Schoolchildren should be taught the ancient spiritual practice of meditation alongside religious doctrine, Fr Freeman told the Sydney Morning Herald during a visit to Sydney.
Meditation is one way to tap into children's innate sense of the divine and could lay the spiritual foundations for an enduring religious life that outlasts parent-organised Sunday worship, Fr Freeman said.
For the past 20 years the World Movement for Christian Meditation, of which Fr Freeman is founder, has been bringing the contemplative experience out of the monasteries into the wider community.
Fr Freeman calls his ecumenical movement a monastery without walls, and its growth has been particularly strong among Christians in Australia, where there are now more than 335 meditation groups, said to be the largest number per capita in the world.
Now this visiting British Benedictine monk wants to introduce it to children, who, he says, are particularly receptive to meditative practices.
"I remember as a child of three or four waking up in bed and I was filled with the most exciting, overwhelming and frightening degree of love and joy. I didn't know what it was and ran into the sitting room and threw myself into my mother's lap.
"Children live in states of divine consciousness and bliss ... We shouldn't be surprised when children give up on God in adolescence because the religion doesn't bear much similarity to their experience.
"If relationships are only based on Sunday churchgoing and don't have a deeper experiential level, then the children as young adults will lose the connection."
Meditation has already been tried in Catholic schools in Townsville. So successful was the pilot project that mandatory meditation classes have been introduced to all 31 schools in the diocese, and the program is being used as a model for other dioceses.
Ernie Christie, the deputy director of Townsville's Catholic Education Office, said meditation was taught as prayer three times a week from kindergarten to year 12. Sessions are accompanied by gentle music and a candle.
"It's a skilled discipline, and the earlier we get them the more they see it is a natural part of their being. Anecdotally, the feedback has been nothing but positive. The kids are calmer, more open to doing school work, and in secondary school they are asking to do meditation sessions prior to exam time.
"The teachers are saying kids are not as aggressive after meditation. There has not been one negative comment from any of our parents across all our 31 schools, and that's remarkable."
Meditation brings spirit of calm to school life (Sydney Morning Herald, 30/4/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Fr Laurence Freeman (World Community for Christian Meditation)
World Community for Christian Meditation
Catholic Education Office Diocese of Townsville
Feature - Meditation is for all (CathNews, 27/7/05)
30 Apr 2007