Don’t Break Faith

Don’t Break Faith with Your Awakened Heart

by Terry Symens-Bucher, Illuman President

In the past few months since Soularize 2018, I have been paying some attention to questions concerning what our Men’s Rites of Passages (MROPs) actually are and do for men. These questions were focused by our work with Bill Plotkin and his nature-based map of the psyche, as well as his soul-centric developmental wheel. One helpful insight for me comes from Steven Charleston’s book The Four Vision Quests of Jesus. In that book, he shares the idea that the native vision quest is not necessarily a test of strength, endurance, or physical courage, but a movement toward vulnerability. It is a softening and awakening of our hearts. I think our MROPs have something in common with Charleston’s description of the native quest.

James Finley, teacher of contemplative life and student of Thomas Merton, characterizes the contemplative experience as an awakening of the heart. He teaches that the task of the contemplative life is to not “break faith with our awakened hearts.” I would like to borrow from his teaching to describe the way of life initiated by our MROPs. It seems clear that something happens for many men in their MROP experience that is significant and profoundly moving. This month, rather than focusing on what that experience actually is, I would like to consider what we do with it.

The “Fifth Initiation Ritual for Men” (FIRMing) was originally developed as a way to confirm men in their initiation. The experiences were designed to reawaken their hearts and confirm their experience as initiated men. Those rituals are part of a larger vision called the “Journey of Illumination” (JOI). Eventually, the JOI has been recognized as crucial to the completion of the MROP experience. In a sense, we have recognized that the awakening of our hearts in the MROP does not bear fruit unless it is confirmed and maintained. Another way to stay faithful to our MROP experience is to return either as a member of an MROP team or as an initiator. Both are powerful ways to help us live out the vision we received in our MROPs.

Of course, regional and chapter meetings and events are strong aids in sustaining the transformative experience of the MROP. However, not all men can attend these meetings and events. Recently, men have developed Virtual Councils to maintain community and support each other in keeping their hearts awake. We want these Councils to be powerful ways to gather, center, and connect, especially for those men who find it difficult to attend regional Councils and events. For those interested, this issue of the Drumbeat contains information on how to use this resource. Those who have participated have found Virtual Councils to be a convenient and powerful way to keep faith with the MROP experience, to practice our vulnerability, and to keep faith with our awakened hearts.


The Way of Council

We are often asked about the Illuman Way of Council by men who are seeking an opportunity to deepen their spiritual journey and join in Council with a community of Brothers. Illuman is grateful for our chapters throughout the United States and our Brothers who lead international chapters who provide in-person opportunities to practice Council, but we find that something is often missing between these in-person gatherings and some men aren’t close to an existing group. To aid in bridging the gap between the times when we are sitting shoulder to shoulder, Illuman has created the Virtual Council program. You can learn more about our Virtual Council program on our website by clicking HERE. We also want to give you the opportunity to hear directly from men who have participated. You can do this through the audio link below. We are also creating a video of testimonials and look forward to sharing it with you in a future Drumbeat. We hope you will join us in Virtual Council!

What is an MROP?


What is an MROP? What Does an MROP Do?

by Terry Symens-Bucher, Illuman President

As developed and led by Illuman and our brothers overseas, what exactly is a Men’s Rites of Passage? Is it truly a ritual of passage from one stage of a man’s life to the next? If so, what stages are involved, and how does the movement unfold? These questions were raised by Bill Plotkin’s presentation and guidance at last October’s Soularize. After meeting and listening to men who have gone through the MROP, Bill agrees that the MROP is a significant and transformative experience. As raised within his soul-centric model of human development (described in his book Nature and the Human Soul), his questions seem to be necessary and helpful.

I think it is crucial for us to consider these questions, not only to understand and enhance what happens in an MROP but to understand who we are trying to serve. Moreover, they can help us understand how an MROP can initiate the Journey of Illumination. Indeed, this reflection can help us to understand the Journey of Illumination more deeply and aid us in developing programs and curricula. What I am proposing in this article is that, without addressing these questions, we cannot fully understand what is truly ours (as Illuman) to do.

How does an Illuman MROP serve a man? How does it differ from any other experience or adventure he might chose to undertake? If it is an initiation, what does it initiate? In reflecting on these questions, I have been deeply influenced by The Four Vision Quests of Jesus written by Steven Charleston, a Choctaw Indian, and Episcopal Bishop. He says there are four basic components to the classic Native American vision quest: preparation, community, challenge, and lament. I think these deeply resonate with my experience of MROPs-as both an initiate and a returning man. He goes further to juxtapose the “Hero with a Thousand Faces” and the heroic model of Western European quests, saying native quests are “not a test of how strong and brave a person can be, but rather, how vulnerable he or she can be.”

Vulnerability. I have been through many initiations in my life-conventional and otherwise-and very few of the human-created ones moved me toward vulnerability or humility. I think this may be a key to Illuman MROPs-the creation of a container and ritual that allows men to open their hearts and then, through the Journey of Illumination, learn to keep them open.

Illuman men are reflecting upon and working with the experience of the MROPs in order to better understand what we are called to do. As in the writing of scripture, we start by reflecting upon our sometimes messy and seemingly contradictory experience and try to understand it rather than conceptualizing an ideal and then trying to fit our experience into the concept. I invite you to continue the experience and reflection. If you feel called to do so, there are nine opportunities worldwide in 2019 for you to consider participating in a Men’s Rites of Passage as an initiate or a returning man. They can be found HERE.


For information about the MROP and Events, NorCal MALEs is hosting Click HERE