A special call to men:
take this risk: you'll not regret it
Ghost Ranch is deep in the New Mexico desert. I live in suburban Dublin. There's a connection: an experience I had at Ghost Ranch in 2002 was a very special life event for me, and for the group of men who gathered there from all around the world. It was something deep, something unforgettable and transformative.
Ghost Ranch is the place in the New Mexico desert where the Men's Rites of Passage (MROP) was offered that year. Now, it happens all over the world: and now, my dream, and that of the other men who have accompanied me on this journey is being realised: this coming June, we are bringing the MROP to Ireland.
At an 'ordinary' men's retreat that I attended, the extraordinary Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr OFM referred to these 'Rites of Passage' as having a very profound effect on men. The idea seemed strange, unfamiliar, but what he said touched a chord: I was so curious that I applied to go. I remember feeling both excited and anxious when I received my notice of acceptance. I knew deep down that this was not just another retreat. It was going to be challenging and difficult. I swallowed my fear and set off on my quest to Albuquerque New Mexico.
The men who came to Ghost Ranch ranged in age from 19 years to over 80 and came from all walks of life: people of firm faith, people with none, people angry with God and/or the Church; travelling together on a common journey. Everyone came simply as a man without persona or status: as I came to learn, a group of simply wonderful men with hurts and weaknesses. We travelled through magnificent cowboy country, the land of the Pueblo and Navaho Indians until we finally arrived at Ghost Ranch deep in the heart of the desert. The accommodation was basic, bunk beds and a wash hand basin. The view was awesome. You could see for miles: you felt small in the vastness of the landscape. The first session made it crystal clear that this was serious, there was no turning back. Both scary and exciting at the same time.
As the days went by in talking and listening, participating and reflecting, gradually various insights began to click into place. Of course, the experience is different for different people: strange as it may sound, my own was the realisation that at my deepest level 'I was good'. I was content to be me, no wish list. I got a really deep appreciation of my wife and how privileged I was to be her husband. I felt a great sorrow at how men in general haven't lived up to the grandeur of themselves as men, and at the disgrace of not treating others, particularly women, as they should be treated. Somehow, I noticed that along the way I felt my heart develop a deeper compassion. Other men reported a similar, substantial growth in their awareness and sensitivity towards others.
I found in the silence of the desert the God of creation, the God who loves me as the man that I am, not perfect by any means, but loved none the less. I found that even though I am well into the second half of life, I still have the capacity to produce fruits, fruits in abundance. All the men in my group had similar experiences. Strong bonds were forged between us.
I will be forever grateful for those five very special days at Ghost Ranch. Sometime after I had returned home I told my wife something about the experience and what it was like. She was uncharacteristically silent and allowed me to talk. Then she told me that she had waited 40 years to hear what I said: and that it was well worth the wait.
The MROP was the most profound experience I have ever had, in all my life. It left me with a stronger, healthier understanding of my masculinity and manhood. This programme, first devised by Richard Rohr in the early 90's, is of immense value to men today: it offers a clearer understanding of the wonder of your own masculine identity, of your mission in life to unify, nurture, affirm, and set boundaries; somehow, it makes courage, energy, focus, wisdom, passion and compassion all more possible, closer.
I'm not trying to tell you that your experience will be the same as mine: far from it. But I am trying to say that from my experience and that of all the men I met there, we came away with a clearer, more grounded view of what it means to walk the planet.
Let me assure you that at the MROP, no-one will set out to alter your opinions or sign you up to a new 'religious' code: there is no 'preaching' at the MROP.
Men will attend the forthcoming MROP from right across the British Isles. Friendships will be formed that will sustain many of us for years to come. This is your chance to experience the MROP for yourself. To my fellow men, all I can say is: don't miss it this chance... you won't regret it: I promise that it's worth the risk! To my fellow women, all I can say is: please encourage your men folk to attend, to take the risk in attending the MROP. You will be doing them, and yourselves, an immense favour.