In a recent op-ed, David Brooks highlights the work of Lisa Miller, a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University concerning our innate spiritual capacities and the importance of cultivating our spirituality
Miller’s core argument is that spiritual awareness is innate and that it is an important component in human development. An implication of her work is that if you care about social mobility, graduation rates, resilience, achievement and family formation, you can’t ignore the spiritual resources of the people you are trying to help.
Miller defines spirituality as “an inner sense of relationship to a higher power that is loving and guiding.” Different people can conceive of this higher power as God, nature, spirit, the universe or just a general oneness of being. She distinguishes spirituality, which has a provable genetic component, from religious affiliation, which is entirely influenced by environment.
Miller’s work finds a link between depression and spirituality, that is especially prevalent in adolescents
Spiritual awareness, she continues, surges in adolescence, at about the same time as depression and other threats to well-being. Some level of teenage depression, she says, should be seen as a normal part of the growth process, as young people ask fundamental questions of themselves. The spiritual surge in adolescence is nature’s way of responding to this normal crisis.
“Taken together,” Miller writes, “research supports the idea of a common physiology underlying depression and spirituality.” In other words, teenagers commonly suffer a loss of meaning, confidence and identity. Some of them try to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, gang activity and even pregnancy. But others are surrounded by people who have cultivated their spiritual instincts.
If Millers hypothesis is correct, it suggests that an important effort needs to be made by the church to reach out to young people and their care-givers if we are to nurture spiritual health. Does it also suggest that the laissez-faire attitude that many parents have to the church participation of their teen children might need to be re-thought?