When we say "Our Father who art in heaven," we involve the image of parenting, an image that unites us all, whether babies, infants, children, teens, adults, or golden-agers, as siblings of our common parent.
What is the essence of this parental ideal whose guidance we seek? In most religions this transcendent parent represents creation, nurturing, protection, forgiveness, understanding, and support—in short, love.
We actually live in two dimensions of parenting: the physical and the spiritual. On the physical plane, we try to learn to be effective parents by taking classes, by reading books of advice, and by adopting, adapting, or avoiding our own parental models. On the spiritual plane, we have the complementary role; we must learn to relate to the parent.
Physical parenting implies relationship; relationship between each child and his or her creating parent. The verb "to parent" suggests, on the giving side, the loving role adults take in guiding their offspring. But in English, we lack a word for the receiving role of the learner. We don’t have a convenient term referring to the children’s assuming or improving their role in the relationship.
Perhaps we should invent a word like "childing," a gerund parallel to "parenting," which would refer to the trust, dependency, alertness, openness, and spontaneity that we associate with kids being kids, which could refer to the unsophisticated naturalness so easily acquired by youth before they take on the responsibilities of adulthood.
Schools and parents are usually intent on intense tutelage toward adulthood and often forget to cherish the flip side of the relationship, or to appreciate and develop the childlike receiving that enables adult giving.
On the spiritual level, religions have taken on this task of "childing," the task of helping us (at any age) become receptive children of the Divine Parent. For some of us, the role may come naturally, nearly unconsciously; for others, the karmic school of "childing" involves long, difficult, and perhaps even painful lessons. Learning the appropriate way to relate to an immense, all-powerful Creator can overwhelm our ego-centered consciousness.
As we age from innocent childhood to responsible adulthood, we have the opportunity to accept complementary, and in some regards contrary, roles. Physically, we become parents—seriously and with awareness, parents who devoutly desire to give direction and strength to the offspring we have and are creating. Spiritually, however, as we outgrow childlike self-assurance, we adults at times devoutly yearn for direction and strength from our Creator.
To become as children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is challenge indeed, even with the models of our own children and grandchildren tugging at our hems, reminding us of the magnificent metaphor.
As specimen or as species, our creation on the physical and spiritual planes remains a mystery of wonderment. Despite scientific description, our destinations in this life and beyond seem equally unclear.
It is this very sea of uncertainty, however, that presents us with our navigational challenge: to become oriented within our time and culture as sensitively as we can. We must creatively interpret our best way to lead—even as we learn to be creatively led; we must learn to parent and to child simultaneously in dynamic wholeness and balance.
May we, then, welcome the adult paradox of parenting while childing, uniting with ourselves the roles both of "parentor" and "parentee." May we create a wholeness of sensitivity from which we can understand our Divine Parent even as we learn through the eyes of our children. May we humbly inform our this-worldly parenting by becoming skilled in childing. May we learn to both parent and child parts of our self. And may we strive to become sensitive to a realm even more grand than our dreams informed by metaphor alone. Through spiritual childing, may we stretch for our balanced best.
Parenting and childing across generations and dimensions is a special form of prayer.