In this essay, I will be sharing a few pastoral and psychoanalytic perspectives on the idea of manhood. As I focus on different events from the life of the prophet Moses, I will explore ideas that can inspire us to reconnect with some of the archetypes of the masculine energy that seems to be long-forgotten.
Descent or katabasis is a journey downwards. You may need to descend into hardship, frustration, or even hell, to become a hero. Moses was a prince in Pharaoh’s palace who witnessed injustice done to his kinsfolk by an Egyptian. Moses killed the Egyptian and fled to the Land of Midian. Moses became a fugitive, and in the midst of his katabasis, he encountered God in the burning bush. Moses might have never experienced God if he had stayed in Pharaoh’s palace.
We live in a culture that rejects and denies suffering because we are afraid. We prolong the process of embracing adulthood. We start a college program and then change the major and delay graduation. We replace our childish toys with more expensive video games and cars. We do the utmost to prevent us from our katabasis. But when we look at heroes and role models from the past, we see that embracing pain and accepting descent is the beginning of our growth. For some, washing dishes in a dirty restaurant kitchen or flipping burgers at some low-paying job could be the beginning of that descent. Beyond the financial income, the instances mentioned above can trigger the process of individuation and maturity. The humility experienced gives a whole new outlook on life and paves the way to seek God.
Descent and pain are transformative. It transformed Moses from being an arrogant prince into a prophet and a hero. It is through the suffering of Jesus that salvation was given to humankind. Your descent and suffering have a purpose. If you are a mature man, reflect on your katabasis and see how it transformed you. If you are a young adult, do not run away from this critical step in the rite of your initiation into manhood. Embrace your descent and cherish your katabasis.
Chaos to Order
Moses became the leader who freed his people from slavery and led them to the promised land. What a monumental task for any leader! The Jews living in Egypt for 400 years were established; they had a common everyday life with a daily routine. Leaving everything behind and heading to the desert meant creating chaos. Moses, a prudent leader, developed a sense of chaos – a revolution – where Jews were no longer afraid of Egyptian tyranny. Creating chaos is part of a change in life. However, we cannot live in chaos for long. We need order. Moses gave that sense of order to his community in the desert for 40 years. Moses freed his people from the hands of Egyptian tyrants and became their shepherd in the desert.
Balancing chaos and order is essential in any man’s life. Creating chaos is relatively easy but establishing order is not. It’s easy to start a revolution and change an old system, but it requires a whole new and different set of skills to govern a country with impartiality and justice. It’s easier to find a job or start a business, but getting that promotion or sustaining and growing that business requires discipline, ethics and hard work. It’s relatively easy to find the woman of your dreams but staying married involves a lot of intentional work.
Our culture admires heroes. The revolutionary, the start-up businessman and the romantic lover are all admired heroes, and often men hunger for that validation that comes with their initial success. In most fairy tales, the hero is married to the princess after slaying the dragon, and then they live happily ever after. In real life, the “ever after” is just the beginning. Metaphorically speaking, it is a man’s 40 years in the desert where resources are scarce and people rely on him for survival. It is in the maintenance phase when validation is often replaced with criticism. When a man does not know how to deal with this phase, (i.e., not knowing how to govern a country, grow a business or contribute to creating a harmonious marriage) he jumps back into chaos. He makes enemies and tries to defeat them. He starts new initiatives in his work without measuring the long-term outcomes. He buys flowers and expensive gifts to be admired by his wife or even engages in affairs to be admired by other women.
Remember, your destiny as a man is not to remain a hero. The hero phase in your life serves an important function, but it does not encompass everything. Your destiny is to become a mature man who creates order, protects what is sacred, validates people who need encouragement and lives a life of integrity.
As we continue to examine the stories of Exodus, we see that accessing the warrior energy was not a problematic issue for Moses. A few examples are killing the Egyptian abuser, confronting the mighty Pharaoh and rebuking his people when they committed mistakes. The warrior energy, when used in balance, is one of the most critical features of masculinity. Too much warrior energy in a man’s life, and he becomes an abuser, a bully or even a tyrant. The absence of warrior energy and the man becomes a passive mommy’s boy.
