franciscan - May 2005
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2005
Praying as a Man?
by Mark Pryce
I read Nicola's words about prayer with admiration: they are full of assurance and confidence, rooted in the concrete experience of being a woman in a particular place and time. Nicola tells of struggle and pain but to name those as she does, so honestly and lucidly, is powerful and full of energy. I am wondering what it is to pray like a man.
I do not find my response to that consideration very immediate - and hence the question mark at the end of my title above. I do not find it easy to articulate what my experience of prayer is as a man. My absence of words on this matter is something of a male trait, perhaps. As a man I am conditioned to conceive of myself as the norm in human culture and society, predominantly the one for whom and by whom our language, concepts and structures have been formed. Within this patriarchal history, the plethora of Christian spiritual traditions has also been predominantly shaped by and for men, though women have been constantly present as creators, contributors and critics of course. And perhaps because of this predominance, this assumption that the spiritual territory is somehow 'male', I am less than articulate when I have to consider myself as a gendered being, a man in relationship with women and with other men.
Women's voices, and the voices of gay men, black men, the global voices of the poor and the oppressed, have broken the patriarchal monotony of this single 'male' perspective - a monotony which was, in fact, a silence - or more accurately, a stifling of speech. Now the many different experiences of humankind have found a voice and have opened up the diversity of spiritualities which make up Christianity - those which have been unheard or unacknowledged through many generations. There is scope now to hear this diversity of voices in theology and spirituality and in the ordering of common life within the churches; we can hear dialogue and challenge, both in the present time and in the traces of our past. The monotony of patriarchy is finished, even though some of us men drone on unaware of the fact.
Yet men have still to learn to speak of themselves as men. We have still to find a voice which can speak with confidence and authenticity about our experience as embodied human beings in relationship. That new freedom is challenging and frightening, for it demands from men a speaking which is honest, the abandoning of playing out roles in the cycle of domination, the cycle which has had us as bully and being bullied in turn. The voice which we have to find as men is not a voice which speaks as the voice of law or norm or institution, or as the last word on all matters, but the plethora of voices which speak from our own experiences of love, loneliness, power, fear, violence and hurt - voices which sound from the strength and the vulnerabilities of our bodies, voices which also have the confidence to keep silent. These voices are the voice of prayer.
Some of the language we need as men to interpret our experiences and to articulate them is the familiar language of received Christian tradition. Sometimes we will re-interpret that language. God need not be called upon by the familiar names of father, lord, king, in ways which project our own desires or delusions of dominance and of control as men. Bound up in these divine names are ways of understanding which are truer to our actual experience and to our needs as fallible, vulnerable human beings. God as Father suggests a God who knows the risk and terror of caring for others; as Lord, Christ is the beautiful other, the focus of life lived in relationship, truth in suffering, the mysterious, wounded one to be known yet not known, touched yet uncontrollable. If we pray as men, then we will be praying from a diversity of situations and life-experiences and we will become more accepting of a diversity of interpretations and expressions. We will be less defensive of a tradition which, truth be told, has always been rich in a diversity of meanings and which, if it is alive at all, will fracture, grow and deepen from a diversity of praying communities and individuals, including the voices inspired by feminist and by gay and lesbian perspectives. To pray like a man is not to re-invent a masculinity to which all men must conform and be subservient for fear of humiliation or exclusion. It is to permit the different voices within the self, and those which call out of the diverse communities of the church and of the human race. f
Mark Pryce is the Vicar of Smethwick Old Church in the diocese of Birmingham. His book on men and masculinities Finding a Voice: men, women and the community of the church is published by SCM Press (1996).
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