Tag Archives: Richard Rohr

NTW – Initiation Message I – Life is Hard

A young male gets initiated. So what? Is it really that important? I argued in my last post that there are definite needs for rites of passage to mark the transition from boy to man. One major reason is the lessons that are taught. Beyond those included during the instruction in liminal space, there are several overarching themes that guide the transition process.

The first of these is that life is hard.

Now, for some of you readers, this seems like common sense. Life is hard. But, many of our males are growing up not realizing the full impact of this lesson. The fact that life is hard primarily calls for one thing.

It calls for us to transform pain rather than run from it. In our modern age, it’s easy to run from pain. Medication offers quick fixes to our physical ails and the many distractions of life can keep us from obsessing over our internal, psychic pain. The running from pain comes from a mindset that life should be easy. When we note that life is hard, we turn into our pain, to conquer and transform it. This message gives the call to young men to control their feelings (to tame the hurricane energy, if you will), instead of being controlled by them. If we don’t learn how to transform our pain, we turn it outwards, harming others as well as ourselves in our efforts to overcome/run from it. Richard Rohr (2004) notes that “if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. Take that as an absolute” (p. 37). We must recognize the difficulty of life before we can begin to transform our pain.

How do we teach this? I’m not saying we should overly burden our young men; many of them are carrying far more than we ever could. We shouldn’t create our own ways to teach them that life is hard. But, when they encounter pain, obstacles, issues, we cannot swoop in and solve those issues for them. We must, out of love, let them wrestle with the difficulties in life, with us on the side, coaching and supporting them through the process. Every young male will wrestle and approach these feelings in a different way. We must support them through their struggle.

The best gain we can give our boys through this lesson is to help them overcome their anger, pain, hurt, and frustration. They don’t need to turn these feelings inward (for self-harm) or outward (to harm others); rather, they must learn to overcome this. Through learning that life will be hard, but then understanding how they can approach the hardships in life, we help establish our boys on a path to productive, creative masculinity.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Rites of Passage


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DNA of Masculinity – Reverence

As the year draws to a close, so does our look into the lessons that should be taught in liminal space. We’ve examined respect, how a man holds himself and others in regard; responsibility, how a man accepts and embraces accountability for his actions and their repurcussions; reach, how a man strives to better himself and the world around him; reflection, how a man doesn’t just look outward, but also turns the microscope inward to his heart, desires, and reasoning; relationship, how a man cannot go through life alone and must seek out other men to walk with him on his journey; and reason, how a man makes decisions after thought and reflection that can be explained. Now we arrive at the most important aspect of masculinity: reverence.

What is reverence?
Simply put, reverence is recognizing/acknowledging a higher power and giving deference to that power. You can be reverent to someone in authority, to a god, or anything else that is greater than you. In my work with fraternity men, I sometimes see the code/creed/obligations of the fraternity being revered. Reverence drives you to act outside of your own interests and desires and recognize the callings/commands/hopes of the higher power.

To speak from my own experience, reverence is acknowledging God as Lord. Once that happens in a person’s life, once it happened in my life, one establishes focus on how to interact with the world. In this relationship, all other aspects of masculinity are portrayed. In this relationship, I seek not my will or glory, but His. Knowing that I must answer to Him for all my actions causes me to consider them that much more carefully. I have a Father at my side all through life, a Friend I can call on in time of need. I seek to do my best, because to do anything less would be to dishonor Him. You can see how this reverence, this answering to God in my own life, doesn’t just draw on the other aspects of masculinity but it drives them to be more fully developed and evidenced in my life.

Why reverence?
In his third book on masculinity, Fight Like a Man, THE book to read on reverence in masculinity, Gordon Dalbey says that a man cannot know who he is until he knows Whose he is. This is all about reverence. Before you can know yourself, before you can act in the world with certainty, you must know to whom you are answering for those actions. And it cannot be you. In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr (2004), speaking of promises/messages of male initiation, offers “five essential messages a man has to know experientially if he is to be rightly aligned with reality. … [They are:] 1. Life is hard. 2. You are not that important. 3. Your life is not about you. 4. You are not in control. 5. You are going to die” (pp. 32-33).If you analyze the middle three ritual messages, all three point to reverence, to recognizing a higher power that is more important, that your life is about, and that has control.

Knowing Whose you are has an additional affect. Yes, it gives you an authority to look and answer to. But, more than that, you can face internal struggles: “No man will entertain the unmanageable truth about himself until he knows his Father stands by him in it – not to shame him, but to deliver him from its deadly effects” (Dalbey, 2013, p. 207). Reverence is not merely a bowing down, and it’s not a crutch to lean against; it also serves to support us through struggles and trials in life.

How is reverence taught?
Like many of the previous components of the DNA of Masculinity, reverence can and should be taught through modelling. Reverence cannot be forced, however; a young male must choose Whose he will be. But, principles around reverence, how to relate to and respect a higher power, can be shown and, in some cases, taught. A child can grow up attending a church every week, but this is merely exposure to reverence. He must choose reverence; he must choose to bow his heart and will to something greater than himself. When this happens, then further instruction in how to live in this reverential relationship can occur. I wish I had a more steadfast answer than this. Ultimately, though, reverence is modeled to young men and they will adopt it as they are shown more of it in practice.

