Do you remember some of the “initiating rites” you either enjoyed or endured in your childhood, your teen years, and your adulthood? (Sure, pause a few moments and remember; maybe even write them down.) You might even take your “initiation” memories to your grandchildren and see how yours and theirs seem alike (and different).
Rites of passage have always been part of every person’s maturing, regardless of the culture from which that person came. But I don’t recall seeing any specific initiation rites specifically to usher us into the season we call “Aging”. Do you?
Oh, there are “milestones” — like getting an AARP card, getting our first Social Security check, signing up for Medicare. But I don’t consider them initiation rites.
In fact, most of what our American culture offers us would be milestones, but not real initiations into what we mean by “becoming a man” or “becoming a woman”. You may disagree with me, but read me out: milestones, like puberty for instance, only signal an arrival to a certain season. But what is that season’s deeper meaning? That takes initiation!
I began to think of what initiation rites we have as we approach Aging. I’m just not coming up with a common rite that covers the deeper meanings of growing older. I began by reviewing Dr. Bill Thomas’ description of “senescence” he shared in his book “What Are Old People For?: How Elders Will Save the World”
Senescence come from a Latin word that means, “to grow old”. So senescence is “growing into old age”. Think of it as adolescence, “growing into adulthood”, but for geezers-in-training.
Essentially, senescence’s purpose is to prepare us for the last, and often most fulfilling, stage of human development — elderhood.
But what could make senescence and elderhood more filled with meaning than we normally find it? To get some hints on that, I reviewed another book I have by Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return: The 5 Promises of Male Initiation”
Maybe I find his insights more appealing because I am male. But as I got further into the book, I sensed that the “5 promises” — which seem more like 5 messages — were pretty applicable to the searching that many women engage in also.
The profound messages are hidden in short statements that older adults also do well to wrestle with:
1. Life is hard.
2. You are not that important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
“Well, duh”, you might say to yourself, “What else is new?” Sure, these simple confirmations are more obvious to us than to teenage males, or females. But their obviousness doesn’t lessen the need for us to deal with them at deeper levels than we normally do.
Ironically, the likely result of a teen not learning to deal with these matters sounds quite similar to what can, and too often does, happen to older adults who dismiss the spiritual maturing power in these messages. Rohr lists these possible consequences:
1. We will become inflexible, blaming, and petty as we grow older
2. We will need other people to hate in order to expel our inner negativity
3. We will play the victim in some form as a means of false power
4. We will spend much of our life seeking security and status as a cover-up for lack of a substantial sense of self
5. We will pass on our deadness to our family, children, and friends. (Adam’s Return, p. 37)
Wow! Do those consequences touch you in any way? This is why I think we need to find some healthy initiation rites for ourselves and the community of people we are parts of. Who wants to reflect those consequences? I don’t! Do you?
If you come up with some initiation rites that work, even a little, please let me know. A good start might be to read Adam’s Return. T’was a good start for me!
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair of the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries. “Like” Older Adult Ministries (@ccoam) of the PNW on Facebook!
They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might find in the Bible. They capture some element of truth, yet they miss the point in important ways. Join Adam Hamilton in his search for the whole truth by comparing some common Christian sayings with the wisdom found in Scripture.
This 5-session DVD features Adam Hamilton presenting to a group in his engaging style. Adam breaks down these common sayings using Scripture and story with practical applications. Each session contains 10-15 minutes of video and is perfect for adult and youth classes. Bonus video is included on Thistle Farms, where the videos were recorded.
Ian McKnight serves as the manager for The Regional Media Center. Visit regionalmediacenter.org to view a catalog of media from our vast lending library to support your local church ministry.