On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men

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Overview

In one of the opening meditations of this book, male spirituality expert Richard Rohr writes, "We need to fail, to fall, to jump into the central mystery of our own existence, or we'll have no way of finding our true path." Those words serve as the starting point for a potentially transformative experience, one in which men come to grips with the fact that some form of suffering or letting go is essential to achieving wholeness, holiness, and happiness.

With nearly every man ...

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Overview

In one of the opening meditations of this book, male spirituality expert Richard Rohr writes, "We need to fail, to fall, to jump into the central mystery of our own existence, or we'll have no way of finding our true path." Those words serve as the starting point for a potentially transformative experience, one in which men come to grips with the fact that some form of suffering or letting go is essential to achieving wholeness, holiness, and happiness.

With nearly every man dealing with some form of hurt in his life, On the Threshold of Transformation acknowledges the pain and deals with it directly and redemptively. While much of our culture today would have us believe that failure and suffering are inherently bad, Fr. Rohr helps men see that pain-in whatever form it takes-is a primary doorway through which they can pass to reach their authentic, best selves, which is where they will truly encounter God.

Ultimately, this book of 366 daily meditations helps men learn how to transform their pain so they don't pass it on. With Fr. Rohr as their guide, the path to male spiritual transformation can be found and followed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Richard Rohr is one of the wisest people on the planet (other than my soon-to-be-wife). In a world of shallow spirituality, Richard takes us deep—deep into ourselves and deep into God. He has been a close friend and mentor to me over the years, but he has also been raising up generations of contemplative activists—Christians who pray and act for an end to the ugly things in this world like poverty, war, and arrogance. Richard is a spiritual grandfather. His life and teaching must make Francis of Assisi, and Jesus, smile.” —Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and recovering sinner, www.thesimpleway.org

“To the list of amazing things about Richard Rohr add this: that in a paragraph or two, in a short daily reading, he can express an idea that stays with you all day and nudges you one step closer to becoming the person you're meant to be. It's written for men, but everyone will benefit from these 366 nuggets of wisdom and nudges toward transformation.” —Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity (brianmclaren.net)

“Richard Rohr describes how to transform rather than transmit the pain in our life, a lesson that we all desperately need to hear.” —Dr. Mehmet Oz, The Dr Oz Show

“This immensely helpful book . . . provides the inspiration to catapult readers into the adventure of male spirituality. As usual, Rohr delivers a rich treasure trove of wisdom." —Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat, www.SpiritualityandPractice.com

“Father Richard Rohr has gathered innumerable luminous jewels of wisdom during a lifetime of wrestling with self, soul, God, the church, the ancient sacred stories of initiation and its modern realities, and the wilder and darker dimensions of the human psyche. His new book, On the Threshold of Transformation, is a great and gracious gift for men—contemporary men longing for lanterns on the perilous path to male maturity, a path that reveals secrets of personal destiny only after descending into the swamps of woundedness, shattering emotion, and personal demons. A rare, true elder in these fractured times, Richard Rohr opens the way again for men to sacrifice the juvenile life of win/lose contests and to eventually uncover their souls—their authentic and unique way of participating in and joyously contributing to this miraculous world.” —Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., author of Soulcraft and Nature and the Human Soul

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829433029
  • Publisher: Loyola Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 496,347
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is renowned for his retreats and lectures on male spirituality. Fr. Rohr is the author of many books, including The Naked Now, Adam’s Return, and Everything Belongs. He lives in Albuquerque.

