Men And The Spiritual Life
When it comes to the spiritual life, the simple fact is that men are afraid of it. Spirituality does not come naturally for males as it does for females. Women take to the spiritual life with an inherent zeal and understanding, neither of which most males seem to possess. To enter into the depths of spirituality is therefore strange, even frightening, to the average man. This apprehension involves three misunderstandings that strike men as contrary to their instincts and masculinity, and which keep them from practicing prayer and devotion to God.
The first is the stereotype that religion is for women. Since more women are found in churches, and because women seem to express religious devotion with a greater ease, men assume that the spiritual life is something that is for females and not for males. The consequence is that in many households the women go to church and the males remain home, wasting their time watching TV or engaging in frivolous distractions. Worse yet, they believe that this contrast is somehow normal.
A second male reaction to spirituality is that it is inherently emotional and that if they enter into any sort of spiritual relationship with God, they will lose their control and objectivity. This, more than anything else, I believe, makes men fearful of spirituality.
Third, since males don’t inherently understand spiritual things, presence in church frequently leads to confusion and a sense of being lost amidst the many actions and activities of worship. There is a stereotype about males that they refuse to ask directions, that they would rather remain lost than ask questions and ascertain the directions to their destinations. The same might be said about males and spirituality; disliking their confusion about what is happening in churches, males find it easier to remain where they are, at home and lost on the journey to God, but comfortable in this state, because at least they are familiar with it.
These are the main apprehensions males have, and which generally lead them to avoid Church and spiritual discipline. There are several reasons however, for why spirituality IS for males and which contradict the above mentioned apprehensions.
First, contrary to popular American practice and philosophy, true Christian spirituality is actually objective and non-emotive, rather than emotional. The early saints, which included large numbers of men, strove to attain something called “dispassion,” a state of faithfulness which mastered one’s sinful inclination to be governed by fundamental instincts. This would include most states of emotionalism, thus rendering this kind of spirituality a very “masculine” discipline. Men don’t have to be emotional to enter into spiritual activity: dispassion is a condition which lends itself to the masculine disposition to objectivity. Men can enter into the spiritual life without having to be apologetic for their objectivity, and they can practice the spiritual life without undue emotionalism.
It is said that men have a pathological need to fix things and that when it comes to relationships their first instincts are to fix rather than, say, to listen. Males are frequently mocked for this as if it is a flaw in their characters, but, in fact, it is an inherent quality of masculine character, however misguided it might at times be. In the spiritual life this tendency is directed toward the fixing of self, of one’s own soul. The essence of healthy spirituality is repentance, a looking inward seeking and identifying those ills within which separate sinners from God and which keep them from being what He would want them to be. Cooperating with and utilizing the Grace of God, men are to strive to repair their own souls so that spirituality becomes natural for them rather than being unusual. The male instinct to fix is not wrong; it is simply misdirected, and properly directed, guides a male into a true expression of his masculinity.
Most men would agree that a quality of masculinity is overcoming fear. That is why we often admire men who are combat heroes; they overcame the most profound fears of humanity, and performed almost superhuman deeds of bravery. It is interesting then, that men would be afraid of spirituality. I have already established that spirituality is actually very masculine; if this is true, then there is no need for men to be afraid of it.
Rather than being something which should be avoided by males, spirituality is a natural quality of the masculine personality. Males should be present in church and in prayer, and should be leading by example in the Christian life. To do so is to find who one truly is as a man.
By Fr. James Rooney