Throughout history, humankind has used rites of initiation to encourage initiates to step into new roles. Every culture, every religion, every society has some form of initiation. Admittedly, many of these rites of passage can seem dangerous or hurtful, or at least certainly not helpful. No one is going to argue for rites which do bodily harm or promote shaming. But somewhere in our efforts to demonize initiation altogether, we lost the beauty of transformative experiential initiation rites.
Initiation, when done in a healthy and helpful way, leads to a disruption from our “business as usual” mindset, and suggests the existence of a reality beyond our currently accepted identities. To be clear, truly transformative initiation is not a transaction. It does not say, “Here, you do this for me, and then I will let you into my association.” True initiation is not about quid pro quo. True initiation declares that you have a birthright of being accepted, you only need to step into it fully, and the initiation rite will teach you how. It says, “Come, follow me, let me show you something new, the you that has always been there waiting for discovery, and the reality that has always been yours waiting for you to see it.”
So what does that look like? It looks like the Sabbath. It looks like the Sacrament ordinance. It looks like prayer, and fasting, and meditation, and any other practice which disrupts our day-to-day and turns us towards our place in the Kingdom of God, our identity with the divine. In fact, every ordinance we do in the church is an initiation rite, leading us to develop a keener sense of our divine roles, initiating us into God’s society as our divine birthright. We call them “saving ordinances” because they save us from living a life apart and fully initiate us into life as a god.
Christ’s instructions to his disciples were almost always leading them to these types of experiences. Leave your life. Follow me. Hear me. Try this a different way. Have this new experience. See through this lens. Sometimes, his teachings were so different and new that they were often misunderstood. They were radical. Radically new and radically transformational.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:24–25)
How’s that for something new? “Die. It’s the only way to live.” It’s no wonder even those closest to him took so long to understand. Christ firmly, yet gently, called his disciples to be new beings. And this call to a new way of living is exactly what our saving ordinances are all about. They are to move us out of our regular lives and regular patterns of thinking and bring our minds to a place where will accept the reality of the Kingdom of God. They make a clearing in the fog of daily monotony and give space to new life, new action, a new way of being.
Christ, himself, partook of these experiences. When he was baptized by John in the wilderness, he was breaking open the “normal” and introducing the eternal. When he went out into the desert for 40 days to pray and fast, he was fully embracing a deep dive into humanity’s shadow, including the demons of greed, supposed safety, power-over, and fame that we all encounter. I believe his experience in the desert was just as much part of the atonement as was anything he did in the garden or on the cross or from the tomb. He took on what it is to be human and showed us how to do it right. We can learn so much from Christ’s own experiences with initiation.
Let’s be honest. We don’t usually feel comfortable surrendering all that we are to the grace of God, trusting that he will lead us to the promised land. We really want to have some say in the matter. Some control. Something to ensure God will keep his end of the deal. Of course, all of this is mostly, if not completely, hidden in our egos. We don’t really recognize what we’re doing. Luckily, we are consistently and constantly forgiven though we know not what we do. But our language often ends up transactional. We want to be able to do something and then hold God to his end of the bargain, as if we know better than he does what we need or even want. As if God isn’t always going to be God.
Thankfully, our Father knows this is a very human thing to do, and that we are learning. He patiently sustains us through experiences that will eventually rise us above such things. He initiates us into his presence because it is our birthright and he loves us. Our saving ordinances save us, not because we are doing anything in particular to bind God to some future action, but because if done with full purpose of heart we are opening ourselves to becoming someone new. We are presenting a willingness which God will always consecrate for our profit and learning.
Proxy ordinances are saving too, because of the experiences we, and they, have across the veil. We have moments of seeing that the veil is temporary, that godliness is eternal, and that no one is ever lost. Our hearts turn to them, and their hearts turn to us. These experiences are needed, but not the way a handstamp is required for re-entry into Disneyland. They are needed the way living water and the bread of life are needed. Essential to our growth and the continuation of our eternal lives, transforming each of us into the gods we were destined to be, on both sides of the veil.
As Christ said, the seed that never dares to experience anything beyond being a seed will never grow to produce good fruit. And those that do have found eternal life, reconciled to their divine natures.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17–18)
May all of your experiences with ordinances be saving, glorious reconciliatory moments of unity with the divine, truly initiating you into God’s Kingdom, on Earth as it is in Heaven.