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Read an Excerpt

Note to the Reader

I approached Richard Rohr almost two years ago with an idea for a book about male spirituality that combined wisdom from all of Richard’s work. I suggested to Richard that we mine his audio sets, his books, notes from his talks, unpublished materials, the daily meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation Web site—virtually all his work that touched upon the journey of the male soul.
Richard was intrigued by the idea and encouraged me to pursue the project. He graciously gave me access to everything I asked for and needed. Previously, I’ve had some success selecting and compiling the wisdom of spiritual teachers. However, this project came out of an intensely personal desire to share and understand more deeply the transformative nature of Richard’s work that I’ve found so life altering for many years.
In the mid nineties, much of what we think of as the modern men’s movement had lost its energy and gone underground. Richard Rohr came along quietly with a model of male spirituality that was theologically sound and psychologically astute. He blended the great Christian spiritual tradition with the profound insights of psychology, mythology, and anthropology. He then orchestrated the creation of the “Men’s Rites of Passage,” a transformative experience for men of all ages. This initiation process is based on decades of Richard’s study and centuries of human wisdom.
Shortly after I started work on this project, a series of misfortunes descended on me that would challenge your credulity if I were to list them. A friend suggested that I change my name from Joe to Job. I laughed, but he wasn’t kidding.
Thus, I lived this book as I worked on it. I can assure you, this material is field-­tested. I used the wisdom you will find within these pages to navigate the most difficult time in my life. I am a better man now than I was before. I can’t say that it was good that calamity came upon me and my family, but I can say that good has come out of it.
I’ve seen how Richard’s work has helped many men. I’ve also experienced firsthand, during the difficult period of putting this book together, the gift of Richard’s wisdom in transforming pain and tragedy into gift and blessing. I know you will find much in this book that will help you on your journey. I should warn you, though—this is not a daily devotional. In fact, it’s more of a “daily confrontational.” It’s not inspiring, at least not in the sentimental sense of the word. It is truthful and brave and invites us to be the same.
Richard urges men to change, and he tells us that change is hard, that suffering is involved, and that the work required is taxing and difficult. But don’t get the idea that a man’s journey is only a miserable slog. There’s a gentle, encouraging spirit in much of what Richard says here, and it’s there because Richard knows that on the other side of suffering lie wholeness and fruitfulness. And more important, he’s not just a voice cheering from the sidelines. He’s up around the bend, scouting the terrain, beckoning us to follow.
Richard shows men how to accept, and not rage at, the inevitable wounding of life. We can make our suffering holy by moving it into sacred space. He shows us how to look at the shadow and not be frightened by what we see, but rather to respect and even befriend what we find there. He pleads with us not to pass on our pain or inflict it on others, but rather to listen and learn from it.
Richard offers a bracing vision. On a man’s journey, everything has its place. Our failures, heartbreaks, defeats, and victories; our wounds, dreams, and passions; our stops and our starts—all have a place in our story, and all have a place in our transformation from shadow men to real men. Everything has meaning, and everything belongs.
This book is an invitation and a guide. It really helps. I know. Plunge in and see for yourself.

Blessings on the journey,

Joe Durepos Woodridge, IL April, 2010

 

 

