Richard Rohr on Male Spirituality – A Review


(Nothing to do with the topic really, except a photo of me at a school in Japan, when I was still climbing the corporate ladder )

From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Masculine Spirituality. Richard Rohr
Published by Franciscan Media (2005)
Available in bookstores or online.

This book is worth your time. The title captures the theme. Masculine spirituality is too often dismissed as an oxymoron, when it is anything but. In twenty five quite short chapters, Father Rohr encourages men to examine their spirituality and their relationships with others. It is suggested that the book would be useful as a discussion starter for a men’s group and I would agree, but it is also quite easily read alone over coffee.

Do yourself a favour. It could be that after reading it, your life will not be the same.

May I begin by saying it is a thought provoking book, but it is not a perfect book? As well as many rich, fruitful and challenging insights there is evidence of some lazy thinking. Father Rohr occasionally resorts to stereotypes and sets them up as straw men (pardon my use of the male – straw persons just doesn’t do it). In Chapter 4 he attacks ‘white male prejudices’ and power structures as symptomatic of a deeply dysfunctional western value system. I understand what he is getting at, but do wish he would show that he realises white males are far from the only ones who carry prejudices. That sort of nonsense is what you find in a lot of contemporary writing, but it is actually quite far removed from his messages about male spirituality. A pity then.
You don’t need to look far in the book to meet terms like ‘oppression’, ‘patriarcal’, and ‘gender affirmative’. They tend to indicate a particular ideological slant of the author and normally I reach for my revolver when I see them. I’m glad I didn’t this time.
I am impressed with Father Richard’s wisdom. However I am just a little disappointed that he has wandered off into liberal, anti-western and feminist belief systems here and there. It detracts from the impact of his message and causes me to be a little wary of jumping into the water and paddling about with him. But maybe a Iittle wariness is no bad thing.

I have cherry-picked a bit in this review. What follows is just a taste: a few quotes and comments. I hope it whets your appetite!

“A masculine spirituality would be one that encourages men to take the radical gospel journey . . . with no . . . need to imitate our sisters or even our fathers . . . Such a man has life for others and knows it. He does not need to push, intimidate or play the power games common to other men”. (Page 11)

One of the recurring themes in the book is that of “androgyny” as the image of divine wholeness. According to Father Rohr, “Androgyny is the ability to be masculine in a womanly way and feminine in a manly way” (Page 18). He talks of the complementary role models of the “strong old woman” and the “kind old man” as goals for spiritually aware women and men to strive for.
So there is something for us men to find in ourselves . . . Our feminine side. Interesting thought?

Male Initiation is a major theme in the book and I suspect there is much to chew on here for most of us. Father Rohr continually emphasises how crucial the initiation process is for men. “The contemporary experience of gangs, gender identity confusion, romanticization of war, aimless violence and homophobia will all go unchecked, I predict, until boys are again mentored . . . by wise elders” (Page 32). Initiation, according to him, inevitably involves leaving the comfort and safety of home and the familiar, going out into a time of testing, and returning with a more complex understanding of your place in the world. Fair enough, I would think. Lest however, we make the common mistake of trying to organise things for ourselves and ‘help things along’, he has a caution for us:
“You cannot get yourself enlightened by any known program, ritual or moral practice . . . the spirit blows where it will . . . All you can do is to stay on the journey, listen to its lessons, both agony and ecstacy, and ask for that most rare and crucial of gifts: . . . faith” (Page 35).

One of the chapters is entitled ‘Separation-Encounter-Return’, where he expands on the idea that many of us remain trapped in spiritual prisons of our own making (I am paraphrasing here but I think I caught the essence of his message). “The difficulty with an affluent culture like our own is that ‘infantile grandiosity’ can be maintained well into late life by money, meddling or moving away.” (Page 39). “Money, meddling or moving away” – I love that! It captures exactly my experience as a school principal of the way so many of us deal with problems or challenges in our lives.

My final quote is even more provocative, but, I think, uncomfortably, devastatingly accurate:
“True wisdom looks amazingly like naïve, silly and even dangerous simplicity – although we would never say it in polite company. The Sermon on the Mount has been deemed poetic nonsense by 95 percent of the Christian establishment for two thousand years” (Page 42). Ouch! But I think he is not far off the mark.

And if that doesn’t ignite your interest, may I suggest you continue to strive for all the goals our culture tells us men should strive for. Work hard, earn money, buy stuff, acquire status, be self reliant, and in the dark of night, ask yourself what it’s all for.

God bless you.

Merry Christmas.


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