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From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on male spirituality by Richard Rohr

14 April 2022

Peter McGeary looks at how ideas about being male have weathered

“BE BOLD! Mince tall! Wrestle poodles and win!” Written in 1968, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s song “Mr Apollo” beautifully skewered a bogus masculinity predicated on power, and rugged, butch strength. We all laughed, even those of us who did not appreciate at the time what good satirists these musicians were. But, as with all satire, there were serious issues behind the humour, issues to do with male identity and self-understanding.

Such issues affect Christianity, of course. The Church has all too often fallen into the trap of presenting Jesus in language of deadening sentimentality, and it is hardly surprising that this is the kind of God rejected by countless people. But there has also been the equal and opposite tendency to present Jesus as some kind of larger-than-life macho figure, the key to success and the ultimate lifestyle, the great power-bearing leader who will wipe away all enemies (interestingly, this kind of stuff has been especially popular in the United States, where this book was originally published). This kind of Jesus is not that far removed from the kind people wanted to see around two thousand years ago, when he rode into Jerusalem before the Passover. He wasn’t like that of, course. So, naturally, he was killed.

Richard Rohr is a bestselling writer on spirituality, and this book attempts to formulate the beginnings of some kind of “male spirituality” which avoids these two ways. It tries to place men and masculinity in the context not of power, but of caring, nurturing, loving. What are the notions of male power, and how are they challenged and/or transformed by the gospel? What examples of maleness do we have in scripture, and how do they help or hinder? How does awareness of gender deepen spirituality?

This book was first published in the US in 1990 and revised in 2005, and, for some reason, has only just been published here. I suppose that is why some of the text is beginning to show its age: some of the more controversial discussions about gender and identity will not be found here. Nevertheless, this is a good introduction to an important subject in a world in which religious “conviction” is increasingly used as an excuse for oppression and violence.

The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.


From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on male spirituality
Richard Rohr
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