Chaplain's Reflection: we are all spiritual beings
By Rev Erin Tuineau
I have just finished marking the assessments of my Year 8 RaVE (Religious and Values Education) students. I am one of those strange people who likes to mark assignments as it gives me such an insight into how our young people think. One of the questions I asked the students to reflect on was, ‘During your time in RaVE class, what have you learned about the spiritual nature of life?’. What I found most interesting in their responses to this question was that many of them had for the first time realised that they did not have to be ‘religious’ in order to be ‘spiritual’. It was as if they had experienced a ‘light-bulb’ moment and suddenly discovered that that we are all spiritual beings, no matter our beliefs about God or gods. This confirmed for me the importance of subjects like RaVE in simply raising awareness amongst our young people that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that there is so much for them to discover about the meaning of life, no matter what their background is.
We often avoid having conversations with teenagers about spirituality because we think that it is too complicated to talk about. But this does not have to be the case. Some of the questions that I asked my Year 8 RaVE students about spirituality were:
What gives your life meaning?
Where do you feel most connected to others and God?
Where do you go to find peace?
What and/or who do you go to get advice about life?
What questions do you have about life?
Most of the students answered these questions instinctively and, for those who could not, a little prodding helped them to understand that their ‘answers’ were to be found in their daily lives. The key point is that we need our young people to come to see their spiritual life as deeply entwined with their everyday experiences. There is no separation between the two: we need to ‘de-spiritualise’ spirituality (if that makes any sense!). For a few of my Year 8 students, it was during their RaVE classes that they also realised that spirituality is not just about what happens to humans after they die (I was thankful they had at least grasped that concept!) It is essential that we help the young people in our lives discover that their spirituality is not an ‘airy-fairy’ concept. It is real. And it effects their wellbeing.
I continue to assert that we need to have more conversations with our young people about spirituality and meaning in their lives. While they may initially struggle to find words to express their ideas, with time and encouragement they will be able to identify and articulate some of the most profound ideas about life, without being aware that they are doing so. I know that, for many parents and caregivers, the prospect of discussing spiritual topics with their kids is daunting because they may not have explored such topics for themselves. If this is the case, perhaps some of the questions above could be a starting point. I know adults can be anxious about giving the young people in their lives the ‘wrong’ answers about religion and spirituality, as it is not their field of expertise. It is at this point we need to journey with our young people and discover the world of religion and faith together. I am aware that my knowledge of religions outside of Christianity is limited, and so I often find I have to humble myself and explore unknown territory with my students. This can be uncomfortable, but also very exciting as there is nothing more important than expanding the minds of young people and enabling them to see the myriad of ways that they can view life. When we do take the risk and decide to dive into the unknown waters of spirituality and religion with young people, we are not seeking to convert them to a particular belief system, rather, we are giving them the courage and the opportunity to discover what it means to be human.