As we grow up from children into adults we talk about various “rites of passage” we must go through in order to mature into the adult we are becoming. There’s learning how to drive, being rejected by a date, and moving out of your parents’ and paying your own bills. Each culture has its own unique rites of passage and rituals on the journey to growing up into a woman or a man.
The term “rite of passage” was coined in 1909 by Arnold van Gennep, a French anthropologist who proposed three phases that rites of passage help us move through. First is separation, where individuals separate from an earlier social structure or cultural environment. Second is the liminal phase, where the experience of something new feels foreign. Third is called reintegration, when one has crossed over the threshold, regained stability, and is reincorporated into normal living—a new accepted normalcy. Let me give you some examples rooted in the Christian life.
Perhaps the word “rite” is fitting for our sacramental life as Christians. Our tradition is filled with rituals, signs, symbols, and ceremonies that constitute our own religious rites of passage. Take the Sacrament of Matriomony, for example. The public ritual is just the beginning of van Gennep’s three stages. First, the couple separates from the earlier social structure of singlehood (the first stage). Then they enter the liminal phase where married life is strange and new. It may take a while to “become more and more married”. Finally, they start accepting this new life and it becomes a new normal. The foreignness dissipates.
Marriage is an easy sacrament to examine as a rite of passage because it involves very obvious life changes. Sacraments like the Eucharist or Confirmation are not as obvious, but they too are rites of passage because they transform our lives from one kind of normal to something new and strange, then to a new normal. The Sacrament of Reconciliation also calls us to a new normal. Receiving the Eucharist calls us from a life that may be cavalier about God and our faith, into a new life in Christ. Yet the transition from one to another is often difficult, foreign, and rocky. Most often we live in that liminal phase, that in-between time of faith, trying ever so hard to grow into adult people of faith.
Consider your image of God. Is God a male with a beard in the clouds? What about your faith practice? Do you limit your prayer and religious practice to Sundays? Do you have a childhood faith or a mature adult one?
As most of us need rites of passage like moving out of our parents’ to become independent, most of us also need rites of passage that help us grow into adult believers. Saint Ignatius’ autobiography is filled with these kinds of transitions. He had to go through the rite of passage of going back to school with young boys to learn Latin so he could further his education and eventually become a priest. He even had to get wounded in battle so he could read about the saints and how to live as a mature Christian.
For you, reading this blog may be part of your own rite of passage on your journey to a deeper adult faith. Perhaps it’s a routine of daily prayer or attending a bible study. Ponder where you are on your journey and then develop your own rite of passage to journey to a new kind of normal.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod