 In our wider family, biological and chosen, we have a huge variety of faiths. Duckling's grandmother was a Jewish quaker. I am a Christian quaker. Mr. Purpleduck is ... he'll let you know! We have Pagan friends, quaker and otherwise. Buddhist friends, quaker and otherwise. Our close circle also contains Atheists, Catholics, Methodists and all kinds of other flavours of Christian denomination, including those with no faith 'home' yet.

Duckling will grow up, hopefully, aware of these and other religions. I hope she will always seek That of God in those around her.  I hope she'll be able to understand the links between religion, faith and spirituality, whatever she makes of them for herself. I hope she will be aware of her own spirituality and I hope she'll find a home in the society from which to do her own searching, as I and her grandmother have done before her. Duckling will have to find her own path.  It can be lonely, but it can be exhilarating. Answers are never just handed to the quaker child. No one in her family or Meeting will ever tell her 'This is what you believe and then everything will be ok'.

So how am I to nurture this small soul's growth? What a huge responsibility! The Meeting shares some of the burden, of course, but right now she's still young enough for the creche rather than the children's meeting, and I'd love to find ways to help her start to navigate quakerism and religion.

A few ideas I have planned, long term;
*Read her stories and mythologies from lots of faiths.
*Teach her about Quaker history, including the cool stories I learnt as a child.
*Make sure she stays connected to the quaker community. It's lonely being a quaker teenager. The link weekends and JYM really were important.
*As in other aspects of our lives, follow her lead. Help her develop her own interests and passions re. social justice, involvement in the meeting. Answer her questions or teach her to seek her own answers.

But short term and specifically what? This is a subject I'll have to come back to many times over the next few years. I can start with simple discussions and stories now. I can talk about how I believe God is lots of different things to different people. I can sing her simple 'religious' songs and mostly I can try to make sure it's a subject that's never too embarrassing to discuss, which is tricky.

The title quote really bought home to me that I cannot hand her a faith. all I can do is share what I know, what I believe to be true and what I'm not sure of and give her the skills to find out more for herself.


  1. I think it's a mistake to always be looking for other five year olds or other teenagers for kids to play with. When my son was 6 or 7 and we would go to the homeschoolers playgroup and he'd play on the floor with the toddlers, then go play a game of chess with the older kids. As adults we make our friends based on affiliation and common interests. I think children should be allowed the same privilege. If I could only be friends with other 58 year old women who have two younger children, I'd have no friends!

    When I attended meetings; Quaker, Interfaith Peace meetings etc., I brought the kids along. They grew up the way children in a tribe do... surrounded by adult work and adults who care about them. In its own way, it teaches them that the real work in the world is to grow up -- not be forever locked in some Disney-fied version of reality. They had "entertainment" bags (with no electronics in them) and went through various phases of creative play. One of my favorites was a weekend retreat where they were left in our room to play. They had brought a huge box of buttons, carefully sorted them by color and then decided to make mythical animals with them -- dragons, gorgons even a Medusa with lines of small green buttons for snakes.
    I came back to the room during a break to discover a wonderful menagerie of button creatures. I never would have thought to say, "Please make mythical button creatures while I am away."

    I think it's the same with raising children. If you put them in the way of interesting people, without TV (so they don't know that children are supposed to be entertained, hate their siblings, etc.) children will find their own way.
    My son (15) is currently serving on his first Yearly Meeting Committee and has been a member of our monthly Peace and Social Concerns committee since he was 10. Being taken seriously by adults important to him is one of the greatest gifts Quakers have given him.
    When my son was about 9 months old, I worked at Junior Gathering for FGC. I worked with the middle schoolers. A young woman came to talk to the kids about her service work. She let slip as she was talking that she had been the only kid in her monthly meeting. I buttonholed her right after her talk, because my son was currently the only child in our meeting and I was worried. In answer to my question, "What was it like growing up alone in a Quaker Meeting?"she responded (to my surprise) "It was great! No one made special accommodations for me, so I was always in the middle of things. No one ever sent me off to "First Day School." I grew up listening to meetings, participating and growing into the life of the meeting." I breathed a sigh of relief and so far -- she has been proven to be absolutely right.

