Studying classical mysticism and mystics, and through interviews with children, Hart realized that children’s spiritual moments were similar to those described by the mystics. For some, these moments became touchstones of lasting impact, expanding understanding of self-identity and/or place in the universe, or openness, even as children, to a deep compassion, as I noted in the story of my friend. And, at times, the moments led to deep wisdom and insight — as Hart writes, “seeing beneath the surface of the material world.” These were invitations to “dwell as near as possible to the channel in which our light, or spiritual essence, flows.”
I imagine most of us have listened to very young children say extremely wise or insightful things and have wondered how they could have such understanding and insight. In his book, Hart shares many stories of adults hearing children who asked deep questions as they searched to understand life, and death especially. Such searching makes it reasonable to surmise that answers from a deep spiritual connection within them might surface.
Children’s wisdom sometimes surprises us because our usual understanding of maturation is the gradual integration of the spiritual into our physical life, when in reality it is our spiritual selves that integrate the physical into our spiritual identity. Hart says it might be more helpful to think of ourselves not as physical beings who may have spiritual experiences, but rather, as spiritual beings that have human experiences – a point also often attributed to Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Hart, along with others, would say that “our entire existence is a spiritual event.”
If we lived each day recognizing this identity, how differently we might live in relationship to ourselves and to others and the universe. Our spiritual being is constantly being touched by mysteries that surround us. We see a magnificent sunrise or sunset or something in nature stirs us beyond ourselves, even to tears, and we do not know why. We hold a baby or child close to us, smelling their warm sweetness, and we are taken out of ourselves, again, moved to tears by the mystery of this small being; we suddenly understood something that moved us or were able to let go of a grudge we have carried for years and we do not know how it happened. The spiritual being is alive in us at all times if we are attentive. If we realized this as adults, how differently we would relate to and listen to children and in turn assist them in paying attention to and trusting their inner spiritual connections.
Transformation into wholeness and integration is age-old wisdom described in all the mystics. The process, however, requires attentiveness to reactions, thoughts and feelings — recognizing and claiming our wounds and shadows — those parts of our lives we keep enslaved and that enslave us. It means pulling back those projections onto others of our unwanted shadows and integrating them so we can love them in ourselves and then in our so-called enemies. Transformation and wholeness require discipline, yes, but it is the road to deepening wisdom, love, compassion and true freedom to be wholly ourselves.
Stories of persons known traditionally as mystics, whether poets or saints, reveal that some seem to have deeper access to the connection with the spiritual sea we live in. They probably began as seekers and then, when drawn more deeply by the spiritual, came to understand it is God who is the initiator because as John of the Cross notes in “The Dark Night of the Soul” — “the height of the divine wisdom … exceeds the abilities of the soul.” Early childhood visitations and those later on are luring reminders to us of the truth of our potential unless it has been trained out of us.
As I reflected on this mystery of children’s spiritual lives, I realized how important it is to know and believe that spiritual sensitivity can be regained even for the deeply wounded. Going back into our memories of childhood, we may well discover those moments of visitation. Turn around, become like children. Let go of the strong, clinging wounds or the ego needs Jesus struggled with in his desert experience — let listening, wonder, pondering, seeking the invisible become part of daily life. Share moments of insight, connection, being loved and cherished by the Spirit with others. And create a new community of spiritual beings. Bring mystical life from the margins to the center of life.