Working Papers


December 7, 1971


The Ontological Questions


A mood combining elements of urgency and awe as we approach the questions of male and female roles stems from the painful consciousness that, in our own period, something of the gift of each sex has been lost to history. If we raise the ontological questions, asking what constitutes the uniqueness of the experience of the male and female through their struggle with life, we shall reopen the possibility of claiming for the future the gifts out of the depths of consciousness that each has to give in creating the emerging civilization. This ontological approach assumes that the life struggle one goes through produces an unrepeatable perspective on reality which. when released creatively, enriches the corporate consciousness. The critical issue for us, as we move towards recreating the social montage of images of femininity and masculinity, is to ensure that the depths of consciousness, both from the male and the female perspectives, inform those images, so that men and women in the future may be released to celebrate their specialness within the wide range of human style. The life struggle for both sexes is conditioned by physiological, cultural and experiential factors, at the same time it involves directly relating the self to the mystery, a relationship best pointed to in the images. The interaction of these conditioning factors in the midst of an unconditional stance of the self before God produces the qualities of consciousness, or the modes of perceiving reality, predominant in men and women.


The woman's life struggle is powerfully conditioned by the child-carrying physiology. Culturally she is habituated to images of continuity, formed in ordering, forming and preserving values. Her fundamental experience of herself is as the Other, as participant in the human journey from the unarticulated metaphors of the interior deeps rather than through the mainstream of the literary idiom, which has always used the pronoun "he" to hold the human as well as the masculine experience. She relates herself directly to the mystery out of her deeps and stands as the priestess at the altar, calling upon God for his latest revelation, expecting its inevitable surprise which requires the shattering of past images. The Divine rapes her; and her religious mood is awe.


The feminine mode of perception which results from the woman's life struggle emphasizes the particular. Just as she carries one child at a time and relates to it emotionally as a unique personality long before she experiences its human form, her tendency in responding to events is first in terms of their momentousness, their separate significance, rather than in terms of their sequentialness or their implications for the future. Her vision is predominantly aesthetic, seeing first the beauty or inherent worthiness of objects, and only secondarily their usefulness, relating them to other objects and a task. Her knowing is primarily intuitive, recognizing what is familiar first, that in acknowledging the depths, the meaningfulness of events, persons, objects, rather than their ordinariness or their location in relation to others. For the feminine perception the individual contains and represents the whole: to grasp the universal is to plumb the particular to the bottom.


The man's life struggle is conditioned by his sperm implanting physiology. His cultural habit is that of discontinuity, forged out of the necessity to separate himself from every preceding generation. He experiences himself as the subject of activity in time, not participating in, but initiating history; he is the articulated, the form-giver in creating the consensus of an era's consciousness. He relates to the mystery as co-creator, standing alone, his fist in the fact of God, demanding that the future be new. He assaults the Divine; and his religious mood is audacity.


The masculine mode of perception which springs from the man's struggle stresses the gestalt. Inasmuch as he ejaculates seed to engender children and conceptualizes sons and daughters before he experiences the personhood of a child, he tends to respond to patterns in events rather than to their separate meanings. His vision is rationally abstract, interrelating events and observing their implications, or weighing the usefulness of objects before appreciating inherent meaning or value. His knowing happens through positing models and testing them over against the bombardment of other realities, so that he is always seeking the commonness among disparate entities, manipulating their relationships rather than probing them for revelation. For the masculine perception, the whole bestows existence and meaning upon the individual: to describe the universal is to understand the particular.



Within the pre-mythological intuitions of most of the world's cultures are powerful patterns of images which hold in only partly articulated form the culture's primordial awareness of distinct male and female forces operating in the creative process. These images merit serious attention for, because they are pre-rational, they speak more powerfully and with more complexity what every man knows or can know about sexuality as the creative principle. What illuminates the transestabishment vision in these images is their common trinitarian paradigm; with amazing consistency cosmic forces are personified as male and female, shown in perpetual conflict over against one another, saved from self-serving perversion or cataclysmic destruction only by their mutual engagement in bringing to be the future. The Christian imagery that marriage signifies the mystical union between Christ and his Church is a late formula resting on eons of intuition that the male and female forces receive their meaning in history only when their primary vow is to God; that is, that their interrelating is possible in freedom only when it is on behalf of creating the future out of the movements of the destinal powers, rather than to each other.


The Chinese Yin/Yang symbol is so all-embracing that it celebrates reality itself as paradox. The Chinese identified the Yin/Yang as an emblem of Tao, the way of life itself, wherein all opposing forces in the universe, especially the male and female principles, are held so that their irreconcilable tension is not only acknowledged but embraced as food. The two halves of the Yin/Yang do not resolve into harmony. Rather they participate in another whole new form, different in nature and qualities from either Yin or Yang. It is no accident but a deep grasp of ontology that the Chinese call the outer circle of the symbol "the World Egg".


