Americans miss spirituality in their lives

Calling Father Hunger by Name - An Interview with Richard Rohr

by Anthony J. Schulte OFM
October 1990
Permission to publish on the M.A.L.Es web-site
Issued by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

All men know how to play their roles, manage money and express opinions, but they don't know who they are, says Father Richard Rohr, OFM. The basic drive that determines male spirituality, he believes, is “father hunger”.

“I recently accompanied a very personable man on a retreat, a priest who demanded of himself to be perfect and successful. We tried to find out where this drive to perfectionism came from. There was a great silence that was almost embarrassing and I could see that something was going on, ”remembers Father Richard Rohr, an internationally known retreat master, author and lecturer.

“It's like an abyss. It's like a gorge, ”said the priest.

"What is it?" I asked.

"The depth of the emptiness and pain of my relationship with my father," he replied. All he could say was, "It's like a canyon."

“There was a man who looked very capable and creative. And it really was. But at 40 his world began to collapse because he was always driven by an obsession to please his father. Nothing he ever did for his father was right. He transmitted this need: He wanted to please the church, the bishop and the people. But this compulsion kept him from the real experience that he was already loved by God.

“This little example is the story of so much in the Church as far as I am concerned. This father's hunger turns so many things for good and bad. If we do not realize that we are looking for love and confirmation from the absent Father, then we come under coercion, we become hectic, busy, wild in a bad sense. That's why we need power, sex and money. ”We don't realize that what really“ works ”within us is father hunger.

“I've found that this father wound is much bigger and deeper than I suspected a few years ago. There is a father hunger in society that is unrecognized, not named, or seen as such. You see it in people who are angry with society and in need of authority - someone else to tell them what to do. Behind all of this lies a father wound from which comes an enormous father hunger in our society, the face of which takes so many different forms.

Rohr recognized this hunger and the effects it has on the individual while traveling as a retreat master, as a pastor in a charismatic community in Ohio and, last but not least, as the "soul" of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Based on these experiences, he shares his reflections on the nature of spirituality with St. Anthony Messenger.


What role does mentoring play in discovering the true meaning of masculinity, or what role does lack of a mentor play in the “father hunger” we face in today's society?

This plays a very central role. Relationship skills are passed on through relationship and experience. It is not passed on through books. In order to discover the masculine energy, we need to relate to someone who is more advanced in the journey. We need a mentor.

When I was a young, newly ordained priest, a Franciscan mentor did me the greatest favor. He said, “Richard, a lot of people have intuition, but you trust your intuition and you follow it. I want you to promise me that you will always trust your intuition. ”- Well, this is a wonderful example of a man conveying male energy to another - that one man is a mentor, a father to another.

Somehow - and this is the heart of the problem - men have lost the ability to pass on the wisdom and experience of their lives and who they are. They all know how to convey roles, money and opinions, but not who they are. I would see this as the greatest deficiency, dysfunction and ailment of civilization today.

No civilization has survived if the elders have not recognized their duty to pass on to the youth the fruit of their experiences through some kind of initiation rite. We look forward to old age when we can retire and move to Florida.

In so many countries I have visited, men are no longer authoritative or competent leaders in the true sense of the word. They haven't had a spiritual journey, so they have nothing to offer. All they can do is meet stereotypes, follow the path of control, comfort, legality, etc. That's all you have available. The result is enormous father hunger in many societies today.

What do you mean by "father hunger"?

By “father hunger” I mean the profound, but usually unconscious, need for confirmation and the setting of boundaries by male authority figures. The most common words people use to describe their relationship with their fathers are "absence, sadness" and "I don't know him". Men have not been given permission or the ability to convey who they are to their children. We often know what makes fathers angry, but not the deep desires and dreams of their hearts, much less their loneliness and hurt. This vacuum creates a similar void in the hearts of sons and daughters. "Dad" is an undefined mystery that only provokes fear, doubt, and sometimes endless rebellion.

I don't want to lump everything together, but I believe that father hunger plays a very important role in phenomena such as military or sporting fanaticism, prostitution and dependence on success and power, in various expressions of homosexuality, gang formation and male aggression, the indulgence of many women to sexism, and the practice of otherwise intelligent groups to kill the leader.

I am convinced that men in southern countries act more as machos to be cocky in front of their own kind than that it would be an attempt to win over a woman. A man who has been initiated into masculinity by his father need not appear macho.

An insecure, uninitiated man has to do this: he takes on the symbolic, exaggerated masculine role because he never really experienced the right thing.