In bringing our discussion of the learning that happens in liminal space to a close, I must note that the lessons about the DNA of Masculinity do not stop once a young male has been initiated. Each of these aspects will be reinforced, strengthened, and refined as a man continues to exercise them. The way a man respects himself and others will not be the same at 60 as it was at 30. These lessons are merely those that, when learned, will differentiate the men from the boys, will demonstrate the mature masculine.

As we ring in the new year, we will investigate the final stage of initiation – reincorporation or reintegration. I thank you for following me on this journey through liminal space.

Dalbey, G. (2013). Fight like a man: A new manhood for a new warfare. Civitas Press: San Jose, CA.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. Crossroad Publishing Company.

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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity


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Iron John – An Initiation – Taming the Hurricane Energy

In his journey thus far, our boy has bonded to and separated from his mother and his father and found one, and possibly more, male mentors to help him bridge the path to greatness. By my personal estimation, chronologically at this point, this boy is most likely no younger than 23 (the average age of college graduation in the US), although he may have accomplished the first three components more quickly given a focused upbringing and parents that did provide for several rites of passage.

Now we approach the final two phases, the first of which involves learning and harnessing those virtues and aspects we commonly associate with men and masculinity. (Note: I recognize that all virtues can be held by either gender. I am merely attempting to provide a starting point for this conversation by outlining those virtues commonly thought to be masculine, as they are the ideas and virtues behind and fueling the hurricane energy we will speak about momentarily.)

Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos list out virtues commonly associated with femininity and then those associated with masculinity in “The Wild Man’s Journey”. They (1996) list virtues such as “self-possession, leadership, truthfulness, decisiveness, responsibility, closure, intelligence, inner authority, challenge, courage, and risk taking” (p. 132) as those thought to be more masculine based. Feminine virtues are “humility, obedience, openness, receptivity, trust, forgiveness, patience, and long-suffering” (p. 132). 

I feel comfortable believing that there is a difference in how men and women express emotions, given the research done into male and female emotions, summarized by Leslie Brody (2001) in her tome “Gender, Emotion, and the Family”. She states that 

     “a brief overview indicates that relative to men, women verbalize or use facial expressions to communicate more intense self-conscious emotions, such as sadness, embarrassment, and shame; emotions connoting vulnerability, such as fear and hurt; positive emotions, such as warmth, affection, and joy; and empathic feelings, such as distress. Only the emotions of contempt, pride, guilt, and loneliness are sometimes, but not always, expressed more intensely in words by men than by women. … Men express anger with more aggression and physical reactivity than women do.” (p. 79)

With that background, we pause to consider the next phase of the journey to masculinity described by Robert Bly. This phase is called apprenticeship to the hurricane energy. Previously, we saw the male mentor arrive and help the young boy understand how he can build a bridge to his greatness using his strengths and abilities. Now, the male mentor (the same, or another) continues to help the boy grow through helping him to subdue or bring forth (in a controlled manner) those more aggressive traits and virtues he may have. In their book, “King Warrior Magician Lover”, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1991) paint a picture of the Jungian archetype I most closely associate with this hurricane energy: that of the Warrior. The Warrior demonstrates appropriate aggressiveness. He is a man of decisive action, “concerned with skill, power, and accuracy, and with control, both inner and outer, psychological and physical” (Moore & Gillette, 1991, p. 83). The Warrior seeks positive and purposive construction.

Unfortunately, if this apprenticeship to the hurricane energy, this teaching of how to handle the more masculine virtues, is not undertaken, a boy runs the chance of falling to either side of the Jungian archetype, into the areas of either the sadist or the masochist. Someone that does not know how to harness his inner energy will either become abusive to himself or to others in his life. Thus, we must teach boys how to control their aggressive nature, not to beat it out of them, but to enable it to be presented as a positive factor in a boy’s life and in the lives of others.

What does this look like in the relationship with the male mentor?

The male mentor must first be in touch with his own hurricane energy. If he does not have self-control (which is ultimately at the root of this phase), he will be unable to teach his protege how to have self-control. I personally learned self-control through seeing the results of my actions on other people, as well as through the continued questioning of what use my anger and aggression might have in a given situation. The goal here is not to eliminate the Warrior inside; it is to harness its energy to be used positively. There are many far older and wiser than I who have tackled this, and I do believe that this patience and contemplative spirit come with age as well as with training. Still, the more we speak with younger males about the results of their actions or proposed actions and the more we allow for positive release of the hurricane energy, the more we allow for their development into true Warriors, not merely the hurtful shadows of the Warrior.

As Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1991) remark, “if we are accessing the Warrior appropriately, we will be energetic, decisive, courageous, enduring, persevering, and loyal to some greater good beyond our own personal gain” (p. 95). These are the qualities of a true man and should be the end result of this fourth step, the apprenticeship to the hurricane energy.

To using our hurricane and warrior energy to positively construct and serve those around us,


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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Rites of Passage


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