Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation. New York, NY: Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004.
In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr writes an interesting account of the way men are initiated into the life of the Christian church. Rohr spends a significant amount of his time working with men and those who lead men’s ministry. This book seems to pick up where the Wild at Heart (John Eldridge) philosophy leaves off. Rohr is not critical of the Wild at Heart approach, which as I understand it is chiefly concerned with men being men, taking charge of their lives, chasing after an adventure and winning the heart of the damsel in distress. But, this must be seen as part of the process and not the destination. In fact a sub-title of one of Rohr’s books is “From Wild Men to Wise Men.” If the “Wild at Heart” approach becomes a destination and not a part of the process, it often runs awry, morphing into the pursuit of affluence, success, power, education, etc. Often in the second half of life, men stumble into all kinds of trouble as they grow to realize the futility of those pursuits. Rohr notes that those are the natural pursuits of young men, but they are a far cry from a life of wisdom. Wisdom comes through understanding your true place as a part of the body of Christ.
Rohr did an extensive study of initiation rites from different cultures and religions. From his research he developed 5 strands which are common to them. He argues that these strands comprise effective male initiation. The stages are 1) life is hard, 2) you are not that important, 3) you life is not about you, 4) you are not in control, 5) you are going to die.
Life is Hard: Rohr encourages us to not run from pain. It’s actually quite a startling recommendation to read in the midst of the pain-averse suburban culture in which I live. He says, don’t run from it, don’t avoid it, don’t prematurely end it, but let it do its work on you. Allow God to transform that pain and redeem it and you in the process. His brilliant line is: “If we don’t transform our pain we will trasmit it” to the people around us.
You are not that important: we have run away egos in the West. Rohr says, “You are your issue.” We are too heavily invested in the ego/small self. But Jesus taught that when I am not the king, the kingdom can break through – this is letting go of the ego.
Life is not about you: you are just a part of the whole of life – the whole of life is about God. With the ego out of the wya we can be about a joyful participation of “being.” As the gaze turns from the small self to the goodenss of life we begin to learn how to say, “May it be unto me according to your will.” This is Mary’s prayer after the annunciation, this is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, this is the prayer of wisdom.
I won’t go through all of the others… you can get the book. Rohr makes some amazing observations in this book, many of which seem so obvious that I can hardly believe they’ve not occurred to me before! In his specific ideas about male initiation, he argues that only when the man has dealt with his own mortality and limitations can he truly enter manhood as a part of a brotherhood – a community – instead of an individual who fights and scraps to the top. The group – the men who have already achieved some level of wisdom in the community – must push the younger men to deal with their limitations, their mortality, their lack of control, and especially the fact that they, as individuals, are not more important than the group as a whole. This book is brilliantly written. I would recommend it not only to pastors and those who work in men’s ministry, but also to any father of boys.