By Deborah Fraser.
Spiritual giftedness is not as easy to identify as gifts in the sciences or humanities and apart from the Nobel peace prize, there is little in the way of awards or accolades for those whose gifts lie in the spiritual realm. The spiritual dimension is a capacity we all possess (Bolte Taylor, 2009; Tolle, 2004) and as with any area of human endeavor, there are those who have advanced ability in this realm. Too often these people are ignored, overlooked and misunderstood; this is especially the case for spiritually gifted young people. Yet their gifts are evidence of the capacity of the human spirit to transcend the mundane; to replace bitterness, isolation, ego and contempt with compassion, wisdom, and awareness that all is connected (Grant, 2002).
There are two definitions that are particularly germane to this article. The first is by Satish Kumar: “Spirituality is a deep feeling of compassion and unity and relatedness and connection with all of existence” (2000, p. 46). The second is from Parker Palmer who states that “spirituality is the eternal yearning to be connected to something bigger than our own egos” (2003, p. 377). These definitions emphasize the capacity for both connection and transcendence. To be spiritually gifted is to have an outstanding ability to transcend self-centered needs and wants, and to rise above the human tendency to divide people into groups of those who are “worthy” of care and respect and those who are not. For the spiritually gifted however, everyone is a candidate for compassion.
The great Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, urged his supporters not to judge and criticise those who condemned them. Instead, he urged his followers to resist the tendency to put their opponents into a category of “evil” or ignorant. For him this merely served to perpetuate the stereotypes and divisive binary mentality that pitches groups against groups, races against races and nations against nations. His heightened spiritual ability enabled him to exercise compassion towards even the most vociferous enemies.
To recognize the spiritually gifted adult is easier to do as their actions in the world speak volumes about their capacity for connection and transcendence (consider for example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi). Identifying children who are spiritually gifted is a more challenging task as state schools are generally not well suited to enhancing the spiritual dimension. The following serves as a helpful starting point.
Piechowski (2003) argued that children with spiritual gifts have the ability to induce heightened consciousness through deliberate techniques (they may meditate or have an active ‘fantasy’ life that blurs the distinctions of so-called reality); have a wisdom beyond their years (they may ask penetrating questions of purpose and meaning from an early age); and are able to connect to some infinite energy. The spiritually gifted also feel strongly connected to the world around them in addition to their inner self, other people and God (however God is defined).
Lovecky (1998) also argued that such a strong connection to all of existence and heightened empathy for living beings are not unusual. “Some gifted children feel very much in harmony with the universe. They experience a sense of transcendence with the infinite, whatever they define that to be. Ian, at age six for example, felt holes in the fabric of the universe with the extinction of every species and with the felling of the rain forests. He felt part of himself had died too” (p. 182).
This depth of connection cannot be underestimated and the gifted need the opportunity to express and act upon such strong feelings. Gifted children are usually highly sensitive. They feel cruelty and injustice at local and global levels. They cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of others whether it is domestic violence in the neighbourhood or genocide in parts of Africa. They ache at the thought of children losing their youth as they are forced to join armed militia. They despair at the news of thousands of more troops being sent to Afghanistan. And they are appalled by the misery of human existence in overcrowded refugee camps.
Parents and teachers can support children with spiritual gifts in various ways. It is important to help children realize that they can make a contribution that underlines our connection to one another. For example, there are numerous service agencies to join from Amnesty International to World Vision, Greenpeace, Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children. Parents and teachers can also encourage times of stillness and silence where children can become transfixed and unfettered by timetables and subject changes. They can provide creative outlets through the arts wherein children can become immersed in the art form with which they are engaged. They can provide stories about resilience in the face of unrelenting hardship and injustice, and they can provide environments where it is safe and acceptable to have the courage of one’s convictions.
Fear, regret, anxiety, bitterness and self-consciousness cannot co-exist with spiritual expression. We are invariably at our calmest, strongest and most accepting when we allow the spiritual dimension of our lives to flourish. And those with spiritual gifts in this realm offer healing, transcendence and infinite wisdom. Consider the following:
Every day she will wait till sunset. She is the daughter of the rise of the sun. People believe she forms into the golden hemisphere At dawn And fades At night. She’s clever and rays fling from her arms. She’s addicted to the fire’s warning of night. She will adore the brightness.
(Kate, age 7)
Kate expresses a strong affinity for mystery, beauty and connection to nature. Glory could even be interpreted as a transcendent being or consciousness. While Kate is clearly gifted with language, she also expresses spiritual gifts. Her verse conveys a connection with an abstract concept. She anthropomorphically mapped Glory onto a natural phenomenon and expressed her “character” with elegance and grace. Glory is awesome, not the dead clichéd use of the word “awesome,” but the awe that comes from being moved and amazed and entranced all at once, without knowing exactly why.
All too often, we seek answers and certainty in education. The spiritually gifted remind us to put aside constant analysis and savour our connections across time and place, to the living, and the immaterial world. Palmer again puts it cogently: spirituality is the “quest for connectedness with something larger than our egos, with our own souls, with one another, with the worlds of nature and history and literature, with the obligations, opportunities and mysteries of being alive on the face of the earth” (2003, p. 380).
Bolte Taylor, J. (2009). My stroke of insight. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Grant, B. (2002). Looking through the Glasses: J. D. Salinger’s wise children and gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 46 (1), 6-14.
Kumar, S. (2000). Soul man. New Scientist, 2243, 46-49.
Lovecky, D. V. (1998). Spiritual sensitivity in gifted children. Roeper Review, 20 (3), 178-183.
Piechowski, M. M. (2003). Emotional and spiritual giftedness. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed.) (pp. 403-416). Boston: Pearson Education.
Palmer, P. (2003). Teaching with heart and soul: Reflections on spirituality in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 54 (5), 376-385.
Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now. Vancouver: Namaste Publishing. ________________________________________________________
Deborah Fraser is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Human Development and Counselling at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her research interests include creativity, spiritual giftedness, and arts education.