In preparation for facilitating my first PTJL group I perused the curriculum and was very excited by the themes and accompanying texts that we would be exploring together. What parent couldn’t identify with the joys and “oys” of parenting? However there was one question that kept nagging at me: what happens if God-talk is a real stumbling block for some in the group? How do I navigate that gracefully, making room for and respecting the different perspectives and possible discomforts of the participants around the table around the concept of God?
And there it was – right in the second session whose theme “Infusing our Lives with Meaning” emphasized the role of rituals in our lives, including the bedtime and morning ritual prayers Modeh Ani and the Shema which, of course, include God language and concepts.
Our group totally agreed with the importance of introducing meaningful rituals, including Jewish rituals, into their families’ lives. However, as I anticipated, our group did struggle with using God language and concepts with their children given their own personal struggles. Amidst our wonderful conversations, two approaches to these issues seemed to make an impact. Firstly, when I explained that the name “Israelite” means “One who wrestles with beings divine and human” (as derived from the story of Jacob literally wrestling), the tension in the room dissipated. We, as Jews, as Israelites, are supposed to be God-wrestlers, and so our struggles are legitimate and even encouraged, and we are free to find our own language to name this something that is greater than ourselves.
Secondly, we talked about the natural spirituality that children are born with. As adults in their lives, we have the ability to either nurture or squash that natural sense of wonder, of connectedness, of caring and love that recognizes something greater than ourselves. For many of us our own discomfort prevents us from nurturing and naming this spirituality. According to Dr. Lisa Miller in her book The Spiritual Child, we don’t have to have the answers; all we need to do is to just “show up” to be willing to be curious along with our children, to join them on their journeys. This was something that our group could connect to.
During our last session I asked everyone to reflect on something from our sessions that they keep thinking about or have acted upon, or a change that they have noticed in their parenting. At that moment one parent realized that, rather than shying away from God-talk, her family has been talking about God much more often and more comfortably. Now I look forward to exploring and wrestling with this topic even more in Part II. Luckily there is a whole session for it: God-Talk and Spirituality.