If fathers could pass on their feelings, excitement, distress, dismay, and the process of their struggle to become authentic men instead of their dogmatic resolutions, I believe we would have a very different world. There would be less suspicion and anger against power and masculinity, less need for war and competition, much less fear and demonization of the unknown enemy.

We now live in a time when many people believe that all men are stupid, callous, and selfish. There is no way to develop good models of masculinity when men are ashamed and distrustful of their masculinity.

I am talking about it to encourage some men to be real fathers and mentors, to begin the inner and outer journey so that they have something to give to the next generation of sons and daughters of God. The young need the wisdom and blessings of their fathers who are real fathers to them.

In this era of feminism and increasing gender equality, is there a need to talk about male spirituality?

I believe there are many reasons for this need. Our church spirituality was neither male nor female, but neutral - an approach to God that lacks the energy of a real relationship. It is mechanical, planned, theoretical and aimed at personal gain.

Genuine male or female spirituality is charged, alive, reciprocal, going through all levels of oneness, pain and every emotion in between. It cannot be a business upfront, with rules that always work, but it will require daily listening, commitment and letting go. Neutral spirituality exists when the encounter with God is not personal and attractive ("erotic"). In this sense, a neutral spirituality is de-sexualized.

There is great energy in the gender-specific images of hardness and softness - between the "sacred NO" that is traditionally associated with the masculine, and the "sacred YES" that is traditionally associated with the feminine, which means clear responsibilities, but also involves doing without.

By holy no and holy yes, I mean that affirmation or rejection that comes from a deep place of wisdom and courage, even when it creates conflict or rejection. The “holy YES” is not willful or self-centered, but willingly and out of devotion. The “holy NO” is not rebellion or refusal, but always the necessary protection of borders.

Because Jesus said a deep YES to the Father's Kingdom, for example, He was able to offer a resolute holy NO to those religious leaders who aspired to their own kingdoms. Similarly, because of the promise of marriage to the “Lady Poverty”, St. Francis was able to get on the roof of a house that the brothers had built against their poverty-stricken life and remove the shingles.

The sacred NO contains a special form of beauty and clarity, which are indispensable for a mature masculinity and femininity. In almost all cultures and myths this is represented with the image of the warrior. The warrior is the protector of the frontiers. Without the holy NO of the warrior, nothing is forbidden and therefore nothing is required. For example, a child who grows up without discipline and love will have little social sense of accepted boundaries for what is right and wrong. So without borders, reality means nothing other than what your own ego wants to define as reality.

In contrast, the warrior must be devoted to a "king" - one who has a vision of truth and justice greater than himself. Today we have few holy NOs because we have few warriors, individuals who protect other borders than their own.

The ultimate warrior is the saint who protects the borders of the kingdom of God - even against the claims of the state or institutionalized religion. In its perfect form, the warrior and the holy NO come to fruition in the rare but necessary form of the prophet.

Can a woman be a warrior?

There is both a masculine and a feminine form of being a warrior. Although each fulfills their respective roles differently, they have essentially the same task - to name the kingdom and to give it order. In other words, male spirituality will emphasize certain human qualities as essential, female spirituality will emphasize others more, but ideally they will be incorporated into each of us in a unique way. In this sense, women need to learn about so-called male spirituality, and men need to be taught about female spirituality. How these unite in us is God's work, not ours.

A person who has embarked on this spiritual journey and has included the two can pronounce the “holy YES” and the “holy NO”. Much of this ability has been transferred to an institution that has told us when to say NO and when to say YES. As a result, there was no need for people to go on an inner journey to get in touch with the masculine and feminine sides of the soul.

In our society, mentoring and the introduction of rules is only allowed in the military and in the world of sport. The coach and the trainer are allowed to set limits and say: “Take your breath away. You never paid the price for anything. You never risked anything. "

Traditionally we (in the Church) had the authority to say a holy NO, the authority to set boundaries for people in order to win the person for something spiritual, holy, and great, so that they expand their soul.

The Church does not use this authority to shout out to the sons and daughters of God the instructions that Jesus called out to us in the Sermon on the Mount: instructions on the path to justice, non-violence, a simple and poor lifestyle, peace and truth beyond institutionalized truth . Instead, the church has often used the “holy NO” to control - usually in the areas of sexuality and marriage - which has only created more anger, suspicion and fear of “the fathers”.

