This usually surprises my Christian friends: I subscribe to a daily email service newsletter called Bible Quotes from Crosswalk.com.
As a Baha’i, each morning when I read a short Bible quotation it reminds me of the universality of religion and the basis of spirituality we all share.
Timeless as well as provoking thought and change in my own attitudes, or confirming them, the holy scriptures from all of the great Faiths have the capacity to inspire and guide us. That’s one of the many reasons Baha’is believe strongly in the unity and universality of all religions:
Man must cut himself free from all prejudice and from the result of his own imagination, so that he may be able to search for truth unhindered. Truth is one in all religions, and by means of it the unity of the world can be realized. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 129.
Some months ago the Bible Quotes site started sharing longer written articles on practical everyday ways of dealing with God and with life itself. These Christian-centric articles, based on universal themes faced by all of us at one time or another, cover a broad array of living conditions.
This morning, intrigued, I opened the article “10 Ways to Make Taking Your Kids to Church Less of a Struggle,” written by Delores Smyth, a contributing writer. I wanted to read what she proposed or observed, and, even though our own Baha’i-raised children are grown and out of the house, I wondered how Baha’is might adapt the article’s points to fit our religious and spiritual motifs.
After all, most parents share the goal of setting their children off on the path toward God and religion, or at least toward a consistent moral and spiritual practice that will help them achieve happiness and inner peace as adults. Children are inherently spiritual beings, and deserve a chance to develop that part of themselves.
Here are my thoughts based on Ms. Smyth’s 10 topic lines:
1. Familiarize your children with scripture at home
Immediately I liked the author’s use of the word “Familiarize” and not “Indoctrinate.” The first seems natural and easy, sharing what we as parents believe without being overbearing, which can create dislike and rebellion. The writer also made the point that many Bible stories can capture a child’s imagination and spark their interest, and for children of any religious background this would hold true. The added benefit is that children become familiar with the “lingo” of the religion and its terms, phrases, prayers and the like so they are not put off by their usage, in the home or elsewhere.
Baha’is follow this principle—rather than forcing religion on their children, they familiarize young people with many different spiritual traditions, and only when a Baha’i child turns fifteen years old, the age of spiritual maturity in the Baha’i Faith, do they then choose their own spiritual path.
The Baha’i writings say:
… know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 139.
2. Lead by example
Parents must demonstrate and live the behaviors we want to see in our children. If we’re not excited or interested in attending church, synagogue or mosque services, or Baha’i meetings for example, our children won’t be either. This extends to every aspect of life at home or elsewhere—our deeds, not our words, teach our children best.
The Bahai writings say:
The education of children … should include moral instruction by word and example and active participation by children in Bahai community life. – The Universal House of Justice, March 21, 1974, To the Baha’is of the World.
3. Go to church (or any faith gathering) as a family
For Baha’is—who have no clergy and no weekly worship services—regular faith community participation means attending the Baha’i Feast every 19 days, where everyone in the Baha’i community gathers for devotions, business and socializing. For Christians it means church services or Mass, for Jews it may mean synagogue for the Sabbath and High Holy Days, etc. Usually the Baha’i 19-day Feast includes prayers, readings (including those from other religions), and reports before the social portion and refreshments. The important thing is to be there together, setting that example as parents, and happily mingling with fellow community members and other children and families from diverse backgrounds. This not only helps acclimate children to religion as an essential part of life, but it’s also good for socialization and the development of a universal world view.
The Baha’i writings say:
You have asked as to the feast in every Baha’i month. This feast is held to foster comradeship and love, to call God to mind and supplicate Him with contrite hearts, and to encourage benevolent pursuits. That is, the [Baha’is] should there dwell upon God and glorify Him, read the prayers and holy verses, and treat one another with the utmost affection and love. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 54.
4. Have reasonable expectations
Children have boundless energy and curiosity—but that energy requires training. At meetings they may not sit still, or loudly ask, “Mommy, what does that mean?” or simply, “Why?” Most faith communities are very tolerant and understand that young children need to develop to the point of sitting quietly or refraining from making noise. In that way a spiritual community can help enormously in raising children to be kind to others, to respect the rights of all people, and to behave properly and courteously in public. The important thing is to show sincere love and consideration for all who are there. That love will keep children engaged as they grow older.
The Baha’i writings say:
The children must be carefully trained to be most courteous and well-behaved. They must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well, to be chaste, pure, and undefiled, and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things. – Ibid., p. 110.
5. Use the amenities available
Many Baha’i meetings take place in homes, while others happen in larger Baha’i centers. When children are young and not fully trained they can disturb religious services and spiritual meetings, and this may mean parents leave with them to go to another room for a time. Many houses of worship provide for this, and may even encourage parents to take a child or children home early out of respect for others if no nearby area affords privacy.
Many spiritual communities provide separate children’s classes for a portion of the meeting. As children grow older they become more able to attend meetings and Sunday schools, and perhaps even teach the younger children themselves.
The Baha’i writings say:
Human education is of great importance. It is especially necessary to educate the children. They are the young tender trees of God’s planting. But the supreme education is Divine Teaching. Through it the most ignorant become wise and the lowest are elevated to the loftiest heights. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 105.