Caretaking a New Soul, edited by Anne Carson, is an anthology of short essays about spirituality, education, and young children, aimed at families who don’t follow a traditional Christian path. Most people in the US are Christian; of adults who no longer practice, or practice a different faith, many were raised in a Christian household, chose a different path later, and are now searching for meaningful rituals and traditions to share with their children. Caretaking a New Soul fills that need, exploring a variety of faith perspectives, from Buddhist to pagan to the “buffet style” spiritual practitioner who likes a little bit of everything.
My favorite pieces in the collection are those from the Buddhist perspective, as that’s the faith closes to my own ideals.Raised Catholic myself, I appreciated the advice on how to teach meditation to a child in two essays: “The Education of the Buddhist Child,” by Rev. Jiyu Kennett, and “Call It Something Else,” by Karey Solomon. In “The Education of the Buddhist Child,” I really appreciated the perspective shift in discussing the differences in raising a Buddhist versus a Christian child. In “Call It Something Else,” Solomon talks about one specific method for teaching meditation to preschoolers. I’m looking forward to helping YB learn how to “make her star shine bright.” I’ve made copies of both articles for future reference.
The book was first published in 1989, with only a new preface added for the second edition in 1999, and this shows a bit in the content. I didn’t see any essays from a Hindu perspective, which would have been a welcome addition to me, or a Muslim perspective, which would have been great to include, but the second edition was published before Muslim spirituality came onto the scene in such a negative way with 9/11. Understandably, the need to demystify Muslim spiritual practice and childrearing wasn’t yet a major issue. There’s also very little discussion of alternative families. This issue doesn’t necessarily affect spiritual practice, but there are a lot of mentions of mothers and fathers that just wouldn’t be applicable for many modern families. And there are many “new age” sorts of references, and the pagan perspectives felt a bit dated to me. Overall the book still has a lot of excellent content for parents as spiritual seekers and teachers, but the reader has to be aware of the time lapse.
Interestingly for me, the pagan pieces made me think about my own bias: even in essays where I agreed with every substantive thing the author had to say, I still rolled my eyes at terms like “Goddess” and “Magick”. Why? As my husband F pointed out, a child is more likely to comprehend the idea of saying a magic spell over terminology like “the power of positive thinking” and “self-actualization”. Who cares what you call it, if it works? And reverence for the earth and the environment is important to my own spirituality, even if I don’t talk about the Earth Mother, and it’s definitely something I want to share with my daughter. Regardless of the words used, respecting the spiritual practices of others is important to me, and I will always want YB to be respectful, so I definitely have to examine my attitudes before I pass negative perspectives down to her.
In one section, Carson talks about how parents want more for their children. For many of us, our parents wanted us to have more than they did, largely in the sense of material goods and status: a good education, college, and fancy house and car. Carson, writing in the 1980s, notes that she wants her daughter to have more in the emotional and spiritual sense: more freedom from violence and prejudice, more self-confidence, more strength. That statement struck me hard, because those are the exact things that I want my daughter to have that I didn’t (and doing the math and realizing the Carson’s daughter is probably just a few years younger than I am makes me a bit sad, but also glad for the steps forward that have been made just in my lifetime). Thinking critically about spiritual issues and education is one of the main ways we can begin to build that future for our children.