”Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them.” I Peter 3:7 (The Message)
Recently I have the experience of being in a retreat with a small group of women. I normally do not give retreats for women, since over the years Judy has worked with groups of women. But during this particular retreat I had an experience that was very meaningful. During a quiet time at the beginning of the retreat, as we were in silence I had an impression of sorrow and sadness come over me. Along with this impression came the words “the male voice.” As I trying to discern the experience, it struck me that I was in a group of women for whom the male voice was not nurturing, encouraging or loving. After our quiet time I shared my experience, saying that I wanted to be a loving masculine voice during this retreat.
I am writing this post mostly for men. As I write, I am being convicted for the times that my voice toward Judy has neither been loving or nurturing. I find myself reacting to her from a place that seems to be out of my control. I know when it is happening and I feel bad about my response. I want to always have a caring and gentle tone to my words. But often the tone is one I would not want others to hear. It could be that others might not even pick up my condescending tone, but my wife does. I know when this happens, it is coming from a place of hurt in my own soul. I am reacting to Judy, as being my mother. My wife is THE WOMEN IN MY LIFE. Now I know that sounds silly, but I have no other explaination. In those moments, if I am honest, I am reacting out of the heart of an inmature young boy.
Because my mother formed many of the early impressions of the feminine in my heart, I still carry in my heart those impressions. They have been long forgotten. But they are alive in my soul. The good impressions are beneficial in relationship to the feminine in my life. It is the negative impressions that have hurtful results. As a man, I need to continue to process these impressions and give them to Jesus for healing. In the stress of the moment with my wife, I want to be loving and assuring, and not condescending. Men, we need to become aware of how the emotional tone of our mothers affected our young male heart. Remember your wife is not your mother, even thought if you are honest, you are reacting to your wife like your mother. If we neglected the pain, it will come out in a hurtful way with our wives or other women in our life. That is what I was learning with that group of women. They have been hurt by the negative male voice.
Stephen Smith has written a wonderful book entitled, The Lazarus Life.” I have used material from his book in some of the men’s retreats. The book is about transformation. Transformation is the work of God in our hearts. In the book we are asked to image our soul as being in the tomb similar to Lazarus. Within the souls of men, there are many dark secrets and deep pain that never have seen to light of Jesus. They are have been buried for years. Much of the pain has to do with unresolved grief, which many men mistakely think is anger. The grief comes from not being able to process all the negative responses we have had to lifes situations. We simply we not taught to respond emotionally in a proper and constructive manner. Thus as Christian men we bury our negative emotions and try to be the “Good, niece Christian man.” We make all kinds of efforts to patch up our broken lives, wanting to change for the better. We want to become better fathers, husbands, as well as Christian witnesses in the church, work and community. But the harder we try the more we seem to fail, stumbling over the same bad habits and practices. We pratice what Dallas Willard calls “sin mangement.” We try to manage our spiritual life, trying to change for the good.
What is needed is inner transformation. It cannot be stressed enough, that change begins from the inside out. That is why, so often, when I pray with a man, the image of a tomb or a dark place is present. We are with the one being prayed for in a dark place. Of course, the place is in the soul. We know the darkness, but cannot get beyond the negative effects of that darkness. As we pray, the image of Jesus coming into the darkness becomes very powerful. This is where the Lazarus story is so powerful. Jesus comes into the tombs of our souls, with the voice of tenderness and love, and calls us to come forth. We cannot do it without his help. But when we know that he is there to take us by the hand and bring us out real change is about to happen.
In his book, Smith talkes about walking toward Jesus. Image Lazarus coming out of the tomb. He still had on his graveclothes. He could barely move. He must have stunk badly. Yet he came forth and kept walking toward Jesus. That is what we are given the grace to do – as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we are able to keep walking. It may seem awkward as we stumble with new patterns and practices. But God will give us the grace to change. It is vital that we are patient with the process. The graveclothes have been there for many years. They don’t come off in one day. We have not walked this new way – living in the light and not the old, familiar darkness. It will take time. The important matter is to keep looking to Jesus and walking toward him. Above else don’t stop walking toward Jesus.
One of the reasons for blogging is the requests from men who have come here to Canaan to write more on men’s issues. Men have come here to Canaan for what we call “wildman Saturdays.” An important aspect of the wildman experience is the opportunity for men to come together to explore the nature of “the masculine soul.” Soul is a word that has once again become important in giving folks spiritual direction in their lives. It is important for us to remember that we just don’t have a soul, but we are a soul. We are “embodied souls.” This means that there is a vital connection between the physical and the emotional in our lives. The need for the head and heart integration is central for a man, as he grows in spiritual and emotional dimensions. It should be obvious that the masculine soul will be different then the feminine soul. The problem is that most men do not have access to their masculine soul. Instead many men are afraid of what is on the inside (that is, in the soul) not having the language with which to access inner reality. To access the reality of the soul in the light of Jesus and to focus our gaze on him as we find “soul healing” is a vital part of the wildman journey.
