Opening the Doors of Wonder
Reflections on Religious Rites of Passage
Publication Year: 2006
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
Published by: University of California Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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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...
INTRODUCTION. SOMETIMES, THE MAGIC WORKS
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Catholics don’t remember their baptism. Muslims don’t remember their baby welcoming. Jewish men don’t remember their circumcision. Water is sprinkled, a relative says a few words about the newborn, a foreskin is cut. These are all done to babies, who have no say about any of this and...
PART ONE · CHRISTIANITY: Soldiers for Christ
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1 · THE DESCENT OF THE SPIRIT
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Sarah Fisher was a happy fifteen year old. The week before, she’d rejected a friend who’d offered her marijuana. It’s tough: when you’re in high school these days, pot is everywhere—people are smoking and dealing and whispering about what’s better, the stuff from Mexico or the stuff that someone’s...
2 · NO FUNDAMENTAL, LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
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In 1994 a bear of a man came back from five years in Russia with a bear of an idea. Bob Abernethy, wrapping up a half-decade assignment in Moscow with NBC, had just figured out how to spend the rest of his life: he’d anchor a half-hour news show about religion....
3 · WHAT MAKES SOMEONE GIVE UP THEIR RELIGION?
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It was raining, I was wet, and the dirt road was no help. All it did was get me wetter and muddier and send a slight shiver through my already damp bones. Rain in January is not good, especially in upstate New York. Then I spotted the lights from a small house, and I knew there wasn’t much farther to go....
4 · RELIGION SATURATED THE HOUSE
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Only one person has done hatha yoga daily and prayed five times a day in Arabic while facing Mecca, all while still calling himself a Methodist. Huston Smith has meditated with Zen masters in Japan, prayed with Buddhist monks in Burma, danced with Sufi dervishes...
5 · THAT SOLDIER-OF-CHRIST, SLAP-ACROSS-THE-FACE STUFF IS SICK
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Revelation often comes at the oddest moments and from the least expected people. For Julia Sweeney, revelation came when two “cute, young” Mormon missionaries knocked on her door, announcing, “We have a message for you from God.” After being ushered into her living room, they asked, “Do you feel loved by God?”...
6 · THE WAL-MART-IZATION OF THE CHURCH
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Jim Zogby likes his cigars, one after another after another. And his coffee black. And the service quick and familiar, because the staff knows his likes and dislikes without him having to more than nod or gesture. And all this at Zogby’s version of a men’s club: the Library Lounge at the St. Regis Hotel, a power room if ever there...
PART TWO. JUDAISM: Would Anne Frank Sing Karaoke?
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7 · WHAT, REALLY, IS A MAN?
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It’s odd that when Christians talk about rites of passage, one particular ritual often comes up, one that has set a certain standard for rites of passage in the United States; one that makes some people wince and others envious; one that’s much maligned, much ridiculed, much respected—and much misunderstood: the bar mitzvah.
8 · I’M TONE-DEAF TO BELIEF
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I hate to write someone’s epitaph, but Leon Botstein will go to his grave as a wunderkind. No matter how old he is, or how much he’s accomplished, or how solid a niche he’s earned in academia and music and letters, Botstein’s obit, you can bet, will prominently mention that he was the youngest president of an American...
9 · I WAS LIKE A SPY. LIKE A CLOSET JEW
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Roz Chast lives on a small street in a small town, just one block off of Main Street. It’s a short walk to a well-endowed library and some friendly stores and a few family-owned restaurants that have resisted raising their prices to Manhattan levels. Or their coffee tab to Starbucks levels....
10 · I WANTED TO MAKE MY PARENTS PROUD
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If God gave gold stars for being articulate, Harold Kushner would be first in line: ask him a question, and what follows, with barely a moment’s pause, is thoughtful and challenging and parses almost better than anything in Strunk and White’s classic on English usage, Elements of Style. Kushner has a way with words...
11 · “YOU ARE A WOMAN” MEANT “YOU DO THE DISHES”
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Mother and daughter. Letty—pioneering feminist, a founder of Ms. Magazine, author of several books—worked on everything from Free to Be You and Me, that seventies paean to gender equality, to Deborah, Golda, and Me, her sometimes brutally honest memoir. And Abigail—a former producer at 60 Minutes and a writer...
12 · MUSHROOMS GAVE ME WHAT I COULD HAVE HAD AT MY BAR MITZVAH
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If anyone has been at the epicenter of America’s spiritual searchings for the past three decades, it is Ram Dass: seeker, teacher, eloquent guide, and agile translator of Eastern thought into American practice. Since the 1960s, Ram Dass has helped shape Americans’ attitudes toward consciousness, faith, drugs, religion, and mysticism...
