I do best to let my intuition guide me. It is true for me as a parent and it has been true for me in home education as well. Neither were a path that I set out upon with much planning but rather were a direction that I felt myself compelled to take, guided by something other that my educated mind. Not that I didn’t then educate myself within the field to which I was led. I have. I do. More rather that my journey down the path of intuition has made clear what I have needed to learn.
This continues to hold true in our homeschool journey and certainly was alive when we first found ourselves making the choice to leave the compulsory education model. I am not the first to say that I had no idea what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t have a plan. Instead I was watching a vision of a different childhood for our children unfold inside my head and indeed inside my heart. One of more freedom, less restraint, of long stretches of time spent out of doors and learning led by desire rather than demand. I saw us surrounded by other earnest learners who were more interested in exploring the world and who they are within it than they were with the status quo and cultural norms.
In the fall of our first season at home, we found ourselves living in a small town in the Upper Midwest with wonderful access to a sort of pristine rural authenticity as well as a relatively progressive and engaging small city. We also found ourselves living 2 doors down from a large Catholic family that also homeschooled. It was with some mix of hopefulness and reservation that I approached our contact with them. After all, we were all home for much of the day, especially in those early days when the kids were smaller. Having access to potential friends, right on your street, is one of the absolute joys of small town living. And a potentially, very real, downside.
The religious and spiritual background of my childhood was primarily nil. My dad was raised Catholic, sort of, and my mom had here and there attended the Church of Christ as a girl. In an effort to connect with community she had taken us there for a short time after having lived abroad for many years. But in never really stuck for any of us and after another move, she never sought out a church community again. We were each baptized per some sort of automatic pilot that my parents were on, but without ever any context. We did not talk about spirit or grace, but rather I think my parents had what I can only think of now as an assumed Christianity, superimposed on them by the culture and with no real thought or engagement.
I was free then, as a teen and a young adult, to explore with vigor my own truths and ways of knowing and while I never connected to the concept of Athiesm, I was also a bit skeptical of the term Agnostic. I didn’t want to say that I didn’t know. That never felt right. Or true. Because I did know. I knew that there was a force, an energy in the Universe, far greater than I that held us each together and infused our lives with meaning and with purpose and with beauty and with grace. It is that knowing that led me first to outdoor education and environmental studies, and then later and much more deeply to the lifelong exploration of yoga and a more eastern spiritual influence. I came to think of myself as a spiritualist. I still do. And I have space in my heart and mind for all teachings that ring true, whether they come from Christ or the Buddha or the Sanskrit scholar or my cousin or my neighbor or my kid. I connect most deeply to a vision of inclusivity and wonder and it guides me on the path of living, teaching, parenting, and loving.
So, it was with an open, yet not naive, mind and some trepidation that I approached our relationship with our neighbors. As is often the case in a small town, there are generally more religious homeschoolers than secular ones and I was mindful of this in our daily interactions. Kids care very little for any of this, which is wonderful, especially when they have access to playmates that are not just their siblings. And with a house full of children who were mostly always at home, there were friends for both of my kids to play with most days.
It was mostly fine. It was immediately apparent that our kids had far fewer rules and a much larger range than theirs, which was to be expected I suppose. My kids would wander freely into their yard and across the street to the park whereas the neighbor kids were much more tentative. I had no qualms or objection to the signs and symbols of their faith as it surrounded them. Maple and Eider have been exposed to spiritual statuary and devotional practices their entire lives, as their contact to my yogic life has always been complete and seamless. So, when the neighbors would have their periodic seasons of prayer it was always easy and natural to my kids. For Eider, who has always been attracted to meditation and mantra, it was easy to say yes to an invitation to pray and say the rosary with his friends and their mother. It was mostly ok with me too. Mostly. Save one striking difference.
Maple has always lived half in and half out of fairy land. In many ways she is a Waldorf girl through and through. Her exposure to their approach toward early childhood education made a lasting and meaningful impression on her. She has always moved seamlessly between the magical and the mundane, weaving stories and crafting wonder as she goes. She used to have this book of fairies, artfully done, portraying a mix of mischief and mayhem and fun that appeals to kids. One of the neighbor girls that she was close to was particularly drawn to the book and Maple was happy to share it with her. So she took it home to borrow, but not before removing the jacket cover. I thought that was odd, but no sooner did she have the book home than she had to march back down the hill to return it as well as deliver the news that they were not to play with my kids for a spell. Not surprising to me, shocking to Maple.
And there is the difference. So began my kids’ education in the contrast between our worldview and that of Christian culture. That contrast to me was glaring. Why was it ok for them to invite my son to pray to a God that he has no claim to and yet not ok for their girl to look at mystical artwork from a tradition outside her own? It is confusing to me and I am the adult.
It is either assumed that we live within a complete absence of spirit or that any spirit we do lay claim to is false, without merit, evil. In the west, and in the US in particular, the predominately Christian culture demands that we conform to that worldview, whether or not it is our own. Our respect for others beliefs and our silence regarding our own is generally taken as consent and the price becomes our sense of self, our connection to our own truth and the validity of our convictions. This feels a lot like persecution to me and quite frankly, that is not the world in which I want to be raising another generation.
As they have gotten older, the kids have not maintained their relationships to our Catholic neighbors. In part because they moved away and in part because they just couldn’t continue to find common ground as they each became more and more aware of their own beliefs. Today, my son’s closest friendship is with a boy who I think thinks of himself as a secular Jew and my daughter with a Christian girl whose family is passionate about the Gospel of Inclusivity. They are all finding their own way in this new world. Carving out a relationship to spirit that feels right and true to them. Honoring themselves. Respecting each other. And I’m continuing to respect the process. Follow my intuition. I’m trying not to negate my own knowing by adhering so strongly to social norms and etiquette.
Because here is something else that I know to be true: when we have been able to put the specificity of our language aside and not get bogged down in whether the words for our experience are the “right” words or not, the deep connection to grace that I have shared in relationship with my religious friends is profound. Full of awe, mystery, and peace. Our words may not be the same and in fact might even clash, but the magnitude of heart and wonder is the same. My faith in something bigger, in a Universal consciousness, is expansive enough to make room for more ways of knowing, for limitless belief. What I feel negates no one else of their feelings. Nor should it. And I want the opposite to hold true. I want to make footpaths across this gap of faith in which I am not always conceding to organized religion but rather where we meet each other in the middle and hold space and honor and respect for one another right there. In the middle. There is plenty of open space.