A Trip to Rohrville

I’ve been building my own website at http://www.wmeades.com for at least 15 years now. Since I didn’t know what I was doing when I started it, it slowly turned into this rather disorganized “thing” as I added stuff. I describe it as a double-wide trailer with a hundred additions built by my drunk uncles. Over the next few months I’m going to be moving some of that content to this blog.

The following is something I wrote a few years ago after attending a male initiation retreat with Father Richard Rohr. I recently came across what I’d written, and thought it might be relevant for some of you who follow this blog. I continue to work with a number of men to walk through life with great heaviness. I believe Rohr has something for those men.

In my last newsletter I mentioned that I would be participating in a male initiation retreat led by Father Richard Rohr. Several of you expressed an interest in hearing about this experience. I will be “unpacking” those 5 days for some time to come, and most of my reflections fit quite well with the theme of these essays. (Please note: My thoughts on Rohrs idea’s are being expressed through my filters.)

Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest who has a remarkable gift of teaching. All of his work ultimately seems to come back to this central concern: Western Christianity has missed the boat. I believe he would say that the Christian church has failed to live out its prophetic role of calling people to genuine transformation, and has settled for being a source of distraction and comfort (which is exactly what the prophets were saying about Israel, and Jesus was saying about the Pharisees).

Rohr believes that our culture’s failure to properly initiate our boys into becoming men is one element of this problem. He notes that virtually all tribal cultures recognized that boys do not volunteer to become men, and unlike women, our bodies do not force the issue biologically. Initiation became the tribe’s way of saying to the boys, “We can’t afford to wait for you to grow up.” For most of human history life has been harsh and dangerous. The survival of the group depended on those with physical strength learning how to use that strength in the service of the group. Initiation was the process by which this occured.

Rohr’s study of initiation rites led him to many fascinating conclusions, which he outlines in his book Adam’s Return. Three ideas that made a particular impression on me:

  • Uninitiated men will almost always abuse power.
  • In order to understand the responsibility of power, men must experience the loss of power.
  • The loss of power can be transforming when experienced within a sacred context.

The retreat I attended was essentially a re-creation of ancient initiation rites which were designed around these themes.

My decision to attend this experience was a bit impulsive. I go through periods when my anxieties push me out of my comfort zone, reminding me that I’m not nearly as evolved as I’ve imagined. Anxiety always confronts us with a sacred choice: “Will I take my anxiety to God, or will I take the easier route of self-distraction?” Over the past several months I’d allowed distraction to get more of an upper hand than usual. This realization left me feeling a bit frantic. I was revisiting some of Rohr’s stuff on the web when I came across the information for the retreat. I thought, “I gotta do this.” Many ideas seem like good ideas from a distance…

I arrived at the beautiful John Knox Ranch (http://www.johnknoxranch.com/), got settled into my bunk, looked at the schedule, and said to myself, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???” All of my resistances were on display inside my small mind as I wondered if it were too late to bolt. I could run to San Antonio and spend five fun days on the river walk. However, I couldn’t imagine simply losing the $400 I’d paid for the experience. Sometimes we stay on the right path for all the wrong reasons.

There were 109 of us. I know the youngest guy was 18. I think the oldest was 77. Probably 75 of them had brought drums (as recommended). The first time we gathered in the sacred space, and the drumming began, I thought, “What is going on here? Am I in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit?” But Richard is right– there’s a reason that drums have historically been at the center of men’s rites. The banging is indeed soothing and cathartic, perhaps because we yearn for strong heartbeat.

I won’t go into any detail about what we actually did because, that’s right, its a secret (see Note 1). What I will tell you is that we entered into an ebb and flow of teaching, ritual, and discussion that was both challenging and soothing. Many of the guys said that they had never, ever been silent for such extended periods of time. The structure of the experience left me sitting alone with myself on several occasions (It was not easy for me to discover that I’m not very good company!). The rituals were often difficult, sometimes a bit weird, and always moving. The teaching was authentically prophetic.

I’d love to tell you that my small-self anxieties dramatically gave way to my Authentic-Self growth as the experience progressed, but that wouldn’t be true. However, I can say that this was an important time for me. In fairly quiet ways I was reminded that my intellect continues to be both a blessing and a curse. And it was little more than a passing whisper that prompted, “Aren’t you ready to let go of the past?” Were these thoughts gifts from God or just my ego needing a “souvenir” for all my trouble? Does it make any difference?

I came away convinced again that Richard Rohr is the “real deal”. I’ve been reading his books and listening to his audio for a few years now. I’ve been impressed from the beginning. However, being with him highlighted his rare combination of power and humility. He is passionate about his message, yet playful and self-deprecating. Father Rohr deeply loves “the Church,” yet can express sadness and anger over how religion has twisted the core message of transformation that Jesus lived out. He seems to embrace the stage he has been given with almost no ego, but with the wonder of a child staring at Cinderella’s castle.

Some of you reading this might be ready for such an experience. If so, you can find out more at https://cac.org/events/menaslearnerselders.

Questions for reflection:

If it seems that your faith isn’t working, I think Father Rohr might ask you to talk about your “initiation” (even if you’re a woman). He might ask:
  • What painful experiences in your life led you to question God’s goodness, or even the existence of God?
  • Who, if anyone, helped you bring those experiences into a sacred space?
  • Has your religious instruction taught you to expect God to remove your pain, or to walk with you through your pain?

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Note 1: Richard talked about how initiation rites have always been secret. He pointed out how such rites, when described apart from their contexts, always end up sounding rather silly. And he’s right. These were very powerful experiences. I suspect many of you would chuckle if I told you exactly what was involved. .
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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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