Friday, July 28, 2006

Masculine Christianity

I was amused to find, in Glittering Images, one of the selections in our Catholic Readers Society, a reference to 'masculine Christianity'. Apparently it was a concern in the Anglican Church in the early 20th century. The idea is that we (in the West) have created a type of Christianity unfriendly to typically male character traits. There is something to this, I think. An evangelical author recently put out a somewhat controversial book on a similar topic, and groups such as the Promise Keepers and the Iron John fad have tried to find 'men's spirituality'. The evangelical author, whose name escapes right now, said something to the effect of, "Christianity presents itself as being about a lifetime relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. This is something that obviously appeals to women, but not to most men."

Perhaps it is the sublimated athlete in me, but I do find myself gravitating toward texts like the following, and I find them accurate depictions of my own spiritual experiences.

"War against us is evidence that we are making war"
--John Climacus

"Prayer is a constant battle until death"
--apophthegmata whose original speaker I can't recall

"Blessed be the Lord
Who trains my arms for battle
Who prepares my hands for war"
Psalm 144

St. John Climacus' saying is in the context of prayer. If we pray well, we should expect a great deal of resistance from demonic powers and subhuman forces within ourselves. This is counter to most expectations we have today about prayer, and many practitioners openly promise that people who pray will feel better, like themselves more, feel more connected. Mind you, this certainly can happen in prayer. It is what St. Ignatius referred to as 'consolation'. But he also mentions 'desolation', literally 'un-lit', dark times in prayer (etymologically sounding like St. John of the Cross). Most spiritual writers who appeal to me stress the efficacy and goodness of prayer that is a struggle, that seems pointless and so on. The goal is to persevere, struggle and let grace take over eventually. As Thomas Merton put it, "The monk desires to be in the desert."

For any sports buffs who are reading, I often use the illustration of the nose tackle in American football. He's the guy in the middle of the line who literally does nothing but try not to move. He's usually 400 pounds. The goal of the offense is to get this huge guy out of the way. His goal is to stand put, not give ground, and tie up as many blockers as possible. If he does his job, you never hear about him; the quicker linebackers chase the ball carrier, who can't run up the middle because of the huge man there, and instead must get fancy and go around the outside. This leaves them open to pursuit by the linebackers.

Praying is like playing nose tackle: you take a lot of punishment, but if you simply refuse to move, then the angels and saints, or perhaps Christ himself, come up behind you and make the play. We all win. How's that for maculine Christianity?

"But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, his greatest fulfillment of all he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."
-- Vince Lombardi


The Archer of the Forest said...

Interesting that you should make not of an Anglican. As a good Anglican myself, I find my church gravitating more and more to a more feminine understanding of God. Inclusive language, even referring to God as she in some more extreme circles.

Its usually the uber-feminists who are pushing liturgical elements like this because they say that women are belittled in traditional language about God, what with all the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit stuff.

I personally detest all that exactly for the reasons you mentioned. A lot of men have trouble relating to church as it is, and making it more feminized I think will only increase the problem.

Scott said...

Men, not surprisingly, are not all of one mind, personality, spiritual type, etc., so what applies to one may not apply to all. What some categorize as "masculine" I find simply aggressive, or crass.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the expression "muscular" Christianity? I associate this term with Merton's experiences at Oakham School. It referred to the tendency toward using the Gospel as a way to enforce conventional behavior. Merton wrote of a sermon on 1 Cor 13 where the preacher suggested replacing the word "charity" with the word "gentleman".

The irony of the suffering inherent in masculine Christianity is that it is more apropos to women, who probably suffer (and do it more graciously) more than men!

Prior Peter, OSB said...

Yes, the term might have actually been 'muscular' Christianity. Ironically in the novel, it is a female character that expresses a liking for it!

I agree with Scott that all expressions of masculinity are not therefore acceptable in Christian behavior. The idea I am getting at is that following Christ involves being in a battle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. This aspect of Christianity does not get much attention in present Catholicism, in my opinion. I suspect that some kind of reappropriation would be appealling to many men who find 'church' today to be dull.

Thank you for the lively comments!

Scott said...

I see (some) men's perception of the church as "dull" as a problem with men and the world, not with the church. Anyway, I wish the BBC series The Monastery could be shown widely in the USA, as it deals directly with this: five quite worldly men encounter a Benedictine invitation to meet God and find Christ in themselves and in community. Thanks to the Worth Abbey abbot's wise and careful attention to how the situation and these men were handled, the experience became life-changing for some of them and aroused a surge of interest in the general public in monasticism, contemplation, and religion at all. And these were quite masculine men. The effect of their 40-day monastic encounter was very moving to watch and helped me in my own commitment as a Benedictine oblate. I've never seen the power of finding God in community so clearly portrayed. Wish St Meinrad Archabbey had an oblate chapter here (I'm hoping to help start one, but so far there are only four oblates in Chicagoland.)


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