  2. Hi purpleduck,

    I think what creekgal had to say was very good and agree with her.

    My children are also the only children in Friends worship group. For a long time, I worried about them a lot. Eventually, I was led to see that I needed to lead by example rather than forge some path for them all by myself.

    These days, I am the only one who attends our Meeting, though I invite any of the children each First Day. Sometimes they come along and sit in the Waiting Silence, but more often they enjoy some one-on-one time with Dad. This is working for us right now. I am growing spiritually and being fed each First Day, and that is enough for now.

    In the mean time, for the kids, I pray for wisdom and guidance. The clear message I have received is that they are on their own path and I do not need to create one for them. I am to live my faith in front of them as much as possible.

    For now, that looks like this:
    We homeschool, specifically using the Enki Education curriculum:
    They see me spending some time in personal worship. They see me reading the Bible or other spiritual texts. My husband and I have spiritual discussions in front of them when they naturally come up. Most mornings, we read something spiritual, yet kid-oriented, at the breakfast table. Many of the titles I have gotten from the kids' section. At night, in addition to our bedtime prayer, we talk about the good things that we saw or experienced during the day. I'm also trying to keep my eyes open to serving others who cross our path. I keep energy bars and water bottles in my car to hand out to the panhandlers. They see *me* doing that rather than something I am putting on them to do. Sometimes I do things that I request their help on, like gathering things for the animal shelter, etc., but these days, I am trying to allow things to come from my heart rather than trying to create something for their sake. I hope that makes sense.

    I found this article to be very helpful to me a couple years ago:

  3. I think it is important to talk to our children about our religious experiences, beliefs and questions. It is part of our responsibility as parents (and as a Meeting community) to teach our children the vocabulary they will need - the words to express themselves. Yes, they will make their own sentences out of them, but they need some scaffolding to start with. I don't feel it's oppressive to teach our children that this is a table and that is a chair, it just gives us common vocabulary to talk about where we want to sit.

  4. I'm not sure it my comment read that I don't talk to my children about these things, but I just wanted to clarify in case it did. I, too, think it is important to talk about all these things and to teach them the vocabulary. We talk all the time. All I was saying, in case I wasn't clear, is that there is an urge to create lessons and experiences and First Day School when there is not one. This is a level of worry that I don't think parents who have a well-attended Meetings (and by that I mean more than one other person) experience. For a long time, I wanted to create something that would fill-in the places that were missing at our Meeting, which is basically everything. And that urge was really outrunning my Guide. It was a heavy burden and it never felt right. It often felt like pushing rope.

    I have since brought everything home. If one has a Meeting that consists of more than one other person, and one is lucky to have other children in the Meeting, I don't think you have to do what I have done. But there are lots of things you can do at home, and I think the key thing is shifting the focus to being an example, rather than to create artificial lessons (speaking from experience). Any spiritual expression in our home now comes from a natural place, where it did not before. And a major factor in allowing that natural place to open up was in letting go to some extent. Trusting that they are in God's hand, and opening my own ears to listen and obey. If that flow looks like having a discussion about integrity in the moment, it is a natural flowing discussion about integrity that fits the circumstances. It is no longer, "let's talk about integrity" apropos of nothing.... i.e. First Day School at Home. It is more: this is who we are.

    But that also fits with our lifestyle. We aren't handing our kids off for others to educate, and their spiritual upbringing naturally flows into that. First Day school just isn't an option for us anyway because it doesn't exist, and besides a hour of worship with another Friend once a week, there is nothing else available outside of our family--- Meeting-wise that is to say.

    All that is to say, words are important, but I think where they flow from and in what context is also important.

  5. Hi, Mrs Purpleduck, this is the URC contingent! You teach duckling the same way as any other piglets get taught: take them along to things! Don't attempt to teach them about religion or faith or creed or dogma but let them see and hear, taste and feel what goes on (which is what first day school; sunday school; junior church or whatever name it has, does) thus giving them something to aim for. If our reach is not constantly extended we can't grow. Personally, I think being the only "little-y" in a group of adults is wonderful - I used to sit under the table and absorb everything, didn't understand it but remembered and grew into it.