Rites of Passage, Part 2

Rites of Passage, Part 2

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” He drove out the man and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3: 22, 24

A fascinating account of a rite of passage occurs in the initial chapters of the Bible with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. I suppose this could be considered the original rite of passage, although tradition has named it the original sin. Adam and Eve, the first created human beings, live in the garden where all of their physical needs are met in abundance. They have a direct relationship with God. It is paradise. What more could they possibly want? Of course, they want the only thing forbidden to them in the entire garden – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why was it forbidden to them? In Genesis 2:16-17, God tells Adam, “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Interestingly, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, but they did not die, at least not in the way we would have expected. What makes this story a rite of passage is the fact that they did die to one life, even as they entered into a different life. Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise and into their version of life on earth where they had to work to survive and deal with the daily challenges of good and evil.

This story is symbolically meaningful in so many ways, one of which is as a representation of our passage from childhood to adulthood. As children, at least for most of us, everything needed for our physical well-being is provided. Particularly as we enter our teenage years, however, that provision is no longer sufficient or satisfying. We long for forbidden fruit. We believe we can make a better life than our parents provide. Eventually, we reach for the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and – Poof!!! – we become adults. Like Adam and Eve freeing themselves from living under God’s rules, so we seek freedom from our parent’s restrictions, not realizing those rules provide freedom from the worries and work of adulthood. Rather, we experience the rules of our parents as unreasonable chains binding us to old tired ways and traditions. Relatively quickly as adults, we learn the freedom-restricting hardships of adulthood.

We can see the story of the garden of Eden as the passage from childhood to adulthood, but we can also see it as a passage from innocence to knowledge. The adage that ignorance is bliss is relevant because there is a sense that innocence is ignorance. Growing up is, in some ways, a trick. We desire the freedom to know and experience the joys and sorrows of good and evil, but we want that experience without giving up the relative safety of childhood. What we realize after we cross the threshold into adulthood is that our ever-increasing knowledge comes at the expense of our innocence. Just as Adam and Eve were forbidden to return to the garden of Eden, so are we forbidden from returning to the innocence and relatively worry-free life of childhood. Mystical theologian Howard Thurman, referring to the story of Adam and Eve, wrote, “The transition from innocence to knowledge is always perilous and fraught with hazard…when knowledge comes, the whole world is turned upside down. Struggle emerges as the way of life.”[1]

Transitioning into adulthood is not a rite of passage we choose in the same way we choose to join an organization. Rather, it is a necessary part of our progression toward death. Interestingly, as we age, at least for many of us, we begin to reclaim some of the innocence we left behind in childhood. Indeed, Jesus said, “…unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[2] We lose some of the cynicism we developed in early adulthood and regain a measure of innocence that has been tempered by our knowledge of good and evil. We become more accepting and are more likely to believe in the inherent good of others. It is another rite of passage that leads to a kinder, gentler state of being.

This is the 48th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

Taize to Go, a free worship experience, is available at https://youtu.be/sUC7gq9Op2Y


[1] Howard Thurman, The Inward Journey (Friends United Press: 2007, © 1961), 16-17.

[2] Matthew 18:3

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