Here are two questions that you must ask yourself:
- Have I been fighting all my life?
If you answer yes, then try to see how else you can look at life. Not every issue is solved with rage and excessive emotional responses.
- Do I avoid feeling angry all the time, even when righteous anger is required?
If you answer yes, then try to examine your relationship with anger. Are you trying to avoid being like one of your parents who were angry all the time and made you feel scared? Maybe it is time to reexamine some outdated notions with the help of a professional.
The Family Man
Moses took his wife Zipporah into marriage as a fugitive before encountering God in the burning bush. Zipporah was not Jewish and she was the daughter of a Midian priest. After rising to power and becoming one of the most important prophets in the scripture, Moses remained married to his wife. He did not say, “Hey, maybe it’s time for me to have a new wife and let go of this օտար (foreigner).” Furthermore, Moses listened to his father-in-law’s sound advice and appointed judges in the community to share his burden of the ministry.
Embracing your wife for the way she is, is one of the secrets of a healthy marriage. This is not to say that providing feedback, suggesting different ways of looking at issues to solve problems, are to be ruled out. Those are all the necessary steps to grow and deepen your marital relationship. However, turning a partner into a project is a phenomenon I have witnessed in my pastoral and clinical experiences. Often, people try to make their partners perceive, think and act the way that they do. They try to choke what is unique in their partners. They reject ideas and suggestions that may come from their partner’s side of the family. They do it overtly and sometimes through manipulation and gaslighting. All these are nothing but apparent symptoms of psychological insecurities. What your partner has to offer often enriches your marriage and your life, but you need the psychological strength to learn that accepting her contribution is never a sign of weakness.
Moses emerged to become one of the great prophets and leaders of the monotheistic religions. Yet as he grew in might and fame, he constantly desired to experience God, and God revealed Himself to Moses in the form of sapphire pavement (Exodus 24:10). Moses desired God and God revealed Himself in beauty.
When we look at the lives of emerging leaders and famous people, we often see that they desire everything else but God. The porn industry and the hookup culture thrive on satiating the wild appetites of some men looking for anything exciting to feed their empty souls. People often associate success with the freedom to do anything and everything, yet they confuse liberty with license. Desiring God and establishing a relationship with Him gives a clear sense of purpose and meaning to our life. Subsequently, our focus shifts from the pursuit of paraphilia to noble acts and valuable relationships.
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the time had come for the Israelites to finally cross into the promised land, but God had told Moses that he would not be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. Even more so, Moses would not be going to the Promised Land at all. Instead, Joshua, son of Nun, was going to lead the people.
It’s important to note here that Moses’s successor was Joshua and not one of Moses’s two sons. How many men do you know who drag their children into their line of work for the sake of their legacy, especially if the children are not qualified or not interested in working in that field?
Try to imagine the attachment that Moses had for this mission of entering the Promised Land. Yet God told Moses “No!” and Moses accepted that his part in that mission was over. How many men do you know who confuse their sense of identity with their work, and losing their job means losing their sense of identity? How many of us struggle accepting things that don’t go according to our plans or letting go of things beyond our control?
As men, we often assume leadership roles in different avenues of life. We have to remember that our positions do not define our sense of identity. We must also know when to pass the baton to the next guy and move on with our lives.
A Final Word
Moses might be your most admired prophet in the Bible, or he might be someone you have heard about for the first time. For you, he could be a historical figure or simply a legend and a myth. He might be the hero in “The Ten Commandments” movie or just the theme in Metallica’s “Creeping Death” song. It does not matter how you look at him, but when you seriously examine his life, you see a clear path of being a wholehearted man today.
Arjhanashnorh Der Nareg Avak Yerets
Dear Father Nareg,
Thank you for preparing and for presenting such an important series of lessons drawn out of the prophetic example of Moses. Out of the descent of “katabasis”, your exegesis on Moses emerges “de profundis” and into our hearing and for our learning. Blessings upon your research and for your most commendable ministry in our Holy Church.
We shall commence our annual exploration into the Book of Exodus in conjunction with the Feast of Theophany (Armenian Christmas), and this year, thanks to your insight and clarity, the reading of Exodus in the Christmas season will be all the more pertinent in our lives. Thank you!