Sons of Esau: Men in Our Time, Men of Every Time

We are getting used to the troubling news reports of men killing their fellow workers, wives, children, or their entire families. Of course, we are appalled, and suspect that such a man must have been drunk, on drugs, or mentally ill. Often that’s the case, but more often the “reason” is probably even deeper than these apparent addictions or illnesses.
I have no exact statistics, but I assume that these crimes have been on the increase since the recent economic recession—loss of jobs and all the insecurity and fear that goes with it. I surely would not want to blame such behavior on these factors only, but let me also suggest a few others at a deeper level. Men as a class appear to be “at risk,” maybe even at high risk.
We certainly see this in the return of many soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year I was invited to give a retreat to the Army Chaplain Core, and they are genuinely overwhelmed by the highest incidence of post traumatic stress disorder among their men and women. Edward Tick’s influential book, War and the Soul, makes the case that many men were seeking some kind of initiation in joining the armed forces, only to be massively disillusioned.
After twenty years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, it has sadly become clear to me how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him. Historically, this is exactly what spirituality meant by “losing your soul.” It did not happen later or after death unless it first happened here.
For centuries, males have been encouraged and rewarded for living an “outer” life of performances, which are usually framed in terms of win or lose. Just listen to boys talk—they have already imbibed it, and usually with the encouragement of both dad and mom. The world of sports, contests, American Idol, video games, and proving oneself is most males’ primary “myth,” through which he frames all reality. I challenge anyone to claim that is an overstatement.
In such a worldview there are only winners or losers, no in-­between, and little chance for growth or redemption once you are deemed—or deem yourself—a loser. In the West, even the gospel is taught largely in terms of a giant reward/punishment system, which I guess made sense to a primarily male clergy. This is the way we prefer to frame reality. Here there is little talk or concern for healing or growth or inner spiritual development. “Why would I need healing?” I have heard men say outright. The word itself is strange to many men; it sounds soft and needy—and this rejection is a surefire plan for having an absolutely huge shadow world and an unconscious agenda that calls the shots. Are ongoing political, Wall Street, and church scandals really a surprise?
By “shadow world,” I simply mean all of those aspects of our own memory and hurt that remain hidden in our unconscious, those things that we’re not prepared to deal with at the moment. They highly influence us, but we have no conscious control over such feelings, motivations, fears, and agendas, so they tend to do more bad than good. Spiritual healing is precisely about bringing those issues to consciousness, which is often quite painful and yet also deeply consoling.
I once suggested to a group of middle-class Catholic men that the gospel might actually be a win/win scenario between God and humanity. An obviously successful man came up to me afterward and said, “But Father, that would not even be interesting.” It took away his whole motivation if life could not be framed in terms of some type of win/ lose contest—at which, not surprisingly, he saw himself as the ultimate insider and winner. American, healthy, white, heterosexual, Roman Catholic, and probably Republican. No wonder Jesus said to the outsider, “Never have I found such faith inside of Israel.”
Take a typical woman, educated or uneducated, of most any race or ethnicity, and give her this agenda: “You are not to have any close friends or confidants; you are to avoid any show of need, weakness, or tender human intimacy; you may not touch other women without very good reason; you may not cry; you are not encouraged to trust your inner guidance, but only outer authorities and ‘big’ people; and you are to judge yourself by your roles, titles, car, house, money, and successes. People are either in your tribe, or they are a competitive threat—or of no interest!” Then tell her, “This is what it feels like to be a male, most of the time.” Maleness can be a very lonely and self-­defeating world.
Very few women would choose that kind of agenda. Feminism and social engineers were right when they said that the typical male in most cultures has many more options and chances for advancement. But few pointed out that they were talking primarily about outer options. After forty years of ministry with many groups at different levels, I am convinced that women have far more inner options and a richer inner life—even if equally neurotic. Men have more outer options, women have more inner; that is the norm.
In describing inner feelings and states, and in talking about what they really want and need, women have many times the vocabulary that men do. They have a much more nuanced emotional life in most cases, and in general they are more skilled at relationships than men. I have done my own survey on this one: On my visits to the local grocery store, on the street, or on a hiking trail, women I meet are three times as likely as men to say “Hello,” “Pardon me,” “Sorry,” “Thank you,” or a simple “Good morning.” Many men do not even say “Excuse me” when you step out of the way for them as they barrel forward—our slowed-­down version of road rage, I guess. Maybe this is simply because I am male myself, and the rules would be different if I were a woman. But it sure makes me wonder about the relational capacities—and even the relational interest—of the typical American male.
But how else would a man be expected to act if he does not know how to identify, much less know how to share, his sadness, his anger, or his endless grief—often about his own love and losses, or the world that he once dreamed would happen? In the male initiation rites we have been leading for almost fifteen years (www.malespirituality.org), one of the most surprising but revealing discoveries was that much male anger is actually male sadness. Men often have no way to know this themselves, and many probably even think of themselves as “angry men.” They are often very sad men, but they have no differentiated feeling world, no vocabulary, no safe male friends, no inner space or outer setting in which to open up such a chasm of feeling—not even in their churches or with their partners.
I know I am walking on sacred ground here, but I’m going to say it: The church often does not really encourage an inner life. It substitutes belief systems and belonging systems and moral systems for interior journeys toward God. As a result the outer behavior is pretty weak as well. I would be willing to argue this position at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy, Protestant scripture interpretation, or fundamentalist mental gymnastics.
In fact, the reason that such external hierarchy, simplistic and dualistic readings of scripture, and heady fundamentalism exist at all is primarily because of the male unwillingness to feel, to suffer, to lose, and to stand in the place of the outsider with even basic empathy. Which, of course, is exactly where Jesus stood and suffered, “even to accepting death, yes death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). How do we dare to worship a “loser” and yet so idealize winning?
So what do we do for our men, our husbands, our fathers, sons, and brothers? First of all, it’s important to note that throughout history many varied cultures, all over the world, have recognized this problem. These cultures saw that men would not go inside themselves until and unless they had to—and then it was often too late. So they guaranteed and structured an inner journey for the male somewhere between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, and it was called initiation. It likely didn’t even work in most cases, but cultures knew they had to do it for the social survival of the tribe. Initiation was effective for enough men to guarantee eldership: wise men, men who moved beyond ego, control, and power into the second half of life, men with the non­dualistic mind that we call wisdom.
Initiation in most cultures was done through two methods: extended solitude and silence, and ritualized sacred suffering. That was the cauldron of transformation for the male. Many cultures, in a wide variety of times and places, came to the inescapable conclusion: There was no other way.
If our churches do not find ways to validate, encourage, structure, and teach men an inner life—as opposed to mere belief systems, belonging systems, and moral systems, which the Olympics do much better!—I’m not sure what the church’s reason for continued existence might be. We are failing the test with one half of the species, which means we are failing for the other half, too. Organized religion is not doing its inherent job of transforming people at any deep level.
In short, we have substituted an intellectual life for a symbolic life, a largely mental life for a life of inner meaning, and a nice Christian club for the call to a journey that males could actually respect. We can live without success, but the soul cannot live without meaning.
An important message is found in the Genesis 27 story of Jacob and Esau. Our men are like Esau, fooled by their brothers and their fathers too, and deprived of their deepest birthright. No wonder that the Esaus of our time “want to take revenge and kill” (Genesis 27:42). You cannot take away a man’s soul or fail to reveal his soul to him without dire consequences for family, neighborhood, church, and society as a whole. Esau seems to eternally cry out, “Father, do you not have a blessing for me? Do you only have one blessing?” (27:38).
Notice in this famous story of Jacob and Esau that both of them are led by pure self-­interest and seeking to maximize their “outer options.” That is the uninitiated male in every culture, including the Hebrew culture of the Bible. Rebecca, their mother, opens up their “inner options,” guides them every step of the way, protects them from one another, covers for their father, validates their cunning, and protects them from their own deceit and ambition.
Rebecca might not be perfect—in fact she isn’t. But at least she has some imagination, some caring, some passion, some creativity, some risk taking, some inner intelligence, beyond the simple win or lose game of Jacob and Esau. I wonder if Jacob and Esau are not the very archetypes of win or lose, all or nothing, dualistic minds, no blessing left if you are not Jacob himself.
Could this be the very name of faith for men in our time? We need to help our men move beyond the self-­defeating game of either-­or, and to find the open and gracious space of the limitless, alive, and God-­given world that is in-­between. Where all of us live anyway.
? ? ?
This book is the fruit of months of listening, reading, selecting, editing, and transcribing on the part of two wonderful friends, Joe Durepos and Tom McGrath. They gathered my scattered thoughts to groups of men from over a twenty-­year period and put them together into 366 meditations. That is how much they care about men and about “where all of us live anyway”!
I thank them for their patience and their generosity of spirit, and together we offer these meditations for your own consideration—and healing, insight, and encouragement. Although it might sometimes feel like momentary discouragement!
We have deliberately not attached them to specific days, months, holidays, or seasons, so you can read them when you are ready. They won’t do much good if you are not ready. Don’t force yourself ahead, but only return when the last one has had time to soak in, be repelled, or drain out. I’m sure not every meditation will apply to you, nor do you need to agree with, or fight, my interpretations. Allow me to be wrong. I’ve turned “wrong” into an art form, and it has taken me to God. It will take you there, too.
Remember, we are all sons of Esau, always waiting for the “birthright” and still believing in the blessing.