Imagery of the Sea and the Sun figures in the mythology of origins and frequently portrays feminine and masculine creative modes. The female Sea is swirling chaos, formless and ever-changing, brimming with energy, unpredictable, deep beyond measure. As a malevolent force, it threatens to flood and drown the universe. The Sun follows a predictable course in the heavens, is constant, luminous, piercing, intense. In its destructive potency, it threatens to burn and consume. Not coincidence but intuition of the human deeps leads to the primordial images of the final destruction in the form of fire and flood. Yet myths of origin rely upon the creative harnessing of the powers of the Sea and the Sun as the source of life itself. Indeed, in our contemporary explanation of life on earth, the first living matter was created in the interaction of sea water and sunlight upon inert matter.


A great number of mythological fragments relating to the process of social continuity contain images of the Great Mother and the Dying Son. These archetypes underlie the mythological personages of Isis and Osiris, Kali and Vishnu, Orpheus and Eurydice, the recently Mary and Jesus. The stories refer to a process of social generativity, productivity of the means of life, or the reconstitution of the realm. Whether she appears as Earth Mother, Queen or Love Goddess, the female image represents the eternal ongoing rhythm of life and death. The male figures, usually dramatized as Kings, demi-gods, or artisam inventors, follow a cyclical life pattern of death and rebirth or resurrection. They represent the singular risk necessary for creating the new generation, the new crop, the new social order, and they dramatize the necessity of death as the price. In every version, the female counterpart is both that which requires the death of the male and that which calls him again into life. The image represents the domestication of masculine and feminine forces, for the pattern of their relationship yields the fruit of the earth.


Imagery of darkness and light has frequently held the feminine and masculine contributions to human intellect. Pushed back to their ontological bases, they indicate sensory modes that correspond with intuitive and rational approaches to perception. Feminine images are associated with the dark, with unknown powers, with access to the Mystery. Nietzsche's Dionysiac elements in the creative process are predominantly feminine. Masculine images collect around the light, intellectual clarity, the realm of Ideal Forms, and are held in Nietzsche's scheme by the Appolonian side of creativity. Operating together, these masculine and feminine intellectual approaches yield wisdom.



Cultural commonness evolves out of elaborate myths which give form to the style of participation of the male and female creative principles in the sociological dynamic. In the Western heritage, two primary streams of mythology bear these images: the Hebrew and the Greek. These systems of mythology represent a hard won consensus born out of ancient intuitions and selectively hammered out into a kind of cultural canon, giving lasting form to the deepest sensitivities of our race. If we examine two main sources, the Hebrew story of Deborah and the Odyssey of Homer, analysis shows that both masculine and feminine styles of engagement in history include a continuous and discontinuous element; and further reveals that the discontinuous male appears in relationship with the continuous female; while the discontinuous female appears in relation to the continuous male. To diagram this relationship, the wedgeblade is a helpful image, for these myths contain the dynamic of the emergence of the Not Yet out of the No Longer.

In the two myths, the discontinuous one stands in the vision of the Not Yet and calls the continuous one to engagement in serving the emerging new order. The contribution of the discontinuous posture, whether male or female, is an illumination of consciousness. The contribution of the continuous posture is the preservation and rearrangement of the social order so that it may incorporate the new vision and give it form. Between these two dynamics is the total expenditure of life, or the election to the cross. Both postures participate in this.


In the Odyssey, the masculine principle is the Restless Voyager, the discontinuous element, creating the new within the sociological dynamic. Odysseus, as the Audacious Explorer, journeys for twenty years. venturing on every shore, whether friendly or hostile. As the Visionary Schemer, he plots his way out of every entrapment that threatens to lure him from his destination. As the Prophetic Forerunner, he ventures into undiscovered territory, charting out new lands. Finally, as the Homeless Wanderer, he represents a style of detachment as he obeys the prophecy and abandons his homeland.


The discontinuous style of the Restless Voyager calls forth the continuous style of the Weaver Queen. Penelope remains in Ithaca during the twenty years of Odysseus's travels. As the weaver of the fabric of life, she represents the shaper of fate, the creator of the cultural patterns and social relationships. She stands as her own woman, independent of her husband, yet refusing to accept a dependent role in the home of her father or any of her suitors. She constructs her own schemes, weaving her tapestry during the day, and unweaving it at night, cleverly postponing the day of its completion, when she has agreed to choose a new husband. In her solitude and long-suffering patience, she endures all. As the Sovereign of the kingdom in her husband's absence, she maintains the realm.


