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Life Cycle Events

Life Cycle Events

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will offer information on life cycle events their importance to different world religions.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome. All of us are somewhere along the trajectory of life. Somewhere in our life cycle. All of us will die some unknown day in the future. All of us were born to mothers. Maybe some of you are mothers now, or fathers. Well if that's the case, you've already gone through a whole series of life cycle transitions, puberty, adolescence, motherhood, et cetera.

Some cultures have formal, even ritualistic, ways of recognizing and supporting these transitions. In general, the typical Western industrialized countries have tended to lose conscious contact with the religious and spiritual significance of the transitions that make up, and are part of life cycles. Instead, the markers of great change from one phase of life to another are blended into society's conventions. Accepted and facilitated with minimal reference to the hovering existential spiritual questions, which are likely to surround the subject going through the changes.

In any case, there are still plenty of examples of life cycle events that are heartily acknowledged and affirmed in many cultures and religious faiths on every part of the globe.

So let's take a look at a couple of them. In many branches of Judaism there's something called a Brit Milah. Which is a customary ritual circumcision of all males on the eighth day of their life. The removal of the foreskin symbolizes mankind's commitment to God. The first book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, lays out the prescription for this covenant, or agreement, between man and God.

In the Middle Ages there were many Jewish philosophers like Miamonides and Spinoza, and Philo of Alexandria before them, who justified this ritual and encouraged it's continuation. Justifying it as another sign of the covenant between man and God. Also that it is more hygienic and that it aids in limiting the distractions of lust.

In the following painting by Peter Paul Rubens, you'll see a depiction of Abraham and the high priest, Melchizedek. And he's the son of Noah and sometimes called Shem. And according to the Jewish tradition, the high priest was present at the circumcision of both Abraham and Isaac. Formally recognizing the practical action as a religious covenant.

In this painting Abraham is returning victorious from battle , and he's given bread from Shem , son of Noah and high priest, sometimes called Melchizedek. This can be seen, this returning of Abraham from battle, can be seen as another life cycle event for him. And solidifying of commitments to both God and man.

Among the many different traditions, religions, and ritual practices around life cycle events, there are many commonalities, in fact. The commonalities have more to do with the spiritual intention, purpose, and meaning. The forum looks very different across the religions, but the spirit, you might say, is the same.

A life cycle event then, is a transition from one's state, or period of life, to another. It is a passage filled with both opportunities and dangers. Much like a pilgrimage is a passage filled with potential dangers and unexpected blessings. Both are transformative experiences in which one's identity is dissolved, at least in part, and then reconstituted, made up in a new way.

In many Native American cultures, for example, young adults in mid-teenage years, have traditionally gone on vision quests. Marking their coming of age into adulthood. A vision quest is typically a one to five day solo journey into the land in search of purpose, meaning, and guidance. If a vision appears, often the vision questor will integrate this wisdom with followup support from a tribal elder upon returning to the group.

There are many different types of life cycle events, including birth, as we saw in the example of Judaism with Brit Milah. And many cultures also have ceremonies to recognize the onset of puberty. In Bali, for example, they mark this event with a parade through town. It is called the Menek Kelih.

And, of course, marriage is very often understood as a religious, spiritual acknowledgement of the union between two individuals and the mutual commitment to support each other's life purpose.

And finally, death rituals and customs that mark, perhaps, the most dramatic end of a cycle and transformative process. All cultures and religions have very specific rituals and practices surrounding death.

Now we can review. Looking at life cycle events, we talked about the Jewish practice of Brit Milah, which is ritual circumcision of males at eight days of age. And then, use an example from Native American culture, and vision quests. We used that to demonstrate the transformative nature, that most life cycle events have in common. Well, that's it for now. Take good care.

Notes on "Life Cycle Events"

Terms to Know
Brit Milah

A Jewish ritual circumcision.

Life Cycle Event

A rite of passage or significant event in the life of an individual.

Vision Quest

A coming-of-age event in many Native American traditions.