On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men by Richard Rohr

(Chicago; Loyola Press, 2010)

I can think of several reasons why it was good for a woman to read ‘daily meditations for men.’  I bought this book for a friend and had a (careful) speed read before wrapping it up – so glad I did!  This book is for men who are prepared to take a moment to engage themselves.  The questions are searching and the reflections sometimes surprising, gathered from Rohr’s work with, and writing about, male spirituality over many years, and gathered together in this format for daily meditations.  I am thrilled to pass it on to my friend.

The question of male and female sexuality is a vexed one in my corner of Christian Church Culture.  Are men and women essentially different beings or are our differences ‘mere’ social constructions?  In part the conversation is hindered by our culture’s insistence on individualistic self-fulfillment, in part it is our tendency to reduce who men and women ARE to what men and women DO.  So before I go any further, let me offer this quote from postmodern, feminist theologian Luce Ingaray, which has begun to direct me through that particular maze of objections:  “Essence is not a given, behind us, but a collective creation, ahead of us, a horizon.”

To address the question of male/female distinctiveness we must think about human beings as irreducibly complex and inter-related.  If it is important to distinguish gender, it is in order that we might embrace our finitude, the limitedness of human beings who are not complete until we are co-joined with others.  In Christian theology, it is the Church as a unified whole that represents Christ on earth, not Christians as individual parts.  Apart from the necessity to understand human sexuality for its own sake, coming to terms with male/female difference enables us to live with human uniqueness in a way that leads to love and peace.  Hence, Rohr writes:

authentic masculinity is the other side of feminine energy.  It’s the complement, the balance, the counterpoint, the needed energy to create a lovely whole.  Together these two energies are always new life and new beauty.  Separate they are overstatement, imbalance, sterility, and boredom.

Richard Rohr believes that there is a unique masculine spirituality which has been lost in western men.   (David Tacey also writes about this brilliantly in relation to the Australian male – will post on his books eventually.)  The masculinity we see in culture is over-cooked, from the shadow of the human personality, an ill-fitting suit of armor.  Our culture does not encourage men to take the time for self-reflection nor does it offer enough diversity in the expressions of masculinity honored.  If consumer media culture has created problems for women in regard to body image, our media has created problems for men in regard to ego and the inner life.

So how does Rohr define masculinity?

By the ‘feminine principle’ I mean everything vulnerable, interior, powerless, subtle, personal , intimate, and relational.  By the ‘masculine principle’ I mean everything clear, rational, linear, ordered, in control, bounded, provable, and hard.

I am aware of a discomfort in myself each time I read this quote.  It’s a discomfort I am keen to befriend because it is a guide into further understanding of myself and the constraints of culturally constructed notions of sexuality.  Its a post-it-note from my soul to explore further!

2 thoughts on “On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men by Richard Rohr

  1. Chelle,

    On “Essence is not a given, behind us, but a collective creation, ahead of us, a horizon.” I am not sure that this is quite true. In fact, this is one way in the West which we deny our bodies. The female and male brain are awash in their respective hormones and I think this needs to be given more credence and honour. The social constructs which form how we express our masculinity and femininity are more social constructs; perhaps our identity flows from the union of our biology with these constructs – in which case both should be honoured.

    • John,

      I agree that we need to find a way out of the denial of human sexuality which enlightenment conceptions of sex have ‘engendered’. What I like about the quote is the suggestion that we might need to pay attention to what we ‘know’ about sexuality through what we experience in our own bodies and observe in others. The argument about gender has largely been conducted in philosophical ‘logos’ mode, whereas if we can open ourselves up to a more intimate kind of knowing (‘eros’), we might begin to observe both the physical and metaphysical realities of our sexuality. This suggestion in itself is of course a ‘feminine’ proposal to address the balance of an overly ‘masculine’ way of conceiving gender and sexuality.

      I stopped short of proposing my own definitions of femininity and masculinity because I may yet manage to get something more articulate. At the moment, I think that biology provides the best definition available to us, by way of metaphor and symbol. (Attempts to outline the sexual symbols further might take me into X rated territory so I will desist from that here!) The advantage of a symbol is that it opens up the kind of knowing that I’m arguing for. Rohr’s attempt to define by words makes me feel that the conversation is closed. And that makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t entirely see myself in his words.

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