It would seem that, these days, there is a dearth of interest in
spirituality as it was traditionally conceived; while modern-day
gurus such as Deepak Chopra or celebrities such as Oprah have
embraced an eclectic range of beliefs, and positive psychology is all
the rage, for all this abundance of spiritual options, there seems to
be a lack of depth or sense of direction to many of the varieties of
spirituality now on offer.
Coupled with this is a confusion between spirituality and religion,
as though the two were mutually incompatible – you can’t be
religious without being a traditionalist, right-wing, anti-LGBT
fuddy-duddy who votes Republican, while if you’re spiritual, then you
must be some kind of new-age guru appearing on daytime TV with a
But this goes against the example of history, where guys like St.
Francis of Assisi were able to love everybody and be deeply
spiritual, while being 100% committed to the teachings of their
religion. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a big-time
traditional Protestant preacher, yet still managed to lead the black
civil rights movement to victory and become the pre-eminent figure in
20th. Century U.S. race relations.
So I would argue that a deeper impact on masculinity can be felt when
we take the time to develop our own connection to the spiritual
reality that is out there, while using the tenets of our religious
background as guidelines that reveal a path that we can follow to
become the better man that it is our birthright to become.
My own experience is a good example. My mother is a lapsed Catholic
who chose to have me baptized into the Church of England denomination
(Pentecostal in the US) as a statement against her own strict
Catholic upbringing; she brought me up without religion but after receiving
verbal, emotional and physical abuse from my father, I developed
avoidant personality disorder and suffered prolonged teasing and
bullying from boys at school until the age of 16. I had very low
self-esteem and hated myself intensely; and the introspection that
this caused led me to becoming attracted to the teachings of Jesus
Christ, especially on issues of forgiveness and God’s love for the
poor and forgotten people of the world, of which I considered myself
a fully-paid-up member.
I discovered my own spirituality within myself in my own way and in
my own time, and I suppose I could have stayed that way; but I became
increasingly dissatisfied with going around in circles. I wanted to
experience everything my spirituality had to offer but this involved
making a commitment to follow Christ’s teachings and making a more
concerted effort. Through a range of events, I ended up returning to
the Roman Catholic Church; but not for me the often heavy-handed
doctrine and judgementalism of other Catholics – I chose to focus
on the unconditional love offered by luminaries such as St. Francis,
Mother Theresa and the personal example of John Paul II, who was Pope
at the time.
It all started with a personal decision to follow the Ten
Commandments. The daily decisions that needed to be taken to make
sure that I didn’t tell lies or steal or be jealous of others often
forced me to put what, at the time, appeared to be blind faith in God
that everything would turn out OK. I would choose to do something,
terrified that it wouldn’t work out but confident that it was what
God wanted and, sure enough, things would be OK. Sometimes, unusual
or unexpected surprises would happen that, perhaps, would not have
happened if I had not chosen to make that choice.
I remember when I was very poor in Australia and a homeless man asked
me for money. I looked in my wallet and saw ONE Australian dollar and
a few small coins. I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast yet, so I
was hungry. I decided to put faith in Christ’s teachings and gave him
the dollar. After he walked away, I went to a bakery and bought some
bread. “That’ll be 23 cents,” said the lady. I looked in my
wallet and, sure enough, the “few small coins” totalled exactly 23 cents to the very penny.
It is situations like these that allow us to see beyond mere
appearances and catch a glimpse of what destiny awaits us. However,
we can only see this destiny when we put faith in the teachings we
are given. If we refuse to obey, we are also refusing to open the
door to becoming a better person and achieving the happiness that is
ours for the taking.
One of the difficulties people have with this is the fact that you
are doing it blind; you can’t see where you are going. However, one
decision made in faith, leads to further doors opening; taking these
subsequent doors, leads to further doors down the road; and so, as
time goes by, a body of experience builds up and, although we still
have no idea where we are going, after a certain amount of time and
experience, we can look behind us at the path we have travelled so
far and see that we are now in a better place than we were before
and, indeed, that we are a better man for having travelled that
distance in faith.
So by all means develop your own spirituality YOUR way, in YOUR time,
in the way that is meaningful for YOU – but to become a better man,
you need a path to follow, even if that path appears blind at the
beginning. Religion oftentimes gives us the framework we need to find
that path and achieve the greatness that is possible for us in this
life and, indeed, this was the way of all the saints and prophets of
old. So I encourage you to do the same and not discount the value of
more traditional religions, since they often have a much
better-developed system of mystic pathway than more modern
alternatives; and in so doing, you will find it that much easier to
become the man you have always wanted to be and achieve the greatness
that you were born to occupy in this life.
This article was originally published on The Good Men Project, hence
the focus on men and masculinity within the article.