By Lacy Finn Borgo. IVP, 2020. 192 pages. $17/paperback; $16.99/eBook.
As a parent, grandparent, and educator for many years, I know that children learn best when we open the door of experience, get out of the way, and then help them process and find meaning in the encounter. We become the midwife to their process not by telling or directing, but by facilitating their own connections and insights, through listening intently and asking questions that prompt self-reflection, self-awareness, and their own discovery. Our work, as the adults in their lives, is to facilitate their growth, to be fully present to their becoming, and to live life’s questions ourselves. We serve children best when we provide the right environment and adopt the posture that allows them the freedom to form their own questions and find answers for themselves. In the act of such service, we also learn and benefit greatly. Spiritual development is no different, as illustrated in this practical yet insightful book. In Spiritual Conversations with Children, Lacy Finn Borgo comes from the same place of knowing, born of deep personal experience and her own convictions.
Borgo explores the concept and process of “holy listening” with children of all ages as she encourages and instructs the reader in this important art. Through the stories of her many encounters as a listening adult in a transitional facility for homeless families, she vividly demonstrates the ability to nurture a child’s personal understanding and relationship with the Divine.
Each chapter includes prompts and queries for readers and potential listeners to explore while engaging in their quest for a deeper understanding of the inner world of the spirit, as well as preparing to take on the privileged role of adult listeners to children in their lives. Borgo stresses that the adults must come from a place of “nonanxious, centered presence” and deep knowing. Therefore, adults must prepare for this special listening role by examining their own relationship with the Divine and the practices that facilitate understanding and continual spiritual growth and knowledge.
Borgo approaches the work from her own Christ-centered theological perspective, and with great humility and respect for children and their individual journeys. She is careful to frame the listener’s role as becoming witness to the inner awakenings and insights of children as they explore the everyday events of their lives and engage with the simple ritual, materials, and tools she provides for them. She sees the task as that of a “spiritual companion” and says:
An adult can participate in a child’s awakening by being a listening presence, but the adult cannot make the journey for the child. They can help a child recognize and respond to Love’s divine invitation, but they cannot force sight or connection.
Throughout each chapter, Borgo references the work of other scholars on the spiritual development and life of children but adds her own voice of experience and doctoral research through deeply personal and insightful reflections on her conversations with the children at Haven House. As one child showed her in a particularly poignant drawing, “spiritual formation is learning to hear the music and accepting the invitation to participate.” At the same time, she acknowledges that spiritual development in human beings is thought to be influenced by how we are taught and nurtured, our own genetic wiring, and the choices we make throughout life.
Borgo delves deep into the elements of spiritual formation and sees that formation through an expansive understanding of the Divine as present in all things and illuminated by “goodness, truth, beauty, wonder, and mystery.” She instructs the adult in how to both recognize and respond to children’s movements toward knowing God’s presence and developing a relationship of their own, which she believes creates resilience in later life. “Children who have learned to listen to their inner life and orient that life in divine community have a calibrated inner compass that can guide them when the storms of life inevitably come.”
Drawing on the work of play therapists, Borgo also highlights the idea that children express themselves through the simple act of play. If we observe children carefully, we will recognize:
how play and projection help them to experience God and reflect upon their life in light of that experience. As we become more fluent in play and projection, we will learn how to help children recognize the Spirit’s movement in their life and respond to this movement in a way that is unique to their natural inclinations.
In conclusion, Borgo notes that, “Listening to a child’s journey with God is a sacred gift we can give them . . . [and] has the potential to shape the classroom, the congregation, and the world.”
Claire J. Salkowski is an active member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md. She has taught and administered schools both public and private in the United States and abroad, and founded Free State Montessori School in Maryland. She has been an author, university instructor, teacher trainer, consultant, and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) specialist.