My son Micah and I were exploring our property and the land around it and discovered a cistern fed by a natural spring. We opened it up and inside it was full of dark and deep water. As I stared into water, I was reminded how I have been meditating on the fable of Iron John by the Brothers Grimm, particularly the portion about discovering the wildman at the bottom of the pool.
Here’s that portion:
“The huntsman therefore set forth with his dog into the woods. It was not long before the dog picked up a scent and wanted to follow it, but the dog had run only a few steps when it came to a deep pool, and could go no further. Then a naked arm reached out of the water, seized the dog, and pulled it under. When the huntsman saw that, he went back and got three men. They returned with buckets and baled out the water. When they could see to the bottom, there was a wild man lying there. His body was brown like rusty iron, and his hair hung over his face down to his knees.”
Here we were standing in the forest, gazing into the unknown depths of pool, I half expected a hand to reach out of it!
Men need to go to the pool, they must find the ‘wildman’…but they cannot do it alone.
Men of any age, need other men to help them discover the truth about themselves, life and God. In a perfect world, that would be a process that would involve a father, but in our day, that reality is often a fractured one for sons and fathers. But that doesn’t mean we are without help or hope in seeing men move to a healthy maturity. Mentors have always been at the center of soul development. Men shaping men, walking together, engaging, equipping, encouraging and empowering one another to face life, our inner lives and those around us with love, wisdom, courage and competency.
Richard Rohr, highlights this reality in his book: ‘From Wild Man to Wise Man Reflections on Male Spirituality’:
“Interestingly enough, our word “mentor” comes from Greek mythology. Mentor was the wise and trusted counselor of Odysseus. When Odysseus went on his long journey, he put Mentor in charge of the son, Telemachus, as his teacher and the guardian of his soul. This illustrates that one’s biological father is seldom the initiator of the son, it is always another special man who must guide the boy into manhood, from wildness to wisdom. (perhaps much of our problem today is that we have so few “godfathers” and that we expect from our biological fathers far too much.)”
In the Bible there’s a profound prophecy about a time when men and sons hearts would turn towards each other.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Think about that word for a moment. When you look around do you see “turning or curse”? When you think of the men around you, do you see that burden of the Lord compelling men to engage with one another from the heart? Do you hear the Spirit turning hearts of men towards one another, especially along generational lines? Do you as a son, long for the fathers to stand up? Do you as a Father feel the burden of the Lord for the sons?
Jesus connected this prophecy primarily to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11-15
“I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
John was a wildman, a prophet who Jesus described this way:
“What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet.” (Matt. 11:7-9)
What kind of man?
That’s a penetrating question isn’t it? What kind of man are you? Are men drawn to you? Do you have something to give that is worth leaving all the duties, demands and distractions of day to day life and seek you out? Are you confident enough about the anointing and call of God on your life to make it more difficult to be found or are you running around begging people to make time for you? When there’s something of worth, people with seek it out, men will dig to the depths of the earth to find gold! Even John’s appearance and manners seems designed to sift out the people that were serious about seeking radical change and those who were just looking for an positive word, at just the right time of day, in a comfortable seat, with uplifting music to accompany!
Those who want to find the wildman have to ‘empty the pond with buckets’ as the fable describes. You need a small company of men to face the wildman, go alone and you’ll most likely encounter loss, come, linked with men of purpose and competency and you might capture what you are after. Too many try to discover who they are alone and wonder why such actualization alludes them. Men need men and men need other men to help them drain the lake.
Matthew adds a few other peculiar descriptives of John to the list (Matt 3:1-12):
-he lived in the wilds,
-was a prophet and oracle giver,
-wore animal skins and belt,
-ate bugs and honey,
-he didn’t do house calls, you had to find him in the wilderness,
-called on people to confess sins,
-plunged them under water in a river as a sign,
-was often confrontational,
-prophesied of coming figure who would baptize with fire.
He was the embodiment of the archetypal wildman and Jesus had to be baptized by him. The wild man baptized…Jesus and something mighty broke loose in the heavens as they opened up and something like a dove descended on Jesus.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17).
Like the dove after the flood signaled a new era, after the “decree of utter destruction”, so this powerful moment was pregnant with a message that everything was about to get crazy! And it did, Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit for a confrontation with the dragon of old and when He had defeated his lies, he began his ministry echoing the same message of the wildman: “Repent!”.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil…from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:1&17).
Men shape men and when life touches life, men transfer a message to each other. It’s truth that is both word and spirit. Being together isn’t just a process of accumulating knowledge, it’s also absorbing the very essence of manhood. We learn ‘way, truth and life’ by being with one another.
Nathan Miller writes about impact of Theodore Roosevelt’s father in ‘Theodore Roosevelt: A Life’:
“No one had a greater influence upon [Theodore Roosevelt’s] namesake. By example and instruction, he imbued Theodore, Jr., with a strong sense of moral values and remained an almost palpable presence at his side long after his death at the age of forty-six.”
“An almost palpable presence” is the language of fatherhood…discipleship, transformation, mentoring and pastoring. It’s the power of influence over position. Men are drawn to those who touch their minds and hearts, mere titles don’t promise transformative relationship.
“The Wild Man’s job is to teach the young man how abundant, various, and many-sided his manhood is. The boy’s body inherits physical abilities developed by long-dead ancestors, and his mind inherits spiritual and soul powers developed centuries ago.”– Robert Bly, Iron John
Being a ‘wildman’ isn’t about sports, hunting, cars or trucks. It’s not about guns, MMA or eating meat. It’s not about position or prosperity or good looks. It’s not about how many women you can conquer, how long you’ve been married or how much booze you can drink. It’s not about the number of degrees on your office wall or being a ‘maker’, having tattoos, growing beards or if you play in a band. It’s not based on your family, your IQ, your pristine character or how how old you are.
Influence isn’t based on those things, a true wildman has had something happen in his soul that is God-breathed. He bears a message and a mandate. He cultivates sacred fire in his belly. He is set apart but not anti-social. He is not a hermit but a hemorrhage between worlds. He is a branding iron of truth and he smolders waiting for the fresh steel of souls willing to be plunged into the furnace of his life. His root of power is spiritual, God given and determined and the fruit that grows out of that can be as diverse as the shelves at the supermarket. Don’t look at other wildmen, look to your Creator and ask Him to set you aflame!
This generation needs more wildmen to stay the curse. Embrace the Malachi call of God in this hour for the sake of your own soul and the lives of the young men and families that you know.