 

Richard Rohr Pentecost, 2010

 

 

 

Part 1
The Male Journey—Nature, Mythology, and the Bigger Story

If we don’t learn to mythologize our lives, inevitably we will pathologize them.

—Richard Rohr

Being true to our quest, we set forth on a journey to travel, to move toward a new understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
If we don’t move beyond the self-­referential trap of our own stories and lives, and connect with the larger story of what it means to be a man, we’ll live lives of quiet desperation.
It is only when we’ve left the safety of our known world, the world in which we feel in control, that we will discover mythology is real and true and has something profound to teach us.
We need to encounter the hero within and let him lead us on the adventure of our lives.

 

 

Day 1
The Male Journey

At some point in time, a man needs to embark on a risky journey. It’s a necessary adventure that takes him into uncertainty, and it almost always involves some form of difficulty or failure. On this journey the man learns to trust God more than he trusts a sense of right and wrong or his own sense of self-­worth.
We find this story arc in countless myths, fairy tales, and legends. A man leaves the comfort of his home only to return and rediscover home and, as T. S. Eliot wrote, “know it for the first time.”
We tend to take refuge in the static world of ideas and opinions, and we look for meaning in jobs and careers. Often we mistake the roles we play for authentic living. But eventually a man begins to sense that something is missing. He may experience this call to awareness as a beckoning whisper, a powerful dream, or a sudden and stark life change—but no matter how it shows up, it needs to be heeded.