Real male energy results in a healthy - I don't mean a reactionary - but a healthy inner sense of authority. Men and women with masculine energy are ready to do what they know they are supposed to do, regardless of the price and without needing outside approval that they are correct. Male spirituality is a spirituality of individuals who know they have life for others and who are convinced of it.

How does this differ from female spirituality?

Feminine spirituality involves inner peace, being tender, loving, forgiving, kind, letting go and being devoted. Characteristic of femininity is the freedom to cry and to touch.

I see the ecclesiastical spirituality in which many of us were brought up without the ability to weep over the suffering of humanity and without the ability to touch. Thankfully, our sisters make us aware of the other side - that ability to cry, to touch, to understand reality and the scriptures from the perspective of relationship and body.

This neutral spirituality with which we have worked in the church has seen almost everything from the perspective of what church leaders have termed reason, logic and truth, which was largely a truth system for self-assertion and self-protection. In her book “Women's Realtity”, Anne Wilson Schaef calls it the “white male myth of truth”.

It is the members of the white male system who have the greatest power in the world, who make the most decisions in the world, who make the most money, who have written most of the books and who presume to understand reality. Because today we live on the brink of an ecological catastrophe every day, and many are starving to death, it is obvious to me that the members of this system have not understood the truth, the reason and the meaning of reality.

So female spirituality continues to refuse to legitimize this perspective. Our sisters say, “Your reading of the gospel is not the only one.” I think they are right.

Women call men to an inner journey and to a reflective perspective with which they can stand in unity with God and the gospel. I'm not trying to preach a gospel of individualism. I'm just saying: trusting our experience has to be the starting point, not the entire journey.

How does the typical man on Wall Street, in the boardroom or in the factory come into contact with a healthy male spirituality?

First of all, we have to accept that the typical man on Wall Street, whatever that means, is a very dependent, trapped person. If we do not accept that he is trapped in a mythology that is largely a lie, then we cannot get away from it. Men in all generations used their energy to produce something, to create something in the outside world.

Now, for the first time in history, we have the phenomenon that men don't do big things like build cathedrals or just do a job as a cobbler or carpenter that they're proud of.

Now they're making money. Making money is a fiction that doesn't really exist, except on paper and in the banks.

We have taken the masculine energy, which in the best of circumstances is directed outwards for the life of the world and the community, for the improvement of our age and the human spirit, and have turned it wrongly inwards for our own ego and need for security.A man who has to fight so much, have success and win so much is a very insecure personality. He has no soul, no inner support. So I believe we have to assume that the white male system is dangerous to the soul and our society. The man playing this game has a major operation ahead of him - a major one. I do not believe that the operation is merely a matter of light spiritual reading and regulates attending a modern liturgy while continuing to play the game. The game's illusions of what it means and where it is leading must be radically challenged by a Christian.

Are there any differences in access to male spirituality between those who are married and those who live alone?

There is no difference. I don't think spirituality is related to marital status. It may be triggered in different ways, but what needs to be triggered, named and appropriated is the same for a married man and a single man. We both have to face the feminine. You can encounter the feminine not only in other women, but also in other men related to their femininity and in the circumstances of life - the suffering of the world that evokes tenderness and understanding in us.

What do you think men need to hear today and why?

Men need to realize - and this may sound a bit old-fashioned now - that the pursuit of sex, prestige, and possession is in most cases a refusal to embark on the spiritual journey. Instead of struggling within themselves for wholeness and authenticity, men have always allowed their souls to project outward in the form of their obsession with getting a woman, getting money, which is a source of power. Men believe, "If only I can own this, I will be happy." Men must be told that this is completely wrong. They need to be convinced that this obsession with money, sex, and power will get them stuck in their spiritual life.

What do you want to say to women about men?

I know that many women think that we are the ones who have power and money. And often it is, but I say that is not power. Many women see us as oppressors. You have to realize that in reality - in the field of spirituality - men are the oppressed. We are less free, less empowered, less in touch with our inner selves than they are. Women should stop imitating and envious of us.

Men are so caught up in spurious success, spurious power, and spurious sexuality that we don't even know we need liberation. We believe we are set free, but we are set free from the wrong things. Men have been excluded and we have excluded ourselves from the most important of all things: family, spirituality, emotions and feelings, personal growth and soul. We have cut ourselves off from the most important things for which humanity was created. Women should empower us to have the right insights and challenge us to the right understanding.

We must work together to break out of patriarchy. Please don't exclude us from the solution because we were such a big part of the problem. The gospel tells us that those at the top are those who are the least free and therefore the last.

