Warning: This is balderdash. It’s a tangent, but I’m leaving it up as an example of the rabbit trails scholars go down sometimes. Here’s what I learned from it: Masculinity Revisited
I’m finally back to writing a bit. I’ve been reading (sometimes listening) to Le Morte d’Arthur (again, Derek Jacobi is the best), Norse Mythology (Okay, so it wasn’t any of the ones Lewis read; it was by Neil Gaiman. But it was lovely and I definitely got glimpses of the beauty that captured Jack’s imagination as a boy.), and started in on The Divine Comedy and The Allegory of Love. I downloaded The Fairie Queen, too, but I think I have enough going, for now! Ha!
I want to come back to something I tried to write about a couple weeks ago, but wasn’t really satisfied with what I said, so I unposted it shortly after posting. I’ve been thinking about it since, well, shortly after I wrote the post about the masculine and feminine postures, and I want to get my ideas down on “paper.”
It’s just this. Why did Lewis, when describing Malacandra (the eldil) on Perelandra (the planet), say he was holding “something like a spear?” Why not just say it was a spear? I also wasn’t very satisfied with the idea of sacrificial protectiveness being the only primary masculine trait – especially when the feminine posture is so rich with meaning. So I was thinking about what a better image or posture to describe masculinity would be, and I thought of a shepherd. Jesus is the Great Shepherd; David and Solomon were described, literally for one and figuratively for the other, as shepherds. Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep; church elders are instructed to shepherd God’s flock. Even the language in the instructions Paul gives husbands in Ephesians is reminiscent of a shepherd – washing, presenting without spot or wrinkle – as a man would present his sheep at the temple.
Now, putting myself in Lewis’s shoes, he couldn’t exactly describe Malacandra as holding a shepherd’s crook. It’s simply ludicrous to think of Mars, as Mars, holding a shepherd’s staff! But a shepherd’s staff – seen from afar or through a mist or with the outlines blurred because he’s speeding through space to keep up with a planet – could look rather like a spear. So that Mars, as Mars, could be thought of as holding a spear, and yet as a representative of true masculinity could be imagined as holding a shepherd’s staff. So that it becomes “something like a spear.“ Maybe?
Now, what implications would this have for masculinity? A shepherd’s staff is used for defense – to defend the sheep from attack. So it fits with that aspect of what I’ve already mentioned. But it is used for so much more. It can be used to keep a sheep from hurting itself – preventing it from falling off a cliff, or rescuing it if it does fall. It can be used in teaching or disciplining the sheep. It is used to guide the sheep, showing it the right direction to go for food or water.
So if we look at true masculinity as embodied by the posture of a shepherd, it would include providing for those under his care, directing them, keeping them healthy, teaching them, protecting them, caring for them tenderly. Hm. I may need to read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 again . . .
It’s a lovely picture. But. The problem with this view is, well, sheep. They usually belong to the shepherd – or the shepherd’s family. They’re foolish. They’re dirty. Nobody wants to be compared to a sheep! And perhaps this is one reason Lewis left the picture here vague. Like all pictures, there’s a limit to how far you can take it and have it work. And given the picture Lewis gives of women in many places in his writing, I’m sure he wasn’t saying women were inferior to men. And I don’t think the shepherd picture of men applies only to how they are to treat women. I think the most helpful view is that it’s how they are to treat everyone. And I think that’s as far as we should take the posture – it’s not talking about the sheep, really, at all. It’s talking about the man’s posture toward others. True masculinity has a shepherd’s posture toward others.
My favorite part of The Problem of Pain is when Lewis looks at the difference between what he calls “affection” and what he calls “charity.” He digs into the same ideas elsewhere, but I really enjoyed the way he put it in that context. Affection, to Lewis, is the lesser love – it’s the love that wants to see the beloved “happy,” on the surface level. It’s the love that gives the child whatever they want, to keep them “happy.” Charity, by contrast, is the love that is willing to see the beloved suffer pain in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. A love that makes sure the beloved has what they need – but not always what they want. The love that is willing to discipline or allow the beloved to suffer the consequences of choices so that he or she learns to be a better person; to achieve a higher level of happiness; to become the best person they can be.
And I think that idea sums up the role of a shepherd. And I think, for Lewis, true masculinity reflects God by having that kind of love for all those God puts in its path. The truly masculine man guides, teaches, provides, protects, and in general tries to help every person become the best they can be. As for the discipline aspect, I would say it only applies to those in certain relationships – such as a father disciplining his children, a teacher disciplining a student, even a group of church elders disciplining a wayward member (Matt. 18, I Cor. 5 I know it’s not popular, but there it is.).
So, when I get around to digging back into the novels and seeing how Lewis’s characters embody masculinity, I’ll be keeping more in mind than just protectiveness. I’m now really curious to see if the connection plays out.
Update: I was wrong!! This was a total tangent, which I realized in the process of re-reading the novels. But it was a productive tangent. You can learn about what I learned at Masculinity Revisited
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