13 · ISRAEL AND I CAME OF AGE TOGETHER
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A rabbi who never had a bar mitzvah? A shanda, as they say in Yiddish, a scandal! Yet Jeffrey Salkin, a rabbi for more than two decades, didn’t just skip his bar mitzvah. He later wrote a definitive book about reclaiming the spiritual meaning of a bar mitzvah, Putting God on the Guest List, a plea to parents and kids “to feel the...
14 · I AM NOT GOD’S POLICEMAN
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Elie Wiesel is the voice of the Holocaust, the ghostly whisper of the Six Million. He survived, and they didn’t, and his task, his fate, his duty is to speak their tale and tell of their death and recount their pain, a pain which we can never come close to understanding. A storm of ashes whirled about these millions: the ashes of...
PART THREE. HINDUISM: Coming to Brahma, Knowing Nirvana
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15 · THE THREAD OF LIFE
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Cool, indeed. So cool it was probably the most exotic rite of passage that anyone who attended Ajay’s middle school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, had ever seen. And so exotic that the only way he could remotely get people to understand what he was doing was to say that it “was sort...
16 · RELIGION IS FREQUENTLY IDIOTIC
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What do you do when Time magazine includes you in the top one hundred icons of the twentieth century, when Mikhail Gorbachev calls you “one of the most lucid and inspired philosophers of our time,” when someone far less famous than Gorbachev compares trying to absorb your “ceaseless wisdom” to “attempting...
PART FOUR. BUDDHISM: Original Perfection versus Original Sin
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17 · WAKING UP
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A few years ago, a student at a Zen monastery went crying to her roshi. She was scheduled for jukai the next day—a Buddhist initiation ceremony—and the whole thing, she sobbed, was a big mistake. She wasn’t worthy, she wailed. She wasn’t a good Buddhist. She wasn’t even a good person. “You don’t know me,” she said through her tears....
18 · BORN A BUDDHA. DIE A BUDDHA
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Zen is an austere practice, and the Zen Mountain Monastery is one of the more austere Zen centers in the United States—two hundred twenty-five acres located within Catskills State Park, ten miles from the town of Woodstock, which will always be known as the place where three days of peace and love—the Woodstock...
19 · I LOOKED LIKE HENRY MILLER IN DRAG
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The problem is that Robert Thurman, America’s premier interpreter of Tibetan Buddhism, detonates all this neat logic. Raised on the Upper East Side, his life has been one part upper drawer, two parts doing the unexpected, and three parts rebellion/curiosity/dedication/scholarship. He encapsulates...
PART FIVE. ISLAM: Seven Essential Words
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20 · ALLAH IS ONE
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You’d think that every world religion would have a major event to initiate people into the faith—a baptism, a reading from a holy text, or a public pledging that you’ll follow a certain path. All these events, in one way or another, tell youngsters that they are ready to move on to a new phase in their lives or that they are old enough to seriously begin...
21 · JUST BEING SENTIENT IS CAUSE FOR RAPTURE
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Until I heard of Coleman Barks, I knew of only one guy who was born in Tennessee, the greenest state in the land of the free—Davy Crockett. If we’re to believe the Disney version of the Crockett story, Davy was an all-around guy: trapper, explorer, politician, and patriot, a nineteenth-century Renaissance...
22 · FLOATING ON A CLOUD OF MERCY
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You could say that morning broke for Cat Stevens when he stopped being Cat Stevens. But that steers us into a nomenclatural house of mirrors, since before he was Cat Stevens, he was Stephen Demetre Georgiou—the third child of a couple living above the restaurant they operated in London’s West...
23 · I FEEL LIKE A MONOTHEIST WITH EXTRA CREDENTIALS
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And when a Jew or a Christian converts to Islam, everyone is confused: the convert is now keeping company with his “enemies.” The shadow of Middle Eastern politics falls every which way, even the way of personal salvation; worse, few Westerners really understand Islam. They haven’t since before the Crusades...
EPILOGUE. WOULD ANYONE RIDING BYON A HORSE EVEN NOTICE?
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This book began on a personal note. It will end on a personal note: I have three daughters. Not one of them had a bat mitzvah. That has more to do with me than with them. Early in my career as a father, I reasoned that, since my own bar mitzvah was such a dud, my children should not be subjected to such a dull, unsatisfying...
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I love viewing the credits at the end of a film. They’re the final census of brains, imagination, talent, ego, and ambition behind a motion picture: the gaªers and the best boys, the second unit directors and the foley artists, the doting sycophants to the stars and the many people who want to be stars. They’re all here. Just as film credits...
Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2006