This is the third of four essays under the above title. The first one asked, “Who’s counting the sacraments?” In the second essay, I talked about “The Sacraments of Birth and Before.” This third one will deal with “The Sacraments of the Breathing Body.” And the fourth one will examine “The Sacraments of Death and Thereafter.”
The Sacraments of the Breathing Body
This second group of sacraments is what I am calling, “The Sacraments of the Breathing Body.” Now that you’ve taken your first breath and fully inhabited your “spacesuit” – this vehicle that you need for mission – what sacraments will mark your incarnational journey? In order to provide continuity among the four essays on this topic, I will number these beginning at number eight.
- Sacrament number eight
This sacrament, I believe, is the development of an ego. A sense of personal self is beginning to emerge and it takes about eight months for that to happen, because, initially, the little child cannot differentiate between self and mother. There is just one organism – it’s the mother-child complex – and the child is totally convinced that it is in charge of this organism. Around the age of eight months, however, a horrible realization begins to dawn: that we are actually separate beings, and all the power resides in the other side. That’s really, really frightening. Still, the emergence of an ego is a huge step forward. It’s a part of the journey where we agreed that we will separate ourselves more and more fully from God in order to experience limitation and still try to figure out, “Can I love anyway? Can I remember anyway? Can I know that I’m God stuff anyway?”
Thus, the ego is the next step in that separation process. And every one of us as little children, then have to develop all kinds of defense mechanisms to compensate for this horrible realization, that there are two, not one. There’s a mother and a child and she’s in the driving seat. Moreover, she might abandon me – “Am I good enough? Will I be loved enough?”
- Sacrament number nine
Then a little bit later on, the baby joins the hominid group. It stands upright around 10 months or a year of age, and begins to wander around. This is self-empowerment, but it’s also the next phase of separation. Now, for the first time ever, the child can choose to go away from the mother. It’s exploring, but it’s leaving the mother. It’s also part of the distancing from Source. Can I separate from mother and still remember that she exists? Initially, it’s easy because every time the child looks around to make sure that mother can be seen, she’s visible. But if she can’t be seen, he’s going to freak out and start running to find her.
- Sacrament number ten
Around 16-18 months, depending on the child, we then become homo sapiens. We develop language skills. And even if the first words we speak are “Dada” or “Mama”, very quickly every one of us is going to learn “me” and “mine”. And those two words become really important in the child’s vocabulary. That’s a further part of the separation. The child is now very definitely separating even from Mammy and Daddy. That’s a sacrament and it’s part of the journey away from God. It’s a test to see if I can still remember who I am? And can I remember that there is only God?
- Sacrament number eleven
At that stage as well, comes the sacrament which I will call, “egocentricity.” There is the need for the child to self-empower or to be self-concerned. You cannot develop compassion until you first operate from a sense of separate self. So, egocentricity becomes a very important sacrament in that process. It’s the ego on steroids. My needs and desires are paramount.
- Sacrament number twelve
Around the age of seven comes the next sacrament and it’s achieving the use of reason. Now the child is homo sapiens sapiens. And, for the first time, a child can become moral. A four-year-old child is neither moral, nor immoral, but simply amoral. He still does not have the neuronal wiring in place to be able to differentiate and have the ability to take another person’s perspective.
Here’s a very simple illustration of that. I take a four-year-old child who knows her colors and I show her a book whose front cover is white and whose back cover is green. I show her the front cover and ask, “What color is that?” She will correctly say, “white.” If I show her the back cover and ask, “what color is that?” she will correctly respond, “green.” But if, while showing her the front cover, I ask her, “what color am I looking at?” she will, incorrectly, say, “white”, because she is looking at white and she can’t mentally put herself in my shoes. She can only see things from her own perspective. Even though she knows both colors, she cannot say, “you are looking at green, while I am looking at white.” Until we can adopt another person’s perspective, we cannot become moral creatures. And only then can we really learn compassion.
- Sacrament number thirteen
Very shortly after that we get inducted into ethnocentricity, which is the next sacrament. We are told that our group is especially chosen by God, whether it’s our nation, or our religion, or our tribe; whatever it is, we are always special. So, you are forced to think tribal. It’s an invitation, nay an injunction, to move from egocentricity to ethnocentricity. There are the bad guys out there who are always trying to get us; or there are the people who are damned because they don’t know Jesus or because they’re not Muslims like us, or whatever the theology tells them.
- Sacrament number fourteen
The next one happens around puberty, 12-14, earlier in some places. Now, for the first time ever, the boy or the girl, literally, can become the conduit for new souls to enter into the planet. For the first time ever they are physiologically capable of being channels, because it’s part of their pre-conception contract: that there will be other souls who have agreed to come into incarnation through them.
