And I remain very intrigued. I believe these authors have struck upon a very necessary and accessible approach to the evangelization of modern American adult men and women, namely alerting us to our need to be in touch with the deepest desires of our hearts. In part they do this by shining a light onto some of the ways we hide our pain, especially the religious ways. The authors are non-Catholic Christians, and occasionally their use of Scripture feels awkward juxtaposed with the Catholic understanding of certain passages. But with this minor criticism aside, they do strike at a Catholic understanding of the human person and the role of grace. Take for example this quote from Wild at Heart: "The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than a 'sinner saved by grace.' You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God. In the core of your being you are a good man" (p. 144).
It seems the evangelization they are therefore most effective at is reaching those who already regularly fill church pews, but who have lost touch with the reality of Christ. This is very exciting to me. To paraphrase yet another book I am reading right now (The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross by Iain Matthew), the wounds of the world are the "spaces through which God may graciously enter." Yet if we keep our wounds and our desires out of sight and out of mind, how are we to gain healing or encounter the Healer?
Ultimately, the books tell us, each man and woman has a key question that will in one way or another not allow them peace until they bring the question to God and receive His answer. The woman's question is "Am I lovely?" and the man's question is "Do I have what it takes?"
I found both books helpful and insightful, but Wild at Heart was perhaps a more valuable read because of the help it gave me in understanding the men in my life (particularly my husband and son.) But there were certain sections that helped me understand my own experience as well, both of myself and of men.
A few quotes that I found particularly useful:
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do -- to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst -- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. (quotation drawn from The Sacred Journey by Buechner, cited on p. 137)
It seems crazy that a man would sneak away from his strength, fear it to show up, but that is why we sabotage. Our strength is wild and fierce, and we are more than unsettled by what may happen if we let it arrive. One thing we know: Nothing will ever be the same. One client said to me, "I'm afraid I'll do something bad if I let all this show up." No, the opposite is true. You'll do something bad if you don't. p. 149
Whyte talks about the difference between the false self's desire "to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul's wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be." You literally sacrifice your soul and your true power when you insist on controlling things, like the guy Jesus talked about who thought he finally pulled it all off, built himself some really nice barns and died the same night. p. 203-4This next passage reminds me a lot of Fr. Giussani's teaching about the trajectory of freedom, and articulates so well exactly the process of prayer I have employed.
To recover his heart's desire a man needs to get away from the noise and distraction of his daily life for time with his own soul. He needs to head into the wilderness, to silence and solitude. Alone with himself, he allows whatever is there to come to the surface. Sometimes it is grief for so much lost time. There, beneath the grief, are desires long forsaken. Sometimes it even starts with temptation, when a man thinks that what will really make him come alive is something unholy. At that point he should ask himself, "What is the desire beneath this desire? What is it I'm wanting that I think I'll find there?" However the desire begins to surface, we pick up that trail when we allow a cry to rise from the depths of our soul, a cry, as Whyte says, "for a kind of forgotten courage, one difficult to hear, demanding not a raise, but another life." (p. 207-8)I think these books speak to our current American culture well for a few reasons. First, many of us have grown up with the cultural influence of gender-neutrality. God however did not create neutered persons, he created humans male and female. Second, churches have not always been ready to respond in a healthy and helpful way in a discussion of what maleness and femaleness means. The Eldredges claim that for both men and women, the churches have been a major contributor to the problem, announcing to women that they are to stay busy serving, and to men that they should be "nice guys." Is that truly the fullness of the call of Christ? Be busy and nice? Does that resonate with the deepest desires of your heart? Is that really going to attract the lost 20-something who doesn't want to be a Church Lady or Mr. Rogers? If we want to reach real adults with the real gospel, we have to bare our souls to Christ first and allow Him to transform us at our deepest. This is what the Eldredges are after.
I'd recommend these books to anyone who happens to be a man or a woman, or who lives with or closely associates with men or women, or who will one day soon become a man or woman. Or anyone raising someone who will one day become a man or woman. Ok, some of the language and discussion might not be appropriate for children, but you get my drift.