In the preface, the editors state the question that confronted them at the start of the process for this book - `How do you do justice to the wisdom of multiple religious traditions within a single volume - particularly on a "fuzzy" topic like spirituality?" Even with an idea of being as inclusive as possible, some selectivity had to be put in place - the focus was set on `theological or philosophical perspectives from within religious traditions', those traditions being primarily Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism (with some voices from a few others). This is not intended as a definitive text, but rather as a starting point for conversations between the traditions, cultures, and people.
It is unusual in history for cultures to not be concerned about the future (modern political discourse in the West has a very high rate of reference to children and families), and yet the specific concerns of children and adolescents, both in terms of what they need and what they want, are often missing. This is also true in the area of religion and spirituality. `Despite the popular buzz about spirituality, relatively little critical attention has focused on the spiritual lives of children and adolescents. Much of the literature of spirituality has focused instead on adults.' There are various ways in which churches and other religious institutions try to incorporate children and young adults, but they often fall short for various reasons, sometimes due to stereotypes or outmoded views, and sometimes due to narrow focus, or lack of attention. `An important opportunity to enrich the lives of children and adolescents is being lost, set aside by most religious traditions and religious studies scholars as unworthy of critical attention.'
My own interest in this subject comes from a few different angles; first, I have a personal connection with a few of the contributors and editors of this volume. Second, I am interested in spiritual practices and how they develop in people. However, I am now in my eighth year as a chaplain at a retirement community, and we have no children in the immediate community. This is not to say that children are not important - on the contrary, virtually everyone in my community is a parent, grandparent, and even great-grandparent, and virtually everyone is concerned at how things will continue and be passed down. This led me to the fifth section of the text - Who is Responsible for Nurturing Spirituality? The essays here have given me insights to share with my community, of things for them to consider and to share with their own families. Also, there are practices and ideas that, while designed and intended for children, might also have application for older adults as well - ideas such as narrative theology and storytelling, and ideas of prayer, holy days and blessing such as found in the essays in section three: Rituals and Practices to Nurture the Inner Life.
This is an academic text, as the editors point out in their postscript. `Although these dialogues have intrinsic merit, we believe they need to be strengthened and enriched by also engaging in sustained dialogue with young people themselves as well as their leaders, educators, and parents.' This is not a how-to manual, but rather a book to lay a theological underpinning to a wide range of possibilities.