+ He is very much at home with the wisdom and insights of contemporary feminism and understands his calling to be in solidarity - not competition - even as he works with men in a parallel exploration of soul, wounds and redemption. I remember hearing him in a conversation with Deborah Tannen in NYC as they considered the ways women and men are different and alike. Many had hoped for something like an intellectual version of the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King - they were sorely disappointed - for the night was spent helping us all learn how we might grow closer in love and healing. He said even though his work has been ridiculed - mostly because the men's movement is 20 years behind the women's - serving as a holy fool is a sacred calling. Think St. Paul, think Ginsberg, think Loki or Kokopelli or St. John the Baptist... think Dylan in spades!
+ He has come to believe that the secret wound that most men must wrestle their way through is shame. It often comes out looking like anger - or addiction - but is grounded in the fact that many of us don't know how to be authentic men in our age. In rejecting the harsh and emotionally crippled masculinity of the traditional cowboy who doesn't talk about his feelings and just wants to get the job done, ma'am, countless men in the West have become "soft." We are loving and gentle - grounded in compassion rather than assertiveness - but unable to rise to the challenges of the era. Bly calls this "the yogurt man" who hides behind the skirt of strong women, refuses to live into his calling as a tender warrior and essentially remains a child in an adult world.
His work with Jungian Marian Woodman as well as James Hillman is called "the sibling society" where men refuse to mature because our traditional understanding of masculinity is so empty and often violent. This is moving in the right direction, to be sure, but it is complete because... it is born of shame and confusion. I think of the music of James Taylor and the singer-songwriters of the 70s - so beautiful, so tender - all moving us away from the swagger and violence of the old men.
Bly's poem, My Father's Wedding: 1924, speaks of this, too, with sweet insight more passion.
Today, lonely for my father, I saw
a log, or branch,
long, bent, ragged, bark gone.
I felt lonely for my father when I saw it.
It was the log
that lay near my uncle's old milk wagon.
Some men live with a limp they don't hide,
stagger, or drag
a leg. Their sons often are angry.
Only recently I thought:
Doing what you want...
Is that like limping? Tracks of it show in the sand.
Have you seen those giant bird-
men of Bhutan?
Men in bird masks, with pig noses, dancing,
teeth like a dog's, sometimes
dancing on one bad leg!
They do what they want, the dog's teeth say that.
But I grew up without dog's teeth,
showed a whole body,
left only clear tracks in sand.
I learned to walk swiftly, easily,
no trace of a limp.
I even leaped a little. Guess where my defect is!
Then what? If a man, cautious,
hides his limp
somebody has to limp it. Things
do it; the surrounding limp.
House walls get scars,
the car breaks down; matter, in drudgery, takes it up.
On my father's wedding day,
no one was there
to hold him. Noble loneliness
held him. Since he never asked for pity
his friends thought he
was whole. Walking alone he could carry it.
He came in limping. It was a simple
or four people. The man in black,
lifting the book, called for order.
And the invisible bride
stepped forward, before his own bride.
He married the invisible bride, not his own.
In her left
breast she carried the three drops
that wound and kill. He already had
his bark-like skin then,
made rough especially to repel the sympathy
he longed for, didn't need, and wouldn't accept.
So the Bible's
words are read. The man in black
speaks the sentence. When the service
is over, I hold him
in my arms for the first time and the last.
After that he was alone
and I was alone.
Few friends came; he invited few.
His two-story house he turned
into a forest,
where both he and I are the hunters.
Playfulness and humility - tenderness and passion - are at the core of what Bly shares because he has embraced the shame as both teacher and shadow. And thankfully he doesn't stop with simply exposing the wound - he invites men to enter it and live into the wisdom of their wounds. This, you see, is how men become tender warriors - bringing healing through their strength and protection through their fear - rather than remaining trapped in rage, sexual brutality and emotional emptiness.
Once I prayed for only girl babies because I had no idea how to be a healthy and holy father for a boy - shame, yes? I give thanks to those who have helped me face and embrace my shame - and discover that it isn't the whole story. I give thanks to the poets and singers and artists who have continued the inward/outward journey of the Spirit. I think of the aging Bob Dylan... and James Taylor who has been sober and creative for the last decade... and my old "soft" friend, Cat Stevens aka Yusuf who is now more passionate and alive than ever before.
I loved "Father and Son" and "Peace Train" before, but now they are even better... as is his playful and powerful reworking of "I Think I've Seen the Light."