Passing on the Faith
Why Children Need Ignatian Spirituality (Part 2)
Note: This article is part of a special Patheos Symposium, Passing on the Faith: Teaching the Next Generation. Read more perspectives here.
"What did you do at school today?" This and similar questions we ask our children in order to learn about their experiences points to a second technique that is at the heart of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. In Part 1 of this series, we focused on using imagination as a springboard for cultivating our children's spiritual lives. Here, we'll focus on reviewing the average day as another technique for filling out our children's spiritual vocabulary.
Why is it that dinner conversations frequently involve talking to our loved ones about what happened during the day? What is it about talking about past experiences that helps us form bonds of relationships? On some level all of us intuit a basic point: there is something about memory that is distinctive about the way we make sense of the world.
As parents, we have the power to help our children use memory to consider the meaning of their experiences, both good and bad. Consider the following questions, which you might use over dinner or (as we sometimes do) before bedtime.
What was something that made you happy today?
What was something that made you feel sad?
What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
These three simple questions can be a springboard for follow-up conversation: "Let's thank God for what made us happy; ask God to help us with what made us sad; and ask him to be with us tomorrow." And so on.
Saint Ignatius understood that memory serves to orient ourselves to the world, and that a true conversion also involves a transformation of the ways we remember our lives. He hinted at the vital role of memory in his Suscipe:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Of course there are different age-appropriate ways to encourage the practice of using memory in prayer. We've illustrated above a way that is appropriate for young children, but for older kids and teens one might instead converse naturally, asking (for example) where they found God over the course of the day. The Picturing God blog offers a number of examples, and many of the contributors point to an Ignatian practice of the Examen as helpful.
The Examen is the daily practice of prayerfully using memory. It helps a person become adept and finding God in all things, and bears fruit in finding God both in the past and in the present moment. It involves speaking to God as one friend speaks to another, then walking with God through the experiences of the past day—rummaging, to use a phrase from Dennis Hamm, SJ—to find what God wants to show us about our lives, our desires, and our decisions.
Tim and Sue Muldoon are the authors of Six Sacred Rules for Families, to be released this Fall by Ave Maria Press. Tim is a theologian and author of several books who teaches at Boston College and writes frequently for Patheos; Sue is a therapist and religious educator.