I’ve spoken this week about initiation on FBLive and I’ve written about it in Reflections. And it has occurred to me that I’ve never written here about the initiation that ultimately led to the birth of The Way of the River.
I’ve never written here about the intersection of ordination with what is commonly thought of among Pagan-flavored folks as initiation.
My Third Degree (and my First and Second Degrees) in the tradition of Stone Circle Wicca
was conferred upon me after a ritual of which I may not speak. In this case, it is not only that I cannot speak of some part of it. But that I may not, that I have committed not to.
My Third Degree initiation was held with only other initiates involved. On the other hand, my ordination held not only other “initiates”—ordained clergy and other religious leaders—but also members of the congregation who would actually ordain me as well as other beloved friends and family.
These initiations look very different, at least on the surface.
But consider these things.
“Initiation,” like “commencement,” is a word that connotes the beginning of things. And yet we use these words to confer formal acknowledgement of things past, accomplishment, work, ordeals.
Nonetheless, each experience, initiation, ordination, and commencement, has a Way that opens after it. Commencement, or graduation, in our culture, can open doors that had been previously closed. And Wiccan initiation and clerical ordination both caused “Way to open” unexpectedly and inexplicably.
For my part, my ceremony of ordination into the Unitarian Universalist ministry was one I truly cherish. It involved Classical, gospel, and West African music by two soloists, a choir, and a drum ensemble.
The Laying on of Hands, a common piece of the ordination structure, began with a Christian minister, a UU minister, and a Wiccan priest. Then my family, my clergy colleagues, and all those gathered were invited to pay hands on me or on the person nearest them.
My mentor Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore, spoke of my calling and my response. The UU minister, my friend Rev. Carol Cissel, spoke of the Spirit come down upon me as a mantle.
And then my friend and longtime confidant and ritual partner, Jonathan White, Third Degree priest, spoke about how my life was always pointed toward the integration of the One and the Many. And he turned toward me as he explained to the assembly that blessing is done in many ways, “But this is how we do it.”
At that moment, I knew what he was going to do, and I knew I had no choice but to allow myself to be bless, to allow myself to be a vessel for whatever came.
“Blessed be your feet,” he began, kneeling in front of me…
And he continued with a blessing called the Five-Fold Blessing or the Five-Fold Kiss. It is a sacred thing and something I knew he might do, but wasn’t sure. I shouldn’t have doubted.
And so I was blessed and blessed and blessed, thrice-blessed, and then blessed hundreds of times over by the hands that came and held mine, touched my knee, supported my shoulders, and all the hands that touched those hands and the hands that touched them.
I was finally blessed by the physical touch of atheists—there were my brothers on their knees before me—of Wiccan folk, of Christians, of UU’s of every stripe of hyphenated faith, of Muslims, of those with some small faith and those with none.
While the formal conferral of the status of clerical responsibility and authority is comes from the mouths of the congregation when they say the words, “We do ordain you to the Unitarian Universalist ministry,” it was for me in that multifaith laying on of hands that I gave myself over to the Call of the One and Many on my life.
This is the closest I can come to explaining the Mystery of that initiation.
That Call of the One and the Many has led me here.
That Call is not only to the Unitarian Universalist ministry. It is not only to the Christianity I appreciate and with which I grew up. It is not even only to the life of the tradition of Wicca I love so passionately.
It is to you.
The Call of my life has brought me to you.
It has brought me to an multifaith, interfaith ministry—and even that word, “ministry,” is wrong. Nevertheless, this Call asks me to be faithful to Radiance. The Call asks me to do my very best to shine to you the message that you too are welcome, invited, perhaps (I cannot say) even Called to shine.
To be the bright and the dark mirrors, both, that human beings are.
To radiate the Love that passes our understanding.
To invite all into communion with their Deep, Wise selves, and to accept that invitation.
And so there is that.
And there is more, even, but I cannot speak of it. Not because I don’t want to. But because I cannot. It cannot be done. It happens at and to a place in the heart where the embers of hope, love, peace, and trust abide.
And the greatest of these is Love.
I love you. I love you. I love you.