I recently saw the movie Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Adapted from a hugely popular 1970s novel by Judy Blume the film tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl just on the cusp of puberty whose family moves to a new city.
Margaret is anxious and worried about this move as well as about lots of other things. Will she find new friends? Will she ever have a big enough chest to get a bra? When will she get her period?
Margaret starts confiding in God, talking to God almost every night about her worries and concerns and asking God for help.
Interestingly however Margaret has had no religious upbringing of any kind. Her father comes from a Jewish family and her mother’s Christian parents disowned Margaret’s mother because she chose to marry a Jewish man.
Because of that Margaret’s parents have brought their daughter up without teaching her about either faith or introducing her to any religion of any kind.
Still………when Margaret finds life overwhelming she turns to God. Where does she get her idea of God? She has never seen her parents pray. Why would she pray? Does she possess a kind of innate spiritual intelligence?
Margaret Sinetar in her book Spiritual Intelligence: What We Can Learn From the Early Awakening Child says that all children show signs of spiritual intelligence whether or not they come from families where they have been taught about religion.
Thomas H. Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and author of Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent agrees that children are born with a sort of innate sense of awe and reverence and creativity and an openness to the mystery of the spiritual.
He feels it is important to ground children in a specific religious faith so they have a way to express their innate spiritual intelligence.
For a school project, Margaret does explore various religious faiths, going to a Jewish temple service with her grandmother, to a Presbyterian church service with one friend, and to a Methodist Christmas Eve celebration with another friend. She even pops into a Catholic confessional while following a school classmate. But she doesn’t find what she’s looking for in the institutional church.
At one point pressured by both sets of her grandparents to choose their religion, she declares she doesn’t believe in God anymore.
But…….. by the end of the film when her life has taken a more positive turn she can’t help but send up a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
While writing Anabaptist curriculums for children’s religious education in the 1990s I was introduced to the concept of Godly Play, conceived by Jerome Berryman. It was a unique way of relating stories of faith that encouraged children to question and react and respond to them in their own way without didactic interpretation or instruction from adults.
Godly Play was a method that allowed children to use their imaginations and curiosity to experience the mystery of the divine. It respected children’s innate spirituality.
It was interesting for me to see that idea of children’s innate spirituality highlighted and respected again in the film Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
It is an excellent movie by the way and one I would highly recommend.