I first heard this old Yiddish story, which has roots in the Talmud, from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.1
While we are in the womb, we know everything there is to know about the universe, but we forget it all at birth.
At a later time, to help us remember, God runs a finger from the bottom of our nose to the top of our lip. That’s why there’s an indentation.
At the time of puberty there is a special opportunity—and a need—for an awakening to that original wisdom. Rabbi Steinsaltz says:
“… every child is born with a soul. The time of bar (bat) mitzvah is not just an occasion for celebration, it is the time of puberty and the awakening of the soul. Awakening of both physical and spiritual energies.
“There are periods of life when there can be an awakening. Everybody is called but most people don’t hear it. There are other distracting forces moving within a person.
“ I hear a knock and I know it but I may not be ready. Later on I feel the void… ….. after ignoring the call there will be a feeling of the void. If I miss it, I can go on a quest. But I missed it, whatever it is, I missed it”(p .27).
Wisdom begins in wonder.
Adolescence is a time of wandering minds, wondering about the complexities and mysteries of life and all the possibilities. They begin to remember and wonder about an original wisdom, essential to their life that needs to be known. This wisdom has to do with remembering the big bang and the birth of the Universe. Those elements born in that caldron exist today within all of us.
“We are in the Universe and the Universe is in us.”
Adolescents are searching for opportunities to “awaken” and have access to this original wisdom. They are seeking to really feel and to know deeply that they are part of something grander than themselves. This, in part, is the attraction of drugs and other distracting forces to which Rabbi Steinsaltz refers. It meets the needs of youth to feel a sense of awakening but it is not an awakening guided by adults that leads to an experience of connectedness and sense of love and belonging.
If children are given no occasion to become awakened during their coming of age, then the void of missing this original wisdom becomes increasingly painful and must be filled. Young people may learn to fill the void with violence, with cynicism, or with drugs, alcohol, and other forms of acquiring, ingesting and abusing anything with which they can have a relationship. These traits are carried into adulthood and lead to the kinds of character and values in adults that contribute to the incivility and problems we face in the world today.
Rites of Passage: Nature’s Pathway To Fill The Void
Evidence of their existence goes back 40,000 years and indicates that rites of passage are our natural way of responding to youth’s desire to wonder and seek an awakening to remember this original wisdom, knowledge of the birth and unfolding of the Universe. They intentionally guide children’s awakening to connect with this knowledge, which they need to know in order to achieve authenticity, balance, connection and wholeness in their lives. This knowledge fosters in them a deep connection with all of life which they come to believe are their natural relations - knowledge which gives them a sense of gratitude and grace and the love of Mother Earth. Knowledge that leads to view life as if all were in natural relation to be cared for rather than natural resources to be exploited. If one feels the love of Mother Earth, just for an instant, it will be sufficient for one’s whole life. That is the purpose of initiation and rites of passage.
In the absence of rite-of-passage experiences that lead to an awakening to this original wisdom, the search to fill the void continues. For many, childhood never ends and seeking behaviors attempting to fill the void continues into adulthood and is played out in violence, dominance, manipulation and other dangerous ways that impact one’s health and the health of their families, communities and the planet.
If the young are not initiated into the village,
they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.
Passageway To A New Story
What is the new story that can help our children remember and connect with this original wisdom? In the next Rite Way blog we will unveil a new story and an innovative design that joins science and spirit, technology and ancient wisdom in a community-oriented rites of passage. It’s called the Planetarium Initiatory Event®, PIE®.
In this new story people make and serve PIE to nourish life in their community for raising children together. Join with Youth Passageways and us to become part of the story and help co-create solutions for help our children to create a better world.
Reflection: What does it takes to build whole communities and repair fractured ones?
Dialogue: What would we be doing when we are all engaged in putting the story of community-oriented and culturally sensitive rites of passage into practice?
Graphics by: Nancy Wofford
1Parabola, Spring, 2005Posted in ROPE
It’t time for a Paradigm Shift – a fundamental change in beliefs, theory and approach – in developing community-centered responses to the challenges faced by today’s Youth & Community. More here>>