Book Review – The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles
The Spiritual Life of Children
By Robert Coles
Robert Coles and his work with children, particularly in the realm of spirituality is often quoted in books about children’s ministry. However, it wasn’t until recently that I decided to pick up the book and actually read the research directly from his book. I am so glad I finally did. It was well worth the read and a book I should have read long ago.
Cole’s research with 500 children, ages six through twelve, from all over the world is a seminal study in the field of spirituality and children. It is clear that his work has been influential on subsequent studies addressing children and spirituality.
Cole’s calls this book “my stories of the stories [the children] kindly gave me” (p. 39). He explains that his research is all about learning from the children. “Each child becomes an authority, and all the meetings become occasions for a teacher- the child- to offer, gradually, a lesson” (p. 27).
Throughout this book the reader is taken on a journey through a beautifully written narrative where children express their joys, concerns, questions, struggles and ideas around issues of faith, religion, God, and morality. He divides the book into chapters that represent overarching themes that came through in his conversations with the children. Some of them are broad categories like “philosophical reflections” and “visionary moments” while others are from a particular religious background including “Christian salvation”, “Islamic surrender” and “secular soul-searching”.
While the intimate glimpse into the spiritual lives of the children Coles’writes about is certainly an important part of the book, I think an underrepresented gem of the work is the commentary Coles provides about his personal thoughts and feelings as he sits with these children. What is unique to Coles’ writing is that not only does he document dialogue he has with and among children, but we get to hear his own thoughts. He provides the reader with insight into his own personal struggling and wrestling. He offers an inspiriting yet humble approach to the delicate task of bringing out the inner lives of children without influencing the conversation too much. It is also clear that the children cause him to recall and revisit times in his own life where he wrestled with issues of faith, religion, morality, and God.
If you are looking for a list of qualities that make of children’s spirituality or a practical guide to nurturing children’s spirituality, this isn’t the book for you. However, I think this is an important foundational book for anyone interested in to the topic of children’s spirituality. It will help inform and guide the way you read other books on the subject, and the way you approach spirituality with children.