Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Male Waters Run Deep

Male Waters Run Deep
We have defective mythologies that ignore masculine depth of emotion...
Robert Bly - Iron John

"Still Waters Run Deep!" I often use this phrase when speaking of men.  I often hear others say this phrase when speaking of men.  But often I use this pharse for a purpose other people's intended affect.

And yes I do mean affect.
We both mean the man looks like nothing's going on, but I mean that if you go in, deep down, a lot is going on.

Most often I hear "still waters run deep" said to imply quiet people have the deepest character. Generally it is employed defensively to evoke sympathy for a family member or friend or to deflect attention from their deficits, negative manners or anti-social behavior. Now it may be true that quiet people often have the deepest character, but a majority of the time that character is deeply broken or mired in the sewage of base and immoral values.

Though now commonly used to assert that a placid exterior hides a passionate or subtle nature, historically the more negative reality prevails. As the following fable demonstrates, formerly “still waters run deep” carried a warning that silent people are dangerous.

A farmer was about to cross a rushing stream which by chance had swollen with rains, and he sought a ford. First, he tried that part of the stream which seemed quieter and more peaceful, and he found it to be deeper than he had thought. Then he found that place was shallower and safer where the stream flowed by with a greater burbling of the waters. Then he said to himself, "How much more safely can we entrust our life to the roaring waters rather than to the quiet and noiseless waters." We are warned by this fable that there is more danger in the reserved and silent person than in a noisy, babbling enemy.

This warning reflects the nature of a deep quiet river. Contrasting a quiet river with a small brook helps clarify the meaning.  A small brook often sounds and looks noisy and bubbly and shallow. The noise and the roughness are in proportion to the size, frequency and shape of the rocks and debris in the water. The quieter and smoother the brook, the smoother the bottom of the stream.

Now look at the Yellowstone River. The places where the surface remains placid often hide the most danger. 
A string of railroad box cars once fell into one such stretch of the river. The current under that placid top was so strong it carried them immediately down and out of site. In fact a search for them revealed that the bottom could not be reached. Between the depth of the water and the violent undercurrents not a trace of the string of box cars has ever been found.

When the saying was first made, "Still Waters Run Deep" was used literally. It meant smooth waters are deep because the rocks aren't near the surface to disturb the water's surface. The saying referred to large or channeled rivers that can be quiet and slow moving on the surface but move very fast deep in the bottom of the river. People who are quiet but always thinking are said to be this way.

And that is the way I use the saying - to refer to the turmoil buried beneath the stolid surface that many misinterpret, even teach, as the mark of a calm and deep character.

This male mythology - the quiet stoic man as controlled, strong, and thus whole - could not be more wrong.

Men are swift streams of strong, sometimes violent emotions. Emotions that have been stuffed away, even from themselves, and which can erupt in a violent spray of white-water when they run into immovable barriers. Emotional currents carry along huge boulders, old damaged box cars, where no one can see, that no one suspects.

The strength of the male emotions scours cracks of brokenness, the gouges and cuts of life, turning them into deep chasms, raw etched canyons, and bottomless whirlpools hidden from view by the quiet, placid skim on the surface.

To be whole those emotions need to be acknowledged. The broken places and whirlpools need to be broadened and healed so that the churning and cutting can stop. The strength expended in the hidden depths needs to be carried to the surface and channeled into the uses God planned for it in advance.

For saving and restoring of  the image of God in each man, Jesus came and poured out his life.

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