Beyond the banging drums and clashing symbols, Catholic men have a lot to gain from tapping into an authentic men's spirituality movement.
BEYOND THE BANGING DRUMS AND CLASHING SYMBOLS, Catholic men have a lot to gain from tapping into an authentic men's spirituality movement.
I was at my local big-chain bookstore one Sunday and decided to check out their books on male spirituality. Having trouble locating that section, I asked the young, multiply pierced woman at the information counter, "Can you direct me to your books on men's spirituality?"
She snorted. "Books on men's spirituality? I've never heard of any. I know we don't have a section on that topic. Maybe you can look under war books. That's quite sizable."
"But you have quite a large section on women's spirituality,"I said. Half joking I added, "Is there some sort of discrimination going on here?"
She bristled. "Hey, you're talking to the wrong person about discrimination. I'm a feminist."
"Me, too," I replied. "I think the women's movement has been a great gift to society." Perhaps my voice rose; her colleague, an equally pierced young man, walked over. I pleaded, "But don't you think it would be good for men to take a look at what's going on inside them?"
To which her male colleague piped up, "Now that's a scary thought!"
I guess it is a scary thought to many.
At the end of the 1980s and early '90s many cultural observers were predicting explosive growth for the men's movement and--at the core of that movement--a resurgence of male spirituality.
Here and there an interested observer might find small but significant evidence of that movement. However, after a quick blossoming of "Iron John" gatherings and a few years of filled stadiums of the Promise Keepers movement, much of the buzz around the men's movement has quieted down. Many of these groups continue quietly, and with various degrees of effectiveness, to attract men. But the explosive growth is over, and their impact on society at large appears to have waned.
Looking around, it seems that men are distracted by many other pursuits than spirituality. Judging from the magazine racks, the new movement for young men, at least, is focused on beer,puerile sex, gadgets, or a combination thereof. But the main areas of devotion for men--and an increasing number of American women--are sports and business.
Sports provides the mythic power and totems that tribes have long relied on to make sense of the world and to provide a sense of connection and belonging. Capitalism and the American Dream of acquisition and continual upgrading of a whole list of possessions provide the ordering principle around which lives are built. Though wildly popular, this unholy duo makes for a disappointing and dangerous spiritual path.
What lies beneath
Spirituality is always a process of becoming more aware: of ourselves, of others, of creation, and of the Creator. A big part of the spiritual awakening process for men is to become aware of all those things we keep in shadow.
Robert Bly, author of Iron John (Vintage), the groundbreaking book that brought the secular men's movement to popular view, invites men to notice all the unacknowledged parts of ourselves--anger, grief, fear, tenderness perhaps--we keep in shadow. He says our largely unconscious attempts to hide elements of our own selves from ourselves is like stuffing these emotions into a bag and pretending they're not there. But we drag the bag behind us--heavier and heavier with each passing day. So men die early, commit suicide at a far greater rate than women, and act in ways that surprise ourselves. The energy that gets stuffed tends to come out in unplanned ways.
However, men and women alike are suspicious of all that lies beneath men's taciturn exteriors. That's not surprising considering the high incidence of violence, abuse, abandonment, and controlling that men have wrought. That which is denied retains immense , though unacknowledged, control in our lives. So men can feel stuck, disconnected, out of order. We cling desperately to the parts of our lives we feel comfortable in: work, sports, hobbies, staring at the television. Or we explode.
There are two spiritual approaches to this dilemma. one is to rise above it. The other is to go through it. The first is the way of spiritual disciplines and sublimation. The other is through male initiation.