The Spiritual Life of Kids

Recently Brooksie asked me about what sort of spiritual environment we had provided our children.

Gulp. My first pass was “None.”

Brooksie has been a healer in our community for decades. She does massage therapy. And talk therapy. And sonic therapy. And she lights stuff on fire. And she sings. And she goes to church. She gets her charts read. She has a clairvoyant on speed dial. She’s basically a complete spiritual weirdo.

The other day Arlo came home from a Brooksie massage. He told us that Zafer was sending his love. “It’s legit,” he said. “Brooksie told me.” And we all believe it. Because Brooksie is genuinely “legit.”

I spent a couple of hours with her the other day. It was divine. And painful. These days you can sit me on a couch, or stretch me out on a bench, and there is a good chance I’ll just sob and go to pieces. I’m afraid most of the healers in this town know me from the snot I leave behind.

The question of “What sort of spirituality did we provide for our children” has stayed with me like a pebble in my shoe. Brooksie is off in the mountains leading some sort of ceremony or another—constantly helping people “do work” on their healing, and she wants an answer from me.

Yikes. Here’s the easy part: Tami was raised by a Jewish father and Baptist mother who settled on “nothing,” as an acceptable religious choice for their kids. A minister mother and a God fearing father raised me, so I got the full on Sunday School treatment, barely escaping the church just before confirmation. I have always admired my mother’s faith. But that’s religion. Not spirituality.

My spiritual path is pretty straightforward: Step one, complete rejection of Christianity. Step two: evangelical atheist. When my daughter Kaitlin was crushed in a car accident, I moved into the Holiday Inn in Des Moines, Iowa. I spent my days at her bedside in ICU, and I could feel the prayers coming down the hall. As my atheist brother Mark would say, “there are no atheists in ICU.” Step three: Confused. Possibly agnostic. It brought on the recognition that there is something inexplicable.

IMG_1129Along the way I did a deep dive into Zen Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, and Paganism. I’m basically a bottom feeder of religions, and none of them suit me just right.

I did learn palmistry, and have read palms for beer. And I did learn to read the Tarot, but that is just because I come from a card playing family. I took up Tarot as a parlor trick, and gave it up when people accidentally started taking me seriously.

When I poll my children with the question, they respond with “earth centered” answers. Our “footprint” on earth is a spiritual aspect of their lives. Reducing waste, knowing the seasons, knowing the constellations and myths of the night sky, and allowing wild things to be wild are common refrains. Kaitlin claims that my “guaranteed eagle tours,” (kayaking junkets on Jordan Lake to which I routinely subjected the entire family) were spiritual. It seems they all got a big dose of paganism. All of our kids have a deep sense of these woods—complete with a knowledge of those places that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Let’s call us animists.

I littered their childhoods with Greek mythology—sending them off to “Athena’s sweet sleep,” and hanging a sculptural bird feeder named “Sisyphus” outside our kitchen window.

I would like to cast a wider net. I believe Tami and I have taught them to have an “open heart.” Our house has frequently been filled with what the children call “stragglers.” Those with nowhere to go on Thanksgiving, for instance, have long been welcomed at our table. As young children they protested against the stragglers. As young adults (far from home and “stragglers” themselves) they came to appreciate our hospitality. Maybe that’s not spirituality. But it’s something.

IMG_1128Before we had air conditioning I used to routinely load the children into the SUV and drive to Raleigh so that Tami could get some much-needed sleep. We invented the “First Church of Krispy Kreme,” based on a doughnut store. Whenever the “Hot” light was on, the doughnuts were served hot, and it became an article of faith with us. If we believed, and were living pure lives, the “Hot” light would be on at arrival.

At the Plant there is a red-shouldered hawk that seems to own the place. It alights on lampposts early in the morning when I arrive. It settles directly in my view shed on the top of buildings. It joins us for meetings by landing on the arbor over the chess set.

I’ve decided that it is my brother Mark. Others on our project have agreed and play along. The other day I was at Blossom buying some flowers and a red-shouldered hawk dove low and screamed over my car. I shrugged and figured it was Mark approving of my bouquet. My children have been raised by a believer in bird signs.

Zafer was a committed atheist. When at the Moncure School he was asked where hurricanes came from, he said “Africa.” Wrong answer. Hurricanes come from God.

The semester before he died his favorite class was “Comparative Religions.” He was digging it, for some reason, although I’m not sure it was germane to his potential business degree.

When it comes to our “spiritual environment” I’m not going to go with “none.” Instead I am going to say we offered our kids a mixed up hodge podge. Certainly some vanilla Protestantism (I can’t help it), with some exposure to Zen and lots of yoga. Throw that in with some earth centered animism, some ancient Greek pantheism, some story telling, and some wholly invented rituals, and there you have it.

Largely non-spiritual children. Drat.

As we sit here, grasping for anything, dialing up death doulas and reading books by psychics, laying down for “healing touch” and begging for anything that will release the grip of grief, we can’t help but note how under developed our spiritual lives have been…

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13 Responses to The Spiritual Life of Kids

  1. Louise Omoto Kessel says:

    seems like there is lots of spiritual practice.
    writing is a spiritual practice.
    as is hospitality.
    and community building.

  2. Marion OMalley says:

    Wow, wonderfully perceived about yourselves and written. I very much relate, though I feel sure there is more. I am not a reductionist. And there is mystery. Thinking of you though I don’t really know you personally. Cannot imagine how hard …

  3. Laura says:

    I think it is a highly developed spiritual life. Many of us raise our kids in the same way to value community, respect the earth and love everyone no matter their ‘station’ in life or any other difference. Love is ultimate spiritual path and you and Tami give it and earn it effortlessly.

    The great blue heron is my mother visiting my family often.