Do I feel a vague call to something more? Am I willing to pay attention?

 

 

Day 2
Wanderlust

In the first half of life, a young man believes that life’s truths lie elsewhere, out there, away from home—far from where he is. He is looking for his soul. In the classic male rite of passage story, the hero will often wander aimlessly, traveling with no destination in mind. He believes that new horizons will reveal his true identity, his purpose, and his vision for life. This is known as wanderlust—the desire and need to see a larger world.
Eventually, like Jacob, a man wakes up one day from his long sleep and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16). The big truth for men is that often we have to leave home in the first half of life before we can return home at a later stage and find our soul there.

When have I felt wanderlust? What was calling me? Where did it lead me?

 

 

Day 3
The Great Quest

The great Grail legends first appeared in Europe around 1180 and flourished until 1350. They became popular at the same time that the gospel was either not being preached or fading in importance for Christian men. The Grail stories—which emerged in German, French, and English versions—became a way for laymen to describe and understand the spiritual path in a nonacademic way.
These stories always involved a quest or journey of some type; they were genuine myth but anchored in men’s reality. Myth refers to something that is profoundly true at the deepest levels of life. Myths of the Holy Grail reflected Christian lay spirituality at its most authentic.
Today, the great quest no longer seems real or inviting. Many of us are unsure of our spiritual goals. We have difficulty reading the meaningful patterns of our existence, and we remain unconvinced or even uninterested in our divine origins. This is a major crisis of meaning that results in a loss of hope and a lack of vision.

Do I see my life as a noble quest that brings meaning and purpose? Do I have the support I need to begin my quest? What would I need to begin today?

 

 

Day 4
The Holy Grail

In culture after culture, much has been written about blood. It holds deep, archetypal meanings in all storytelling, both as the ultimate energy of life and the ultimate symbol of death. The Eucharist speaks to this dramatically; we are taking in of the essence of another, and it speaks on a cellular, physical level. This is deeply transformative if we allow it to be. Quite simply, we become what we eat and drink.
This experience has lost some of its power. In ancient initiation rites, men sometimes drank the blood of their elders and heroes. The Eucharist has at times become an antiseptic caricature of the original Supper, complete with lace on the altar and priests dressed in silk. This distracts us from the graphic symbol: we are drinking the blood of our hero—Christ—and are now one with him. This is good stuff; if we didn’t already have something like this, we would have to invent it.
If the Christian ritual of communion (Eucharist) is part of my life, what does it mean to me?

If I don’t have the eucharistic ritual, what other form or symbol might I have for sharing the essence of a hero?

 

 

Day 5
Vision Quest

In the classic Native American vision quest, a young man would head out to the wilderness, find a solitary place, and then wait. He didn’t return home until he received his destiny and the Great Spirit gave him his true name. That name told the young man who he was and what his life’s purpose would be.
Confirmation in the Christian tradition was supposed to work similarly. It was intended to give us a jolting experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and we often chose a name that had spiritual meaning for us at that time. It did not always coincide with finding our life vision, but still it’s clear that Christian sacraments built on deep and abiding patterns of initiation.
Many of us still need to go on our vision quest and have our souls “confirmed.” What many men desire—and some don’t even have the language to express it—is an inner vision that tells them where they fit in the world and what they are here to do, something that is often different from what they do to pay the bills.

Have I heard my real name? What am I here on earth to do?

 

 

Day 6
A Radically Benevolent Universe

Traditional myths and stories present a benevolent universe, a hostile universe, or an indifferent universe. This is what our children seek in movies, books, and even video games; they are looking for the shape of their universe. Mature Christians should recognize that ours is a generous and benevolent universe, as described in the first chapter of Genesis. We are told that this world is not only good, safe, and on our side, but that there is Someone who is for us more than we are for ourselves!
This truth must be felt, understood, and drawn upon to become life-­giving. The work of healthy religion is to open our eyes to see a world in which everything swirls with meaning. Theologically, you could call heaven “the transcendent inside” of everything. Heaven is not so much a place out there as it is the full depth and dynamism of things in here. That’s why Jesus said “the kingdom of [heaven] is within you” (Luke 17:21). Heaven is an experience now before it is later and forever.

