Path of Descent
Jesus’ Invitation: Follow Me
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
I have found the phenomenon of male initiation in every culture and on every continent until the modern era.  Something that universal—and so uniform in its goals—was surely fulfilling a deep human and social need. It was deemed necessary for cultural and personal survival, it seems. Throughout history, men were more often in positions of power and privilege, whereas women were often unfairly subjugated. Women, therefore, more naturally learned the path of descent (self-emptying) through their “inferior” position to men.
We recognize in initiation universal patterns of wisdom that need to be taught to the young male in his early “tower building” stages. This was the rather universal conclusion: Unless the male is led into journeys of powerlessness, he will invariably misuse power. He becomes a loose cannon in the social fabric, even dangerous to the family, always seeking his own dominative power and advancement to the neglect of others. The human inclination to narcissism has to be exposed, humbled, and used for good purposes.
Jesus clearly taught the twelve disciples about surrender, the necessity of suffering, humility, servant leadership, and nonviolence. They resisted him every time, and so he finally had to make the journey himself and tell them, “Follow me!” But Christians have preferred to hear something Jesus never said: “Worship me.” Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; following Jesus changes everything.
The clear message of Jesus’ teaching has not been taught with much seriousness in most churches. Simplicity, humility, and “descent” were never expected of the clergy—certainly not of the higher clergy—and, therefore, how could we ask it of the rest of the church? Jesus was training the leaders because they could only ask of others what they themselves had done first. Once we saw the clerical state as a place of advancement instead of downward mobility, once ordination was not a form of initiation but a continuation of patriarchal patterns, the authentic preaching of the Gospel became the exception rather than the norm.
I have often thought that this “non-preaching” of the Gospel was like a secret social contract between clergy and laity, as we shake hands across the sanctuary. We agree not to tell you anything that would make you uncomfortable, and you will keep coming to our services. It is a nice deal, because once the Gospel is preached, I doubt if the churches would be filled. Rather, we might be out on the streets living the message. The discernment and the call to a life of service, to a life that gives itself away instead of simply protecting and procuring for itself in the name of Jesus, is what church should be about. Right now, so much church is the clergy teaching the people how to be co-dependent with them. It becomes job security instead of true spiritual empowerment. Remember, anyone—male or female—who has not gone on journeys of powerlessness will invariably abuse power.
Gateway to Silence:
The way up is down.
 See my earlier meditations on initiation, beginning May 22, 2016: https://cac.org/passing-death-life-now-2016-05-22/.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 88-90; and
The Path of Descent (CAC: 2003), disc 1 (CD, MP3 download).