Field Notes

Ray's Wild Heart

Ray's Wild Heart
Posted February 26, 2019


                A few years ago, I made a recruiting presentation for an upcoming expedition to a parish men’s group, following their typical Saturday morning men’s meeting.  The priest from the parish was going to be the expedition chaplain and wanted as many men from his parish that he could get. He saw it as an opportunity to create a well bonded band of brothers in his parish. It was a good sized group 60 or more men. I gave my typical short but powerful presentation which included a two minute high mountain video, and details and maps of the expedition. I invited the men to ask questions and sign up; crickets. Following the meeting only two men ventured forward. One of them who approached from the rear of the room locked in my gaze. I have seen that look before. It meant that we were either going to rumble or become great friends. Praise be to God it was the latter and not the former. I knew Ray was in, even before he offered his vice like, rock climbing grip. The other man was just curious and started offering a litany of excuses for why he couldn’t attend.  

                This may be a good time to reflect on why so many men are so luke warm. Of course, by now, we know that the primary answer to that is found at the intersection of the teleos of the male body and its corruption in the environment of destructive abundance. This seems to be the common frustration of the men who are trying to form active parish men’s groups. I see it from one end of the country to the other, diocese to diocese, parish to parish. And for the men’s groups that seem to be successful in numbers there is still a core problem of committing to anything that seems difficult or inconvenient. One of my personal frustrations is found in the phrase “you have to meet men where they are at”, which has some wisdom to it, but more than not, the men you go to meet have no intention of traveling beyond that point unless they are compelled to do so. And here is the real rub; the men in this parish, especially the leaders of the men’s group, could not muster the will and the grit to meet their priest where he was, where he wanted to go; into this high mountain adventure into brotherhood and God. One man from that parish showed up and the Spirit was with him.

                We ended up with a diverse group of men from a wide geographic area; North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California. We had a priest, school teacher, investment counselor, accountant, chemist, plumber, auto mechanic, FBI agent, concrete pump operator, and corporate internet security specialist. We had  BA’s, BS’s, PHD’s and MBA’s. We had read and discussed Wild at Heart on several expeditions but never The Way of the Wild Heart and at the urging of the Holy Spirit that was the book we chose to read. It spoke to every man there. It’s as if Eldredge had written it just for them, just for us. Except for three men, all of them had experienced some sort of psychological violence at the hands of their fathers that had disrupted and brought chaos to their journey to manhood. For those fortunate three, they clearly saw how the destruction of fatherhood and the family at the hands of secular culture was at the center of these experiences. Each man grew and started to heal.

                The journey into basecamp was 10 rugged miles from 7,000’ to 9,000’. After setting up camp Ray and I started building the latrine with pick mattocks and shovels. Building a latrine has become somewhat of a work of art and point of pride for many of our men. They want their brothers to enjoy that time of peace, quiet and relief. Placed alongside a large log for seat support, they are at least 10’ long and up to 3’ deep. Roots and rocks block the way making the digging difficult. As we took turns digging and shoveling during our two hour project, we started talking about who we were, where we had come from, and the experiences that had formed us. I told Ray stories about growing up with a father who was initially a drunk alcoholic but then became sober, and eventually a good mentor, teacher, and hero. He told me about his father, who like Eldredge’s, disappeared from his life when he needed him the most, when he was a boy and a cowboy. As Ray told the story of his father, his anger increased, he swung the pick mattock with a vengeance. The memory and the pain of his father’s abandonment was pulsing through his blood, muscles and bone. He slammed the pick into and under a huge rock and with tears welling up in his eyes he gave it a mighty heave that broke the handle. All I could say was “It’s time to give it up Ray, to forgive and move on.” He sighed and I could see the anger flow out of him. It was like the pick was a lightning rod that grounded it out of his body into the God’s green earth. “I’ll go get another pick.” He said. Each night in that wilderness, men took turns reading, and explaining themselves and The Way of the Wild Heart to one another. They began to forgive, heal, and move on.

           When Ray returned home he contacted his father and drove to Tennessee and met with him. As he explained how his abandonment affected and wounded him, his father placed his head in his hands “I didn’t realize what I had done and the effect that it had on you and your sisters. I am sorry. Will you accept my apology?” These words from Ray’s father might not have healed all the wounds but they started the healing process. Ray’s father is in his upper 70’s now. He has met his grandchildren and every time Ray goes to Tennessee he visits his father.