When, and in what circumstances, did I begin to understand that I’m part of a larger story?

 

 

Day 7
Everything Belongs

We can begin to understand the bigger story we are a part of when we engage with the unique Christian sense of time, process, and journey. This perception is presented beautifully in the Grail quest; it’s the story of a young man searching for God and himself. Through ongoing trials and temptations, the young man pushes toward God, almost without knowing it. God leads him forward through family, failure, violence, visitors, betrayal, sexuality, nature, shadow, and vision. God comes to him “disguised as his life.” The story is told in language most men can relate to, not in “churchy” language. It’s a tale told with muscle, merit, and meaning.
Everything on this journey is necessary and grace filled. For the man on the quest, the universe becomes enchanting—an effect that good religion accomplishes. There are no dead ends, no wasted time, no useless characters or meaningless happenings. All has meaning, and God is in all things waiting to speak and to bless. Everything belongs once a man is on his real quest and asking the right questions.

Looking back on my life, where can I see blessing and meaning where perhaps I didn’t before?

 

 

Day 8
Into the Wild

Each man who embarks on a spiritual journey has to walk out into the wild and face his demons. Mark’s Gospel tells us that “the Spirit . . . drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness” (1:12), which seems to indicate that we’ll probably not go into our own wilderness until forced into it by circumstance. It also says that “he was with the wild beasts,” and, finally, that “the angels waited on him” (1:13). So it seems that the man who is brave enough to face his demons may also encounter the better angels of his nature. The sequence is important: wild beasts first, angels second.
Shadowy material resides inside each one of us, but the man who is willing to face his own capacity for darkness will discover his deepest inner goodness and the presence of the divine within him. Some men never discover the divine presence within because they can’t bring themselves to face their demons. Don’t try to engineer this process or manufacture any angels. It will be done to you; just do not hate or fear the falling.

What stands in the way of my facing my inner darkness? Am I willing to walk into the wilds of my interior life without knowing what I’ll find?

 

 

Day 9
A Good Day to Do Great Things

In the great legends, the hero almost always was an ordinary man with at least one tragic flaw. Like any of us, he was neither a saint nor a god, but he was willing and able to focus on his quest. Usually the goal was beyond his known abilities—and often the real goal was to encounter God, although the hero never knew this till the end.
According to legend, the Great Plains warriors would say to their sons first thing in the morning, “It is a good day to do great things.” If we can’t say something like this, we will not experience the quest. We need this kind of desire and expectation. We receive it from other men and also give it to other men, sometimes unknowingly. We need to allow our souls to be stirred by a magnificent ambition—something that makes us jump out of bed in the morning, that calls us to be some kind of hero in our own kind of story, even if we know we have more than one tragic flaw.

What is calling to the heroic within me? What magnificent ambition am I willing to undertake?

 

 

Day 10
The Hero Within

There is a hero within each man, and however corny it may sound to our modern, cynical selves, we should pay attention to the voice of this hero. He says that your life is not just your own, not just a personal matter. However incomprehensible it may seem to us Western individualists, the boundaries of our lives go far beyond our particular selves. It’s the job of religion to communicate this truth to us in no uncertain terms.
Most of us understand that “me” has its limits, which is why we try to dress up our lives in artificial ways. Our inner hero wants to move us beyond “just me” to “we are” and ultimately to the biblical experience of “I am.” By itself, “my story” is too small. “Our story” is too clannish. But “the Story” places the individual in the truly big picture. Then “I” become one moment of the great parade that manifests God in history. In that story line, we are all hidden heroes.

What would it look like to move from “just me” to “we are”? What does it mean to move from “we are” to “I am”?

 

 

Day 11
No Geographical Solutions

Every man wants to discover something, to find what is missing here by journeying to a new place. We forget that we take the same old self to the new place. New experiences are safely tucked inside of—or excluded from—our already existing persona or worldview. I remember lying on a beach in Maui and having to admit that I was no happier there than when I was in my backyard in New Mexico.
Sometimes we refer to this as the geographical solution, the idea that we can solve our problems through an experience far from home. Encounters with the unfamiliar can indeed open new possibilities and perspectives—but only if they break through our filters and actually change us. New experiences are more often diversionary tactics.
Eventually, the young man realizes that what he is searching for cannot be found externally. Nothing outside the self can substantially change us or make us happy unless it realigns us internally.

