MEN & GOD: A BEGINNING INQUIRY INTO MALE SPIRITUAL LIFE IN A SMALL GROUP SETTING: PART I
Over the fifty years of my ministry, I’ve encountered questions about gender differences when talking about spiritual life, often including statements about men not being as spiritual as women. I’ve always thought that men and women had different spiritual lives, not defined as more or better. My experience with male spiritual life was not extensive but it was clear that spiritual life was not absent from any of the males I had met.
In the early 1970s, I had a chance to see male spiritual life in action at a one-day conference on small groups in which I was asked to provide leadership for discussion groups following a series of presentations. Most of the selected leaders were male.
As part of our time together, I introduced the idea of our praying out loud which was immediately and enthusiastically accepted. With no instructions, each person reached out their hands to pray; tears became a part of our experience and the group felt powerfully filled with the presence of God. By the end of the day, we were bonded by the unforgettable, spiritual experiences we had shared.
Inspired by my experience, when I returned to the church I was serving where I had already formed four women’s groups, I introduced the idea of an all-male group experience to explore male spiritual issues together. Ten men signed up immediately and I became a bystander to the miracle of deep male connections of love and spirit. They would never forget this experience, referring to it years later with pride and power that was clearly very special.
When I conducted my research on interfaith spiritual life in the 1990s, the self-selected participants included women and men in all the participating congregations. Captured in shared experiences, both men and women spoke of God becoming “real” through those moments when they recognized the presence and action of God in their lives.
Fast forward to 2009, I was able to facilitate the sharing of God Moments and Prayer when I met Rev. Dr. Fred Fourie, pastor of the Cocoa Beach Community Church, and began the Spiritual Life Team program. This gave me the opportunity to meet with several women’s teams and one all-male spiritual life team.
In my first meeting with my new men’s team, they told me that I should not expect them to hold hands…something they would not be comfortable doing at all. I demurred saying I wouldn’t do anything that would be uncomfortable for them and we began our meeting.
At the end of our time together, we stood to pray. Without any instructions, each man reached out their hands to either side to connect and one man began to pray, followed by every other man present. Their prayers were a mutual expression of gratitude for our time together. I ended with my own prayer of gratitude but it was not necessary. They had already moved into a new place on their own.
Since 2009 I have been leading spiritual life teams in multiple places. Some of them have been all-male; many have been just women, and a few have been mixed men and women. I have been privileged to watch the powerful spiritual connections that grow in each Spiritual Life Team. Because the teams are carefully structured to reflect spiritual life and not psychological issues, these groups become infused with the reality of spiritual life and the presence of God. It has been no surprise to discover that prayer is not gender specific.
When I was first ordained in 1970, it was understood that men controlled the lay leadership of the church and women cared for the church through altar guilds, women’s associations, and other helping organizations within the church. Women taught Sunday school and confirmation. Men raised money for the support of the church. The lay leader of the church was predominantly male.
Gratefully, all of that has changed!
I asked my present-day male spiritual life teams to help me to define male spirituality by participating in a questionnaire I would write. They agreed to be a part of this inquiry. In Part II, I will share the questionnaire and their responses.