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Seeking Balance / Honoring the Masculine

I have been aware for a long time that many of the spirituality and arts programs I am involved in tend to draw mostly women to them.   Our Awakening the Creative Spirit program this year is 12 wonderful women (last year we had two great men participate out of 13 participants).  Our Monthly Gatherings which average 15-20 tend to usually be all women. 

I thought this was perhaps due to the combination of spirituality and the arts.  I was very surprised when I started teaching at the School of Theology and Ministry this fall that out of my 29 students, only 4 are men.  When I asked the class if this was the usual breakdown for Seattle U, I was told they were surprised to have that many men there.  A curious phenomenon to me, because my class is required for all degree students, so it includes those seeking a Master of Divinity in addition to those pursuing degrees in spirituality or pastoral ministry.  

I adore working with groups of women, but I also love the energy men bring to a group and wonder what would attract more men to these kinds of programs.  I am beginning to wonder if we are experiencing a slow pendulum swing and in twenty years or so we will have men finding that church leadership and spirituality is too feminine and doesn’t reflect their experiences.

So this is a request to hear especially from men about participation in spirituality programs.  Do you participate in retreats, classes, or workshops?  What kinds of programs draw you?  I know I have at least a few male readers like Ron, Antony, Jorge, and Rich (all of whom have wonderful blogs and worth a visit).  I invite your feedback and other men out there reading this.

I also would love to hear from women if they have any ideas or insights about this as well.

Are you experiencing this imbalance of men and women in spirituality programs in your corner of the world as well?

-Christine Valters Paintner

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14 Responses

  1. Thanks for your comment Jorge. This feels like one of the really siginificant growth edges for the church, learning how to be truly inclusive of masculine and feminine. I am very intrigued by this idea that you and Rich both shared of the different languages.

  2. I have never had a feminine pastor; that said, I think it would suit me well, although based on the trends in many seminaries, church leadership and pastoring may be drifting toward the feminine, and that might make some men feel left out.

    I don’t go on group retreats very much, but I thrive in mixed company. I agree with Rich: I speak a religious language, but am a novice at speaking a spiritual one.

  3. Thank you for so many wonderful and thoughtful responses and insights!

    Wendy, I appreciate your response to my question about headship on your blog, I will reply at more length later, but I recognize that two fundamental differences in our thinking are first that I believe we all carry masculine and feminine energy within us and it is culture that determines valid gender roles, which are often very constraining. And second, I believe that we all need to seek and give protection to each other, a mutuality, not just the man to the woman in a one-way dynamic.

    Bette, it is good to hear about your artist communities’ balance. I forgot to mention in my post that the art class I attended a couple of weeks ago was entirely women. So perhaps there are some art forms that appeal more to men then others. As far as the university goes, I know SU, as a Jesuit institution, tends to be more progressive than other seminaries in the area so that may draw more women as it perhaps feels more welcoming. I do wonder what the breakdowns are like at other places.

    Juniper, I agree with your question. I really want to see more of a gender balance too and I wonder about that spiritual education piece. What element of formation is being left out? I have a feeling it will take some time to figure this out.

    Antony, a retreat with Meg Funk sounds marvelous. Your response reminds me of what the few men that are involved in our programs have said, they don’t consider themselves typical males and don’t feel threatened by being involved in a group that is predominantly women. I appreciate your response my oblate brother.

    Rich, yes I do remember now that was another example of the gender imbalance. It is particularly interesting to me that this happened again at a seminar with male leadership. I find the burgeoning men’s spirituality movement beautiful to behold from the outside. Just as I love places where I can be with other women, I can imagine the power men must experience. I deeply appreciate your insight about the walls between men and the new language of spirituality.

    Jan, I think your comment about church growth and women’s leadership points to the much deeper issues and problems at hand, both in terms of the focus on church growth as a measure of success and to imply that women in leadership somehow restrict the church itself rather than receiving expanded women’s roles as a gift and learning how to weave that into a balanced gender community.

    Ron, I think you speak to what Rich was saying, the language of spirituality may be new for men, or more challenging at least to culturally defined expectations. I am really heartened to hear about your art group.

    I am really grateful to all of you, and would love to hear from others if anyone else wants to chime in. I am sensing a number of things, that this is a movement that will perhaps take time to unfold and part of the natural balancing that happens when women reclaim some of the roles and power in the community. This movement has brought to light for me, the restrictions that gender roles can place on people, so as women reclaim their strength, at the same time men are slowly reclaiming their vulnerability. There will be growing pains along the way for both. This is of course an over-simplification of things and I don’t mean to blame anyone for this at all. I would just love to see men and women praying and creating side by side. What a power we could unleash together!