Was there a time when I sought a geographical solution to my soul’s restlessness? When was that, and what were the circumstances? When did I first realize that there are no geographical solutions?

 

 

Day 12
The Simple and the Beautiful

If he is wise, a man travels in what might be seen as a circular journey, seeking the new only to rediscover the old. The big patterns never change. He always returns to the place he started from, only now with the real meaning revealed. He experiences happiness at home base, and yet it is deeper and wider than before.
For the young man, this necessary journey is a form of re-­creating the myth of the fallen and resurrected world. Albert Einstein said that, in searching for his theory of relativity, all he had before him was the conviction that whatever the big truth was, it would be both simple and beautiful. The young man always makes the journey complex and worrisome. If you stay on the spiritual journey, I can promise you that life will gradually become much more simple, clear, and pared down—and that is precisely what makes life beautiful!

What, for me, is beautiful? And how would I describe simplicity?

 

 

Day 13
The Cosmic Egg

Many people of faith believe that Western civilization is in a state of spiritual emergency. People are leaving every mainline denomination in droves; only fundamentalism seems to be gathering new adherents. Many people are living with massive disillusionment. The problem is that we have lost our symbolic universe of meaning—the “cosmic egg” has been broken, and a new one is still waiting to be formed. The coherent world in which things used to fit together and make sense has been shattered. The soul can live without answers, but it cannot live without meaning.
We are desperately seeking a mythic universe in which to stand and make our lives relevant and heroic. Frankly, I am wondering more and more if cosmology itself, with a truly cosmic Christ, is not the new—and oldest—mythology. Certainly this universe that we are part of is the one single thing we all share. It situates us inside immense meaning and beauty, but we need a touch of the scientist-­mystic soul to allow this meaning and beauty to affect us fully.

What evidence have I seen of the rupture of the cosmic egg—the coherent universe—in my life?

 

 

Day 14
When We Don’t Mythologize, We Pathologize

 

When people lose a meaningful story line for their lives, they disintegrate both personally and culturally. A mythic universe holds the individual and group soul together, by giving it purpose and meaning. It operates in our unconscious for the most part, but when it breaks down, sickness, addiction, neuroses, desperation, and suicide prevail.
We lost our ability to appreciate myth around the time of the Enlightenment. Nature, religion, mystery, and ritual all became passé. We’re now living in a post-­Christian era dominated by rationalism, which desires above all to understand, change, and control everything.
But if we don’t mythologize, and give greater meaning to our actions, we will almost always pathologize and see everything as wrong, absurd, or requiring a change or fix before we can be happy.

What does it mean to mythologize my life, and why is it so important to do so?

 

 

Day 15
The Meaning of Symbol

 

In much world mythology, the sword first has a positive meaning: a person’s ability to be discriminating and decisive. The sword helps a man separate his feelings from the issues at hand. It helps him name and maintain appropriate boundaries. A man with a sword knows who he is and who he isn’t, and what is worth protecting.
The sword also has borne a negative meaning: killing and death. Spiritually speaking, however, it’s necessary to kill or at least distinguish the dark side, the small, egocentric self. Also, for a man to be born, boyhood and “keeping all my options open” must die, and this is painful, especially in a culture that encourages perpetual adolescence. So even in its negative sense the sword can become a symbol of the healthy warrior and an expression of his spiritual side. It does not always have to mean violence or rage.

When have I known that something in my life had come to an end? Where did I find the strength to acknowledge this truth?

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Table of Contents

Note to the Reader ix

Sons of Esau: Men in Our Time, Men of Every Time xiii

Part 1 The Male Journey-Nature, Mythology, and the Bigger Story 1

Part 2 The Male in Culture and Society-God, Power, and Shame 51

Part 3 Soul Work for Men-Anger, the Shadow, Initiation, and the Path of Descent 129

Part 4 The Paradox of Transformation-Change, Suffering, and Freedom 231

Part 5 Male Archetypes and the Integrated Man-King, Warrior, Magician, Lover 303

To Learn More about Richard Rohr's Ministry and Men as Leaders and Elders (M.A.L.Es) 379

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