Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heroic Path, by John Sowers

Last weekend, I went on my church's men's retreat.  One of the features of every retreat at our church is skeet shooting.  I haven't shot skeet since Boy Scout camp, about 30 years ago, so I was as close to being a beginner as is possible.  My pastor tried coaching me a little bit, but quickly identified me as a hopeless case and gave up.  I felt clumsy, awkward, inadequate, and, well, unmanly.  I can relate to what John Sowers writes in The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart.  Sometimes it seems that there is this elusive quality of manhood, of knowing how to be a man, that suburban-raised cubicle dwellers like me don't quite grasp.

Sowers, whose father left when he was young, began to wrestle with what it means to be a man in this world when his twin daughters were born.  His desire to be their protector, their provider, their hero, led him to start a journal and ultimately to write this book about the heroic path to manhood.  Drawing on Robert Bly, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and especially the life of Jesus, he describes "the way to the wild masculine" which "follows the wind trails of Jesus as he walked into manhood."  Sower expounds on "the heroic path," "the mythic steps": severance (from Mom), confrontation, transformation, and return.

Sowers has some strong encouragement for men to be bold, to take risks, to step into the wild and be changed. For Sowers, coming face to face with a giant Kodiak bear was a turning point.  After an experience like this in "the wild," "everything has changed. The Secret Fire lights your eyes and simmers in your bones. You are coiled steel, burning with quiet intensity."  You will then be compelled to "walk into the center of town, climb the watchtower, and ring the bell.  We are to awaken the sons of long-dead knights, rousing sleepwalking men, men who are tiptoeing safely down to the grave."

Sowers bemoans the fact that American culture doesn't have a rite of passage to manhood like many cultures do. He's probably right that men would be stronger for it if we did. But he did tend to lose me with much of his "wildness" rhetoric, which sometimes made it seem like a manhood is incomplete without wilderness survival skills. Plus, while self-reliance and independence of thought are admirable and essential qualities, they must be rightly expressed. When he talks about finding "strength to put up boundaries" at work and saying no to pressing responsibilities, he asks "what if I stopped worrying about pleasing others?"  I know exactly what would happen to me at my job if I stopped worrying about pleasing others: I'd be unemployed!  I guess then I'd have time to head to the wild to find my manhood. 

Sower's call to manhood will appeal to many men, especially Chrisitan men who feel they have been emasculated by the church. I wish The Heroic Path had more practical, realistic advice for everyday living. I just don't see a trip to stalk bears on Kodiak island to be in my future. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

No comments:

Post a Comment