Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage

Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage

Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage

Opening the Doors of Wonder: Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage

Synopsis

This bold, pioneering book explores rites of passage in America by sifting through the accounts of influential thinkers who experienced them. Arthur J. Magida explains the underlying theologies, evolution, and actual practice of Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs, Christian confirmations, Hindu sacred thread ceremonies, Muslim shahadas and Zen jukai ceremonies. In rare interviews, renowned artists and intellectuals such as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, holistic guru Deepak Chopra, singer Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), actress/comedienne Julia Sweeney, cartoonist Roz Chast, interfaith maven Huston Smith, and many more talk intimately about their religious backgrounds, the rites of passage they went through, and how these events shaped who they are today.

Magida compares these coming of age ceremonies' origins and evolution, considers their ultimate meaning and purpose, and gauges how their meaning changes with individuals over time. He also examines innovative rites of passage that are now being "invented" in the United States. Passionate and lyrical, this absorbing book reveals our deep, ultimate need for coming-of-age events, especially in a society as fluid as ours.

Conversations with: Bob Abernethy, Huston Smith, Julia Sweeney, Roz Chast, Harold Kushner, Ram Dass, Elie Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Robert Thurman, Coleman Barks, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), And others

Excerpt

When I was ten years old, my fifth-grade teacher used to make an announcement every week that I never quite understood. It had something to do with “catechism class.” The second word was a cinch. Even I comprehended it. But “catechism”? It seemed like another language, maybe from another planet.

The announcement would always come around two o’clock, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday. Almost two-thirds of the class would tidy up their desks, bolt out of their seats, and just about skip out of James Madison Elementary School, a two-story brick building surrounded by a chinhigh metal fence painted a not-very-attractive lime green. At James Madison, hoisting the American flag to the top of the pole in front of the school early in the morning was a high honor, almost as distinguished as carrying the erasers down to the basement at the end of the day and sucking gusts of chalky dust out of them with a vacuum cleaner that some goofy inventor had devised for that very purpose. But in my eyes, the greatest honor of all was to be among those lucky kids who dashed out of this school in bleak Scranton, Pennsylvania. I admired how clever they were. Clearly they were privy to a secret, and they were keeping it to themselves: not just how to get out of school ninety minutes early but also how to escape our teacher, Miss Dyer, whom we feared and loathed. A bully and a tyrant, she humiliated at least one of us every day in front of the entire class—teasing, scolding, or just plain chewing out some poor sucker. Her class was a gulag, a stalag, a slammer for fifth graders. From 9:00 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon, we held our breath, never knowing when she would strike or whom she would pounce on. Anyone who fig-

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