In the Hebrew story of Deborah, the discontinuous posture occurs in the feminine form of the Oracular Priestess. Deborah discerns the divine judgment and declares to Barak, the Hebrews' military leader, that the Will of the Lord is for him to lead his mean into battle. She calls Barak to venture in to this particular action and names the appropriate time. Here she parallels the Greek Sybil, or the figure of Cassandra in the Iliad, as the one who articulates the demand or doom of God, the primordial "nun" who serves first the Mystery, but she also embodies the perpetual seductress, luring the male into the next phases of history. Finally, Deborah rides beside Barak into battle as his companion in arms, and creates the song of triumph celebrating their victory.


The Warrior King, the masculine posture of continuity is the sociological dynamic, is visible more or less completely in the figures of Barak, Agamemnon, Oedipus and Theseus. He is the fighter against or on behalf of the gods, the one who stakes his life on being able to bend history. As the Embattled Ruler, he risks his kingdom in one crucial action, and in some myths, emerges as the inevitably defeated "Marked Man". Blind Oedipus at Colonnus best represents this but Jonah, Cain, and Agamemnon are others. This one whom God has broken often appears as the chosen one. A homeless exile, he is nevertheless loved of God, and represents the unavoidable contingency of human participation in history. When he is the victor, as in the Barak story, the Warrior King is the defender of the realm, the one who re-establishes the kingdom.



As we look at the male and female principles from a historical perspective, we are interested in only one thing: how human creativity happens in history. That is held in this trinitarian model:


The male and female principles are opposing, yet complementary, modalities. Out of the creative tension of these principles, life is born and history is created. At every sociological level, from the individual to the community and from the Ur to the globe, it is the interaction and interplay of the male and female principles that births human creativity. Thus the male and female principles can never be reduced to men and women.

From the creative tension of the male and female principles emerges the vitality of history in the invention of new sociological forms and the embodiment of new consciousness. When one principle dominates, the vitality of history is blocked. The dominance of the female principle results in individual withdrawal or social stagnation. The dominance of the male principle issues in the style of the bully or social tyranny. The emergence of the vitality of history is exemplified by the tension between the earliest matriarchal societies and the forces of the patriarchy giving birth to civilization. Likewise the embodiment of the female principle in Judaic culture, held in tension by the early church with the masculine principle represented in Hellenic civilization, gave birth to the social vehicle of Christendom. The dominance of the female principle may be illustrated by the political stagnation of the medieval period; while the dominance of the male principles is demonstrated in the economic tyranny of the Industrial Revolution.


In our time, the collapse of male and female roles has raised anew the question of the male and female principles. The "provider" role of the man has collapsed with the end of the equating of vocation with achievement. The attempt to escape or withstand the collapse in hobbies, sports, or sexual adventurism leads man only to the awareness that finally no thing is worth his time. The woman, in attempting to assume the provider role, has followed man into an arena already void of meaning. She reacts either in housewifery or women's liberation protest. But finally she sees that no one role gives her significance, and both men and women are clear that the question is no longer one of roles. The total collapse of the attempt to hold the uniqueness of the male and female in specific roles has exposed the depth ontological struggle. Men and women are in a vocational gap, pushing the question of roles to the bottom in terms of authentic style.


Men and women have on their hands only one question: How does my being create the future; how will I turn my life into creative expenditure? In terms of the female principle, the question may be phrased relative to how I use my seductiveness to call forth new life or of how I stand present to the voice of God in history. Pulled through the male principle, the question emerges as: How will I thrust my inventiveness into history on behalf of all, or how will I dare to create the new face of God.


The ontological struggle of the male and female principles has entered a new phase in our day. The man is raising for the first time the self-conscious question of the male principle. Throughout history, man has assumed that to talk about humanness was to talk about maleness. The female revolution has made conscious that the human is both male and female, and he is newly engaged in forging out his own separate consciousness. In the new context of the man's struggle. the woman is released to re-appropriate her own uniqueness, to see it as a gift to history rather than a social limitation. She is re-engaged in the ontological struggle. For the first time in history, authentic partnership of man and woman is possible. The male gift to the female in the midst of this is to call her out of herself, to push her from focusing on the personal to engaging in the sociological. The female gift to the male, from her history-long struggle with female ontology, is to call the man to join in recreating the deeps.


Men and women together must create the new myths of male and female that will speak to the collapse of the male and female roles in our time, and will hold the new state of the ontological struggle. Only thus will the authentic creativity of both male and female be released to build the new earth.

What myths would hold for us today the male and female as the primordial images and classical myths did? Whatever myths are created

1) They must hold the archaic, for only spinning on the primordial images and myths pushes to the futuric and prevents the reduction of male/female ontology to the assignment of specific role-tasks;

2) They must be evocative holding power for each sex, calling forth rather than prescribing, enabling offering;

3) They must be collegial, embodying the partnership of the male and female in missional engagement, pointing to the corporate creation of the future.