    Blessings, Christine

  4. Christine, great questions…Speaking from my faith journey of almost 40 years there seems to be shift happening. It wasn’t that long ago when you would see only women involved in prayer ministries, but now I’m starting to see more men involved. A few years ago I taught a course on spirituality which was cross denominational, and again the majority were women. I suspect there may be a bit of fear on the part of men when it comes to spirituality. I think when it comes to spirituality, one has to be more open, vulnerable, sensitive, and still…not easy for most men…especially in the midst of women. I like you, like to see a mix of men and women…there seems to be a spiritual reality there that comes alive…we have so much to share and give each other.
    The art group ” Poasis ” I’m involved in an awesome multi-generation and great mix of bothe sexes. As far as retreats, there are two monasteries I ilke to go to, one run by some russian orthodox monks, and the other by catholic nuns.

  5. Yep.
    We have a male Christian Educator to balance things, and I feel particularly queasy when the preacher and liturgist, plus the ushers, greeters, soloists, and communion servers are all women. Not any healthier than a situation in which all men are leading in these roles.
    It’s a problem for clergywomen in particular in that many say that “churches led by women” don’t grow. I hear this from time to time and 1) it’s not necessarily true and 2) it’s unfair to say.

  6. Christine –

    Excellent question. I wish I had as excellent an answer. You’ll recall that in our Spiritual Writing class in Santa Fe in 2005 there were two men – myself and John. This year, in Santa Fe, Father David Denny’s seminar on “Grief, Belief, Rage and Surrender” attracted only 3 men.

    In the past month, however, I’ve attended 2 men’s retreats where spirituality issues were the focus. Men had to be turned away due to limited housing availability. Words fail me as I try to describe the awesome power of a room full of men gathered to share their spirituality and stories of their life journeys in an environment where they feel safe and able to let down the walls that our culture cause us to construct.

    But, I hasten to add that I’m not finger-pointing here – either at women or men. The walls I mention are not just between women and men, but also among men. I revel in the work that men are doing in gathering together and sharing their spirituality with one another. Men know all the words to institutional religion. Spirituality has a language we are just learning. Perhaps we need some time to find the right words among ourselves before we feel comfortable and confident in sharing our hearts.

    Give us time…we’ll be there.


  7. Christine,
    I often find myself an atypical male in many ways, and on many issues. I am certainly not someone who would rant on the “feminization” of spirituality. Most of the time I don’t specifically pay attention to the “maleness” or “femaleness” of things. So I am not sure what my input on this is worth to this discussion, but anyway, here it is:

    Most of the retreats I take are solitary, and most of them silent. That’s my wiring. I do and have ocassionally participated in other kinds of retreats, classes, and workshops, and the criteria for me for those is simply if the topic resonates with me and I feel it will be helpful to my growth. (Of course, cost and time also figure in.) Right now, I am looking at trying to attend a workshop/class with the nuns at Beech Grove Indiana, led by Sr. Meg Funk. So as you can see, “gender” concerns are certainly not a factor there for me.

    You asked, I answered. :)

    Bless you my oblate sister, I continue to enjoy your musings here at Sacred Art of Living.

  8. Your excellent question reminds me of this from an email that I sent to revgals “ask the matriarch” column – it hasnt been answered there, but maybe your readers will have some wisdom:

    As you know, in the Olden Days, only men held ordained positions in Protestant churches, but women had many roles that were clearly defined and, in their own way, powerful – as musicians, teachers, pastor’s wives and (in our church at least) members of the fondly-remembered-but-now-defunct Women’s Fellowship. The women of our church also got together to help each other with the children, to raise money for various good causes, to pray together and to drink tea while eating lovely sandwiches.

    Now, a shift of power has taken place. We have two women pastors, and the men of the church are struggling to find their role. A few men tried to start a men’s group, but it fizzled before it really began. We’ve encouraged them to attend a regional men’s retreat, but they are not interested. A few men of the church get together informally to play cards or golf almost every week, so they are building good friendships, but there’s a level of spiritual education that does not seem to be happening.

    All this is a long intro to: As women pastors, how do we foster/encourage spiritual growth and group-building and service among the men of the church, when there is no formal organization for doing so?

  9. Balance is very important. In my woodblock organization I’d say the membership is probably about 50/50 men/women, but in my calligrapher’s guild its less than 10% men.

    In the leadership/spiritual groups I’m in its a good blend of 50/50. It would be interesting to know what other universities are experiencing. Perhaps certain colleges draw more of one gender than the other?

    My ‘uneducated’ insight would be that there are more women involved in spiritual leadership than before, but not more in percentage then men?

  10. Well, you could probably predict my guess on this one. My guess is that we’ve so often knocked men out of spiritual life in all but the more orthodox circles because we’ve lost our focus on thier actual literal Headship. Lots of spokes off of that, but I feel that’s the hub…