For this bog site, which includes aspects of the wildman journey, I would like to suggest two theme verses. The first is in Hosea 10:12, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your heart, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (NLT). Hosea first points our the need for planting seeds of righteousness in order that we might harvest a crop of love. Righteousness has to do with being rightly related to God. This comes to us as a gift of God, through the work of Jesus for us on the cross. So in this sense the seeds that we are to plant are the gifts of grace that God give to us in Jesus. As we come to understand more fully the grace of God we will come to experience a harvest of love. With this awareness of grace and love in our lives we will then be able to “plow up the hard ground of our hearts.” It is only in the understanding of the reality of grace and love in their lives that men are able to plow up their hard hearts. For a wildman, gaining access to his heart is vital. The last part of the verse says that the time is now. Yes, the time has come for men to plow up their hardened hearts before the Lord and other men. We desparately need communities of “wildmen.”
The other theme verse is Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). This simply means that wildmen have come to the point in their lives, when they know they have to pay attention to their hearts (soul). Why? Because as the verse infers it determines the course of their lives. The time has come for men to get out of “automatic pilot” and get into the driver’s seat. This means that wildmen are willing to take the inner journey. This journey is not some kind of narcissistic, lonely look at a frightened soul, shivering in the darkness of guilt and shame. Rather it is seeing our soul in the light of Jesus and in the presence of other men who are making the same discoveries. I can say with deep conviction that men need to bond together to deal with their soul lives. Remember we are talking about the masculine soul. To many of us men have had our mothers or even our wives define for us what is soul, giving to us a female mode of feeling that is foreign to the feeling mode of the masculine soul.
After I read the news each day over the internet, I have a tendency to get down regarding the state of our world. I have made it a practice to simple refocus my heart on Jesus. I often think of Ps 27:8 which reads, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” I know I can’t go wrong in fixing my gaze on Jesus at the beginning of the day. If I neglect to get my focus on him, the voices within the culture as well as my own fallen self pull me away from the light. To focus on Jesus with the eyes of our heart, is to look up into the light. The light of Christ will not be overcome by the darkness. The Psalmist was aware of this dynamic when he prayed, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord” (Ps. 4:6).
As long as I am walking in the light, I will be ok. The Message Bible gives us words of encouragement when Jesus tells us, “I am the world’s light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in” (John 8:12). What an encouragement for each day. Jesus provides plenty of light. He will provide a way in the wilderness and the wastelands of modern culture. What he provides is unique to our day. “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through th wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (Is. 43:19). The Good News of is the when we are walking in the light of His presence we are part of the new thing that God is doing. We might not see all of what God is doing, but we know that there is a path of us to follow through the wilderness and the wastelands of our day.
I spent last week-end at the 50th year class reunion from High School. It was a great event for Judy and I. I was asked to share an opening prayer, along with a few comments. I felt lead to share the phrase, “Let each of us finish strong.” When all of us in the class are in our late 60’s, this phrase takes on real meaning. I thought of Paul’s word in II Cor. “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner being is being renewed every day.” I reminded my class that when we look around at ourselves we are definitely not getting stronger and more vital physically. But inwardly we are able to become stronger and stronger, so that we can finish strong. – My sense was that there were members of my class that needed this reminder. What a joy it was for me to say that I intend to finish strong. In finishing strong I know it is the work of God in my heart, as I make myself available to him. My part is the practices of the spiritual disciplines that allows the Spirit to do the inner work of transformation. – I encourage you who read this blog to be intentional about finishing strong, by giving yourself to the work of the Spirit in your inner being
As I blog this evening, Judy and I are preparing to go with our daughter and our three grandsons to my 50th class reunion in Negaunee, Michigan. Our son-in-law Leif is unable to be with us because of his work as an Air Force chaplain in Texas. As I anticipate my interaction with my former classmates, I sincerely have little desire to talk about my life. Rather I would rather tell “my story” of God’s work in my life. I see this work as transformation. Transformation has become an important word for me in these later years. Transformation is the work of God in the soul, changing us from the inside out. It is his hidden work, by which he changes us to become more like Jesus. I am far from who I should be, but praise God I am not who I used to be back in 1959. – This is the story of God’s work in my life. I have come to appreciate the thought of Richard Rohr who says that “everything belongs.” What does he mean? I understand this phrase to mean, that everything that has happened in my life, the good, the bad and the ugly, have a place. It all belong to the story of God in my life. It is his work of transformation in the soul. There is no way that I can take what has happened in my life and weave it into a story of grace and mercy. Only God can do that. As I go to my reunion this year, I am so grateful for his mercy and grace to see that everything belongs. I am sure that there are to discover in my story, but for now I live with what I know. – I would say that my being able to come to know all about myself has been greatly enhanced by the inner awareness – a heart experience beyond knowing, that God truly loves me. Brennan Manning calls it “the abba experience.” Henri Nouwen call it “knowing our belovedness.” I know I am “God’s beloved” It is not dependent on doing or thinking. God simply is a God of love. Knowing this has helped me greatly to know that everything belongs – I am not sure who is reading this blog. But I will continue to write out of obedience. I will make improvement as time and help allows. I guess I feel some relief in the sense that I am now doing what I have know I should be doing for sometime. – I will not be posting for the next four or five days, since I will be at my 50th class reunion. If you read this blog and it is helpful, let me know. But more important pray for the “voice” that is being spoken through this blog