    Love, Laura

  4. Kate says:

    I agree with Laura. One of the things I love about “small voices” is its inherent reflection on and by people who ‘believe’. Believe in goodness, in doing the right thing, in making a change – this all counts as spirituality to me. A unified, if not codified, seeking of a life for the better. That’s spiritual. And if it comes through in the voices you put together for a book – it most certainly must have come through in your heart and home.
    K

  5. Camille says:

    Brilliant! I’m afraid Bob and I are also guilty of schooling our kids in eco-awareness and common decency. We didn’t address spirituality or take them to church.

    Treading lightly and giving selflessly will have to do. That and a wide-open mind. Like you, we gave our kids the gift of intellectual curiosity. I can’t imagine a better way to approach life.

  6. Claire says:

    As usual, your relentless pursuit of and commitment to the most valuable truths, is on full display here, as well as your bravery in opening up to ‘crowd-sourcing’. I consider these to be among your finest qualities. It all adds up to what I call a sense of mission. You and Tami are AMAZING parents. Your children have been perfectly situated to live the most contributive of lives. In my opinion, Z fell victim to a trap that is new, not old. And I don’t hold him, or your parenting skills responsible. We all experiment. It is often the children who have been MOST regimented and repressed who act foolishly when first out of their parents view. That is not Z.

    The word on the street that these young people hear today, when out of our reach, is DIFFERENT than it was when we were coming up. Also, the distribution of tainted or hard drugs to provide EASY access, has also spread to a broader demographic. I know 2 other kids Z’s age who died of experimenting with smoking something that included heroine – the same week. And another a couple months ago. All happened to be caucasian and also from loving middle class families. None were depressed or addicted. All were filled with hope. Thank you for your bravery. I am with you in grief.

  7. Lyle says:

    My Mom just forwarded this along:

    With tears and love I pass along the words to a hymn that speaks of what I believe:

    Long before the night was born from darkness
    Long before the dawn rolled unsteady from fire
    Long before she wrapped her scarlet arms around the hills
    There was a love, this ancient love was born.

    Long before the grass spotted green the bare hillside
    Long before a wing unfolded to wind
    Long before she wrapped her long blue arm around the sea
    There was a love, this aching love rolls on.

    Long before a chain was forged from the hillside
    Long before a voice uttered freedom’s cry
    Long before she wrapped her bleeding arms around a child
    There was a love, this ancient love was born.

    Long before the name of God was spoken
    Long before a cross was nailed from a tree
    Long before she laid her arm of colours ‘cross the sky
    There was a love, this ancient love was born.

    Wakeful are our nights and slumbers our morning
    Stubborn is the grass sowing green wounded hills
    As we wrap our healing arms to hold what her arms held
    This ancient love, this aching love rolls on.

  8. Tracy Seymour Miller says:

    I have been wishing to have just the right words to share with you but there truly are none. Although I am being called to make an attempt.

    I am Tyelr White’s mother. I knew Zafer and we truly love him and Arlo. I know your children but am sad to say I really don’t know either you or Tami. I was at the memorial for Zafer because we love him dearly and because we wanted to provide support to the circle of friends that I have watched grow up into amazing young men and women. Zafer spent many days and nights at our home in Pittsboro, like Tyler spent many at yours. Tyler visited him in Colorado and he calls Z his best friend. I have stories galore and hope to meet and share one day.

    Words can not describe the thanks I have for what Tyler learned from your family and from you. He has a passion for business and a love of writing. He has a wild free spirit and a loving heart…it mimics that of Zafer because he witnessed and experienced that with your family. No words are sufficient enough to thank you for the love you expressed to my son and the powerful, positive influence you have had on him growing up. I can just say thank you.

    I don’t know you or Tami, but I will tell you just from the outside looking in you both exude spirit and spirituality. I too didn’t raise my children in church, Tyler would probably consider himself an atheist, for 40 years I was too. October of last year, Jesus found me… and he had been searching for a long time!

    What I have been longing to tell you and Tami is although I don’t know either of you, I love you both deeply. Maybe because we have children the same age and my heart aches trying to understand the pain and the lack of understanding. And I want you to know that I have been holding Tami in my heart and hugging her from afar because as mommies we need each others support. Most importantly I have been praying for you both, for Arlo and your entire family. Every day, every night, I pray and you guys are in there.

    Please know you have prayer warriors everywhere… more than you can possibly imagine.

  9. Debbie Creemers says:

    I am in awe of your mom. She and your dad gave the world some incredible children. As have you and Tami.

  10. Well dear brother Lyle, the wise ones i have studied up on universally concur that they do not know. Knowing that they do not know frees up attention to be present to life without artifice. So, in your innocence and lack of belief in fixed stories about what is happening here, you are 100% spiritual 100% of the time!

    • Terri McClernon says:

      I do not know you, Lyle, or Tami nor your son or anyone in your family. I do know people who know you and I have read your blog. You have wise friends who see you perhaps in a way you have not seen yourself, until, perhaps now. Trip’s statement regarding your innocence and you being 100% spiritual seems to fit the person who is writing your story, your blog. Your mother’s hymn that that speaks of what you believe is likely who you are, more and more an open and honest expression of love. I hold you and your family in the light and thank you for being a shining example of light and love for all to see and emulate.

  11. Jon Harmon says:

    Unbearable pain from losing a child should keep you exempt from moralizing lessons from others, even well-intentioned. My heart breaks for you, Lyle. Thirty-five years since I’ve seen you, when you left Mizzou. Gus passed on your blogsite. … Just want to add that there is a God and He knows us all and loves us without condition. We won’t ever make sense of this crazy world while we walk in it but He knows that, too, and I am sure He cuts us lots of slack. Peace brother, and keep writing. You have picked up another reader.

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