"Children's Spiritual Experiences and the Brain" by Scottie May and Donald Ratcliff. (This is where I bite my tongue having made earlier comments about common sense and research.)
Some comments to ponder:
For scientific purposes and the purpose of this discussion, spirituality seems to contain elements of awareness, mystery, value and relationship. (Children's Spirituality p. 149) I like these describing words maybe because they fit my experience and my understanding of scripture.
"Spiritual experiences, in Nye's view, occur in children regardless of religious training or lack thereof. . . spirituality, in this sense, [is] quite distinct from religion." (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I wholeheartedly agree that spirituality and religion are distinctly different. Are faith and spirituality the same? I think of faith as relational.
"Spiritual experience is often powerfully influenced by the immediate environment. Certain contexts may be more conducive to quiet reflection and experiences of awe and wonder than others." (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I think this is perhaps the context of Young Children in Worship. And I think it's something to ponder as we include children in contemporary worship. The two environments are very different. This may sound contradictory, but I think that the environments we link with spirituality have everything to do with how we perceive "spirituality" and whether it involves and includes all of life or one segment of our lives, just the still quiet places or any place we find ourselves.
We (children, people) are "hardwired to connect." "We are hardwired for other people, and for moral meaning and openness to the transcendent." The authors go on to say that ever-increasing incidences of emotional and behavioural problems in North American children is one of the reasons that social science is beginning to explore spirituality. According to one study, strong nurturing environments or lack of that nurturing can counteract "gene transcription and development of brain circuitry". (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I'm presuming that can go positive or negative. The study also showed that "[p]ositive spiritual development and religiosity may have the same effect as primary nurturing relationships because they influence well-being in significant ways." (Children's Spirituality p. 151) This would suggest the value of including children in faith communities with or without their families though I personally feel strongly about respecting, not undermining, the role of parents in a child's life. This opens doors to other discussions.
"While research cannot directly measure spirituality- by its very nature "spirit" is immaterial- there have been recent investigations that suggest that certain patterns in neural activity tend to correspond with the experiences of a spiritual nature. " (Children's Spirituality p. 151)
This makes me think of Romans 1:20 (NIV) "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . ." We think about that when we look at what God has created outside of us and even our human bodies. Interesting to think about what the inside of us and the way that we're wired tell us about God.
I'll keep reading...