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Another Perspective

Initiation by Fire

Throughout our lives each of us experiences a series of initiations. These are rites of passage whereby we move from one level of awareness and understanding into a new, more expansive and profound one. The church calls these sacraments. Often these initiations involve pain, suffering, an enduring of fear, humiliation and loss of social status.

As a Sacramento Jungian friend said to me, “You can tell who has been through the fire and who has not.” Those who avoid or try to extinguish the fire talk a lot about these things, usually quoting others. They are full of enviable information but lack an authenticity in their words. In contrast, I find those who have endured the fire have a special wisdom as a result. The wiser one is, the less talk that is offered. I suspect they realize that those who have been through the fire already understand; those who haven’t can’t.

A dream I had on the Fourth of July this year captures the sense of an initiation that awaits me. I had this dream about six weeks prior to starting chemo treatment for my CLL.

I dream there is a fire in the kitchen in my new home. Small at first, it is a grease fire. I repeatedly look for a fire extinguisher but can’t find one. The fire grows but nothing is destroyed.

Recently a seminary classmate (now a retired priest in Ohio) reconnected with me. It has been well over 40 years since we last spoke. It turns out he too has been through chemo and now is 7 years or so cancer-free. He has spoken to me several times about “chemo club” membership and its meaning. He is like an angel who has come to awaken me to the deeper dimensions of this experience. I feel blessed by his reaching out to me.

Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. has written about initiations by fire when it pertains to illness. I’ll end with an insight of hers.

“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you, all the experiences, all of the beliefs, and becoming who you are.”
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