New World Library, 2009
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
Over the past decades feminism has taken up much of the debate around gender roles. Whilst this has been good in addressing the pressing need for equality, it could be said that men have been finding it difficult to redefine their roles through such change. It could be argued that, in very broad terms, women find it easier to adapt to new social situations than men. And as Matthew Fox points out, the suicide rate amongst young men is higher than for young women. If there is a crisis, he asserts, it’s with the men.
Added to this is the lack of debate in spiritual circles around aggression and male sexuality. And so this book is a breath of fresh air – adding a great deal of thoughtful insight into male spirituality in the 21st century.
On p.44 Matthew writes: “To be a human is to be a hunter-gatherer. To be a man is to serve the tribe and the survival of the community through the skills of hunting and gathering. This has been the case for about 90,000 years of the 100,000 years of our most recent ancestors – and for millions of years before that.” He explains the need and place for aggression in a holistic spirituality. For instance, on p.70, he shows how healthy competition in sport can be an important and natural part of our development.
Matthew Fox goes on to describe ten archetypes of authentic masculinity. One of the most useful I found was his chapter on the Greek Myth of Icarus and Daedalus. In this myth Icarus had wings – he must not fly too near the sun or his wings would melt and he would fall. He must not fly too near the sea or his wings would become wet and he would also fall and drown. The meaning of the myth is that we must not live too much in the world of ideas and imagination (too near the sun) – otherwise our spirit will die. Just as living too much in the everyday (too near the sea) without inspiration is unhealthy. Our spiritual symbols (ideals) need to connect with the everyday and hold these two areas of our lives in creative tension.
Another archetype he describes is the Green Man – which he says is becoming ever more present. This archetype has many layers of meaning and is present in many cultures around the world. On p.27 he writes: “The Green Man may be recurring today, then, not just because our relationship with Nature is off balance but also because our relationship with maleness is off balance. The Green Man calls men to wake up and smell the coffee. He calls men to reconnect sexuality with nature, culture with cosmos, and economics with stewardship and moral responsibility.”
I sometimes think that in our wider western culture, spirituality is portrayed as a kind of aloof, peaceful kindness. This is fine for some. But it does not hold the grit and grime of the everyday, the passionate response, the fool starting out on his journey and all of the other symbols that make up a holistic spirituality. If, at the start of my spiritual quest, I could have read this book it would have helped me a great deal.
Finally, I suggest that this book is for women just as much as for men. Partly because, as Matthew Fox rightly says, we all have our inner masculine and inner feminine to honour. And also because the more understanding and dialogue there is between the sexes, the more chance there is for a sacred union between these two polarities.
This book is warmly recommended.