Again as I attempt to begin writing this blog site, I am very aware of my insecurity. But I do sense a call to make the attempt to communicate. Today I met with a friend, whose discernment I trust. His advice was to get with the writing, especially to men. He confirmed in my heart the idea of having much of the content in this blog a story of what God has done in my heart and of the desire I have in my heart to reach the pain found in the heart of so many men. His word to me was for me to be assured that what I had to say could be liberating and healing for many men who might visit this site. – So I write as a work in progress. I hope to make improvement to this blog site as time goes on. (At present I have three grandsons visiting for three weeks. This certainly has gotten me out of rythmn) I also want to be able to connect with those who care to make comment at this blog site . If you would like to become a user, just e-mail Judy and I at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will set you up so that you can become a useer – I believe that men need to begin a conversion with other men regarding their souls. Richard Rohr in his retreat work with men all over the world, has made it abundantly clear that men have to do their ”soul work” with other men. To many of us men, learned about our masculine feeling and how to relate from our mothers. Instead of absorbing a male mode of feeling for our souls, many of us absorbed a female mode of feeling for our souls. As a result men are not able to express nor access their true emotions. Thus the emotional life of many men is stunted. You could say that many of us men are “emotionally challenged” when it comes to a intimate relationship with God and with our wives. As men, we can together learn the language of the masculine soul. I hope this blog will in some small way contribute to this dialogue. I envision this blog to be primarily a dialogue with other men hungry for “soul talk. That all for this post. There will be more.
In Isaiah 42:7 we read that God’s message to his people is meant, “to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” In order for the blind to see, captive to see, and those in dungeons to be released, the Word of God needs to be heard. For the power is in the creating, healing Word that comes from God. Jesus tells us, “The very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. The Word will often be the voice that speaks to the human heart through one believer, speaking into the life of a fellow believer. The one receiving the Word comes to a place of trust not only in the Word of God, but also in the one who is speaking the Word (the voice). Obviously the blindness, the need for being freed and release is not only a mental awareness, but more importantly an inner realization that one lives in a spiritual prison, needing life and freedom. The one who is the voice, is simply the one who speaks into the soul of another, the healing Word of God. This aspect of soul care is deeply needed in our day. Many are looking for release and freedom from their inner prisons. I sense from my experience, especially in being blessed to be “a voice” speaking into the souls of men, that this blog site might be a voice that might speak to the souls of men, helping them to be freed from their enclosed prisons. Again I ask for pray is this venture. I am only writing out of obedience. My prayer is that this “voice” will reach some who are still in inner darkness.
Judy and I both feel that we live in a special place. Years ago God gave us a verse from Psalms that became important in our spiritual journey. “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (18:19). We believe Canaan’s Rest is such a place. We praise God for his wonderful provision in providing this “spiritual space” in the northwoods. We both sense that at this stage in our journey, that there is a voice to be heard from this place in the woods. That is why we have started this blog-site. It is definitely a work in progress. Neither of us are very comfortable with the web. But we are going to keep at it, hoping that the voice will be heard through this site. As we move along, we will get the hang of blogging. We hope to communicate what is in our hearts, hoping to connect with fellow pilgrims seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus. All you who are our friends, please pray for us. It is not something that we have choosen to do on our own. It is out of obedience to the Lord. We want to be a voice out of the wilderness
This is my first post. Judy and I have felt for some time that we should be doing a better job of communicating what the Lord has been doing in our lives and the message that he has formed in our hearts. We are calling our blog, “A voice from the Wilderness” for at least two good reasons. First, we live in the northwoods of northern Minnesota, where we run a small retreat prayer house. The second reason is the sense that we live on “the edge” of the culture and the church, for the sake of both. Our prayer is tha what is shared on these posts can be of help for those “pilgrims” our there who know there is more to their walk with Jesus, then just having more teaching or doing more things. Many of the pilgrims have become discouraged with the church, but are still seeking more intimacy with the Lord. It is to these folks, that we most seem to identify with in our ministry. We have met and know many such pilgrims. If you are one of these piligrims, we would like to get to know you through this blog.