- Sacrament number fifteen
A great sacrament, that goes along with this, is the realization, on the part of teenagers, that they want to go beyond ethnocentricity. They want to ask questions like, “Why are we bombing people in Iraq?” “Why is it that people in other nations are bad?” or, if you’re raised Catholic, “Why is it that Protestants can’t go to heaven?” At this stage, society tries to shut them up. Society is not very happy with this new development. Society wants us to stop growing at the age when we become ethnocentric, and believe our nation right or wrong, our tribe right or wrong, our religion right or wrong. And so, teenagers are problematic for us because they begin to think outside the box. They begin to think what I would call eco-centrically; they begin to think about the whole system, the entire planet, all the species on the planet.
- Sacrament number sixteen
The next sacrament, I believe, would be the first serious romantic relationship, the first great stirrings in the human heart of wanting to complement your own gender; because when we decide to incarnate, souls don’t have gender, they don’t have race, they don’t have socio-economic status, they don’t have IQ levels, they don’t have educational attainment. All souls are precious, bite-sized pieces of God. But when we decide to incarnate, we have to put extraordinary limits on ourselves; and one of these limitations is the adoption of gender. We must be born into a female body or a male body. And so, in some senses, psychically or physiologically, there is a complementary part of us that we always seek. The first great love affair, the first great romantic relationship, is an effort on behalf of the soul to try to reach its fullness. It‘s not just about sexual attraction, that’s only a means to an end. It’s the soul’s innate need to regain unity consciousness.
- Sacrament number seventeen
The next one would be one’s adoption of a profession. What am I going to offer to the world? How will I train? The world needs many different kinds of people. We need carpenters, we need mechanics, we need psychologists, we need farmers, we need artists. So, how am I going to prepare myself in order to offer something to the world? But even more important than the profession I adopt, is the mission I undertake, because there is a difference between mission and profession. We didn’t come here to be farmers, or psychologists, or mechanics; in each incarnation, we came here to develop a particular virtue. And we choose the profession in the service of developing that virtue. So, I choose a particular profession because it will afford me the opportunity of developing the particular virtue that I really came to work on this lifetime. Thus, mission and profession go side by side.
- Sacrament number eighteen
The next sacrament, then, would be the making of a lifelong commitment to a relationship, whether it’s a marriage contract or a contract for ordination. It’s your way of saying, “I am in this for the long haul. I’m going to learn how to grow, how to listen, how to communicate, how to give in sometimes, how to pare back my ego; and I’ll do this in a committed relationship of some kind.”
- Sacrament number nineteen
The next one, I believe, is becoming a parent. You’ve now channeled a new life into the world, and you fall head-over-heels in love. Any of you who are fathers or mothers, know that no matter how much you loved your spouse, once you saw your child for the first time, there was nothing like it you’d ever experienced before. You know, and it’s not just the remembrance of the pre-conception contract; it’s the realization that this child has come to teach you and you have come to protect it. Every child is a prophet sent to remind us of where we’ve really come from, before we get too lost in the journey. And every parent’s commitment is to protect the child, so that that innocence, that ability to remain on course, is protected, as much as the mother or the father can do that.
- Sacrament number twenty
Maybe 20 or 25 years after that is the next great sacrament; the sacrament of becoming a grandparent. And those of you who are grandparents know this extraordinary joy. You don’t have the practical responsibility of educating the child, or looking after the child. It’s a kind of relationship which is very different from the relationship you have with your own kids. There is a special word in Kiswahili for this; it translates as “a joking relationship.” In Kiswahili cultures, you can have a joking relationship with somebody who’s two generations above you or two generations below you. You cannot have a joking relationship with somebody who’s one generation above you – a parent – or one generation below you, a child of yours. But there is a special name for the relationship you can have with a grandfather, or a grandmother or a grandchild. On becoming a grandparent, I believe, you have literally become the “wisdom carrier of the family.” That is your sacramental duty. You are the wisdom carrier for the entire family.
- Sacrament number twenty-one
The final sacrament in this incarnational phase, I would call the sacrament of retirement. At some stage, you decide to wind down your professional career. At this time, I believe, you’re meant to go beyond family. Where the child was egocentric, then was invited to be ethnocentric, and finally became eco-centric, you, though you are fascinated by your own grandchildren, are now, as a retiree, aware of the fact that all the children of the world are precious, no matter what their skin color is or no matter what their language is. So, as a retiree, your sacramental duty is to become the wisdom carrier and mentor for the world’s children, all of the world’s children, not just your own grandkids.
And that would be, for me, the block of what I call the sacraments of the body as it breathes.
I will wind up my thesis in the next essay.