I’ve been reading a book called Wild Things : the art of nurturing boys and came across a section on the importance of establishing rites of passage for boys crossing the threshold between childhood and adulthood.
It reminded me of the first time I really thought about this a few years ago while reading another book about building community called Stopping at every lemonade stand that also mentioned rituals for boys. In that book, author James Vollbracht asked the question, what are the coming of age rituals for boys in our culture?
He said getting your drivers’ license, getting laid, and getting loaded. When I read that I thought what negative and unhealthy way of marking an important life passage. I tucked the idea away and began talking to some of the men in my son’s life and asked them to keep a life-passage ritual idea in mind in preparation for the time to come.
And then I didn’t think much about it again until I read about them in Wild Things. There, the Christian authors Stephen James and David Thomas devote a number of pages to the subject.
James and Thomas, both therapists, writers, and fathers of boys think that some of the feelings of disconnection and instability that many grown men feel comes from the lack of a clear transition from boyhood to manhood that is marked by challenge and afterward celebrated with the community.
They call initiation a compass of sacred meaning about moral principles to help guide boys into adulthood, saying it should reach deep into their hearts and have significant meaning symbolizing the shell of boyhood dying and the mature man emerging.
They say ritual is essentially a spiritual experience and something the boys’ family or community sees as admirable and positive, something to be trusted. It’s not about proving oneself but about discovering oneself.
A Catholic priest, writer, and speaker named Richard Rohr has identified five essential truths that male initiations should communicate. Here is my edited, non-Christian interpretation of these truths:
- Life is Hard : don’t waste time trying to avoid challenges but acknowledge that they need to be faced
- You are going to die: the uncertainty and reality of one’s own death must be made very real. One’s death should be ritualized through trials, facing loss, and the fear of loss.
- You are not that important (I like this one especially in light of our ego-centric society): Cosmic and personal humility is of central importance for truth and happiness in the world. The world deserves respect from the initiate in order to avoid an inflated/deflated sense of himself that needs continual reassurance. This attitude becomes the basis for all community, family, and sevice.
- You are not in control: the illusion of control must be surrendered by a deep exprerience of one’s own powerlessness. Usually only by suffering can this be accomplished, especially unjust suffering and things one cannot change. Humans don’t ordinarily undersatn or accept this until we are led to the limit of our own resources.
- Your life is not about you.: This is called the essential and summary experience. You need to know you are part of something bigger than yourself. This awareness gives you an entirely different perspective on your own human experience.
I really think there’s something to this. Although I have a few years to go I know the time will go quickly and I want to plant the idea in the mind of my son and the important men in his life and look forward to a soulful transitional ritual to go along with his growing up years.
More in my posts to come.