In our culture, women largely mimic the white-male system and its mythology. Many applaud us for being macho and playing soccer and then wonder why they don't have sensitive men.

How can a single parent be both father and mother to their children?

The big example for me are some of the black women in the city center who seem to have integrated both. They are hard as nails, as sincere as they can be, and everyone loves to be hugged and hugged because they know someone is watching them. These great formidable downtown black women weren't made overnight. They have integrated the masculine and feminine characteristics of the human being over the course of several generations.

If there are single parents today, I think they need mentoring. You have to be “grandfathered”, “grandmothered” yourself by someone who has covered a little more on the journey than you. Single parents cannot do this alone. Obviously we need the community today more than ever.

In what ways is the Trinity Mystery a model for male and female spirituality?

I have always wondered how it all goes back to the mystery of the Trinity. This mystery says that relationship creates reality - the give and take between Father and Son that St. Mind is. The Holy Spirit is the life given back and received between Father and Son. This is very traditional Trinity doctrine.

Now I know that our words here are masculine, which steers the whole thing in a certain direction because the masculine is only one half of the picture. We cannot deny that Jesus is male, but we certainly do not want to say that the mystery of God is male. We want to say that the secret is God's relationship.

We must go back to Genesis, where we were made in the image of God, male and female. This deity, this starting point is called “Father”. “Father” is not always the most perfect word, but it will always be sacred because Jesus used it. We still need to remember that this father's love is as perfect as a mother's love is. This father is a father, but he is also a mother. This is not new, liberal theology. You couldn't think more traditionally, so like this. It's just that we have denied this reality for centuries, in our false masculine interpretation of the Church (which is entirely male-led!)

My own opinion as to why Jesus used the masculine word (apart from the cultural justification) is that the majority of people have a bigger wound from masculine and fatherly love. That is why it is the harder word for some and the more necessary word for many that they have to dare to say. Do not discard the words mother and father until you can pronounce them with great peace and confidence.

How can this apply to us as a model of male spirituality?

We said that the Father creates all life. In the procreative and creative power of fatherhood we have the image of the masculine. But what this god creates, he protects, that he cares for, that he keeps alive. The medieval Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus teaches that we would not exist if God did not choose me second by second and carry me - not just as part of a whole - but choose and carry me (all alone, apart from you).

Then people allow themselves to be encouraged by the father, they do not run after the coach, the trainer, roles and titles that confirm them as individuals. That is why contemplation is so central to Christianity. It is only where it is called by God by name, from the ground up, rightly and eternally. Then it is not necessary for one to reach out for success, a sense of identity and confirmation. We see the Trinity as masculine - life-giving - but also as feminine - life-sustaining through election and maintenance of the individual. Both aspects are based on the most traditional doctrines of the Church.

The Gospel of John says we are born in the Spirit. In the tradition, the mind was often seen as feminine and creative. I don't want you to believe now that only the male is creative and only the female is life-sustaining. Jesus unites this very well in his human person.

How can women and men support each other on their spiritual journey?

The best couples I know are those who are secure enough in their own relationship and secure enough themselves to leave space for each other to go on their own journey. She can't keep him at home every evening, “with the kids and me”. He cannot ask that she always stay at home as his cook and bottle washer and to raise the children. She has to move into the bigger world. Their gift of relationship must spill beyond the realm of their own children to the suffering children in Ethiopia and El Salvador. He must learn the patience and the concreteness of human love.

One statistic says that 57 percent of active American Catholics do nothing outside of their community. That is a very sad and stressful statistic.

So many people today in religious life, in lay ministry, and even in groups like Marriage Encounter or in the charismatic movement, believe that they are really up-to-date because they belong to a church fellowship. But they are only half way there. How will they implement this life in the realm of the world and society? How do you bring the masculine and feminine energies that you learn from Marriage Encounter, say, to the Massachusetts City Council?

How can we support each other in our uniqueness and in the things we have in common on our spiritual journey? I suppose this will come about by itself. We are very unequal at the beginning of the journey, but we must continue to walk together as allies and companions.

The place where we are most alike is at the end of the journey. Spiritually mature men and women are capable of love and fellowship. They don't need each other in this narrow sense. You can give love and joy to each other. They can give life to one another, but they can also be far from each other. He can be gone for a week helping refugees and neither will fall. Everyone knows who he is apart from the other. Ultimately, spiritually mature men and women are able to pass on their life, wisdom and experience to the children, which will break the cycle of father hunger.