In the course of the last 18 years, 12 as a minister in ‘paid Christian ministry’ I’ve been on a fair few retreats and spiritual days/weekends/weeks. For the first time ever, I’ve been away on a retreat this summer where, when you come back and people ask you what you did, I’ve had to say ‘Er….um…uh….em….well…..er.’
I almost didn’t attend Men’s Rites of Passage in Perth this year due to some work commitments that I didn’t think I could shuffle round alongside the challenge of how to sell 5 days away from my family to my family! But, having come to a point in life where I felt a definite need to ‘draw a line in the sand’ in some way, I knew I had to carve the time out of an impossible looking diary.
I am so glad I did.
It was in beginning to read some of the work of Fr Richard Rohr OFM that I came across ‘the Rites’. His premise is that Western Culture has stopped doing something crucial that ancient and non-Western societies haven’t lost….initiating men. Taking men from their youth/adolescence and teaching them the things they need to learn to enter manhood in the most helpful way.
I certainly entered ‘manhood’ without much of a clue. I’ve never had any particularly positive experiences of men in my life and the positive ones I did have were minimal to say the least. Needless to say, I came into adulthood with a poor image of masculinity and with no real clue how to be a good father. The fact that I’ve managed not to mess my kids up too much is a small miracle. Alongside that, I discovered that I knew little about being a good husband either. All this alongside a very long battle with depression in my life has made things messier than I sometimes like to admit.
I have to confess I am a man who enjoys his comforts. I’m not a particularly ‘outdoorsy’ type and have a bit of OCD about being dirty! So, the thought of 5 days in a field with 31 other men plus the Rites Team didn’t fill me with joy. And yet, I was drawn to it. I had a profound sense that God was going to do something in my life. A whole five days without email, phone, money, possessions, responsibilities was a rare treat and a real blessing!
I’ve been very disciplined over these last weeks since the Rites in not rushing to speak about it. Such is the impact it has had on me. Something has changed deep inside me. But, rather than analyse it, I am ‘riding the wave’ so to speak. It may sound like a bit of a cliche, but I found something of myself on the Rites in a way that I never have before. I found an awareness of God like I’ve never done before. I encountered the natural world in a profound way that means I now don’t like being indoors. I encountered men in such a positive way that I’ve never done before. I encountered honesty in a liberating way. I encountered silence in a transformational way. I connected with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in a profound way. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I feel like I’ve been ‘born again, again.’ And yet, in a way that causes me to question if I was ever fully alive in the first place.
I will, no doubt, be unpacking the precious lessons and experiences of the Men’s Rites of Passage 2013 for a long, long time. It is a once in a life time experience. It is something that every man serious about his inner and outer journey should embark upon. It is something that will give you the life-giving jolt you need to help you be fully alive to yourself, God and the world around you.
For more information, please visit mrop.org.uk for more testimonies from men and some information for the 2014 event.