Chapters 11 and 12 in Richard Rohr’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man” really had a profound effect on me. I found myself putting the book down and reflecting on my own father hunger and father wound. How did they affect me? How do the hunger and wound manifest themselves in my life? What I discovered about myself was amazing… waking-up-at-4am-amazing.
According to Rohr, much of the human race experiences a deep “father hunger.” The “pain is quiet, hidden, denied, and takes many shapes and forms that sons cannot even grasp–or care to grasp.” We grow up without a good man’s love, without a father’s understanding or affirmation. So, we always hunger for it, finding it in any older man who will offer it to them: in the military, in the business world, in hierarchical churches… seeking to be approved by their superiors. A father’s response is the first response of an “outsider.” A mother’s love is “body-based” and is assumed, taken for granted and relied upon instinctively, “which is why a foundational ‘mother wound’ can be even more devastating to one’s very core.” He believes that what Judeo-Christianity was trying to communicate in seeming to prefer masculine metaphors for God is to heal this deep and pervasive father wound. “God is that loving and compassionate Daddy they always wanted.”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the writing style and narrative choices Richard Rohr makes in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” can easily cause us to miss the main message of his book. I hope to draw out the main points in this summary for the first nine chapters:
Just as both man and woman are images of God, the human spiritual journey can be described as both male and female. In general, women are more in touch with their spiritual side, a spirituality that can be described as “feminine.” Men, in general, have not developed a “male” spirituality that would help them on their unique journey.
Part of the reason why men have not developed their own spirituality is because we live in a broken world. In general, this broken world is an addictive system created by men, initially, to keep men in worldly power. However, as power democratized, the very measures of success that keep men prisoners of the system are also keeping “successful” women and minorities prisoners.
A unique quality of male spirituality is initiation: “Male initiation always has to do with hardness, limit situations, difficulty, struggle and usually a respectful confrontation with the non-rational, the unconscious or, if you will, the wild. It prepares the young man to deal with life in other ways than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving. Frankly, it prepares him for the confrontation with the Spirit.” This has a biblical tie to Gen 32:24-26 where Jacob wrestles with the Angel and gets a wounded hip.
The male spiritual journey “feels too much like dying in its early stages, and most people are not well trained in dying. Initiation is always training in dying.” In the male spiritual journey, the young man goes from simple to complex consciousness and then through a door to enlightenment. “That door is usually some form of suffering — physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, structural… Initiation always taught the young men to die before he died, and then he would begin to live.” Once there, enlightenment deceptively appears a lot like simple consciousness. “If you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
A man typically needs an elder man who can lead him through his journey. The male initiator “was never your biological father because that relationship was both too complex and had to be maintained as nurturing.” John the Baptist, for example, was the initiator for Christ’s public ministry. Saint Paul is a good example of how to be a master teacher, male initiator. He shows young men how to face the great death. We need more elder men to help initiate young men through their spiritual journey.
The men’s prayer group that I’m a part of finished “Prodigal God,” by Tim Keller and is now reading “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” by Richard Rohr. The switch from a Protestant theological book to a Catholic pastoral book has its challenges, but I think the Holy Spirit is with us. My discernment could be wrong, but I see an emerging “picture” of what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.
From “Prodigal God,” we were shaken from our comfort zones. It made us see that we were the “elder brothers” in the parable, comfortable in our faith, secure in our own righteousness. We realized that “if [we] have not grasped the gospel fully and deeply, [we] will return to being condescending, condemning, anxious, insecure, joyless, and angry all the time” (Chapter 4, page 70). We learned from Tim Keller that the parable of the prodigal son was not primarily to assure “younger brothers” of God’s unconditional love. It was a warning to moral insiders: “we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right” (Chapter 5, page 78). The true elder brother is Christ. We need to go through our own crucifixion, die to our self so that Christ can work through us. Then, we can answer the question, “Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?” (page 80); the answer would be “Christ through me.”
Keller’s book left us asking for more. How can we become more like Christ? How can we die to our self and let Him live through us? The Holy Spirit helped us vote for Richard Rohr’s book.
While nearly everyone in the men’s group only has negative things to say about Rohr’s book, we all agree that the conversation is very enlightening. Again, I could be wrong, but I think that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is with us. How can so much disagreement be productive? How can so many men’s egos be kept in check if not for the Holy Spirit giving us the grace to be humble? It’s Emmanuel, “God is with us.”
Putting aside the poor writing style and weak Scriptural references, “From Wild Man to Wise Man” is already leading us on the male spiritual journey it purports to do. Just this past Saturday, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning with a personal revelation about my journey. Another man in the group is currently a lot closer to God because the Holy Spirit is making him face a mental anguish that he would rather avoid. The first ten chapters of the book led our rag-tag group of men to a precipice. Whether we decide to jump and experience the frightening fall to self-awareness is our choice. But it’s certainly exciting to see the Holy Spirit working among us!