Children Lead the Search for Spiritual Truths

Just give them love and structure, then get out of the way, says author

Most parents have had the experience of being humbled bytheir children. Maybe it was the kid who saved his allowance for monthsto buy a coveted video game and then, almost out of the blue, gave themoney to a homeless shelter. Or maybe it was the child who agonized allweekend over being cool enough to fit in and, come Monday morning,befriended a playground pariah.

These moments, which sometimes seem so out of character, may beglimpses into a child's true character, into what educator MarshaSinetar calls "spiritual intelligence."

We are all born with it, she says, but many of us lose it on theroad to adulthood. If we can learn to recognize it in our children, wemay learn to nurture it in them and revive it in ourselves.

Sinetar, in her book "Spiritual Intelligence: What We Can Learn Fromthe Early Awakening Child" (Orbis Books), defines spiritual intelligenceas a "heightened awareness" that results in a range of virtues that manyparents believe must be instilled in children: insight, intuition,creativity, compassion, strong moral conviction, inner authority, and anunwavering sense of vocation or purpose.

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Sinetar believes that all children show signs of spiritualintelligence and its attendant virtues. But she argues that someexceptional children--she calls them "early awakeners"--are soconsistent in their insights or behavior that adults refer to them as"little old souls" or remark that they are "wise beyond their years."

"Certain blessed children display such hunger for some sacred ideaor truth burning within that they, or at least selected patterns ofbehavior, can be guides," she writes. "The young can show us how toexpress our own spiritual truths."

Sinetar builds her case for spiritual intelligence on scores oflittle examples: brief anecdotes from famous lives and snippets fromlesser known ones. She sees spiritual intelligence at work when a youngDorothy Day burst in on a neighbor who was kneeling in prayer. From thatday on, Sinetar says in an interview, Day, a champion of the poor andhomeless and a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, prayed every dayon her knees.

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