As we all know, comic book movies are very popular. Some of the best moments in comic books movies are when heroes have an existential crisis or an experience of defeat. They have self-doubt and feel wounded. They then retreat away from civilization and people. Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has his cave. Those places are supposed to be reprieves from the pressures of the world and spaces of reflection and healing. Essentially, they go there to get away and recharge. Men like super heroes. It is not a surprise that men have followed their lead. For example, ‘man caves’ are popular sanctuaries or retreats within the home for men to get away from it all.
Let’s go back 2,000 years, way before super heroes or home improvement trends. Jesus was the first example for us when it comes to needing and prioritizing solitude. We all know Jesus as a man of the people. He had twelve apostles around him all of the time. He embraced crowds. He preached to thousands. Several stories in the Bible describe Him surrounded by people and in relationship with others. Yet, it’s important to remember two short scripture passages:
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23)
Both scripture passages and the image above highlight that Jesus needed to get away from the crowds. He had his own man cave – the mountain. It was a place of solitude, retreat, and reflection. Yes, even Jesus needed a break from people and that need was “often.” Yet, Jesus was not totally alone when He withdrew. As both scripture passages clearly indicate—Jesus prayed. Prayer is considered a lifting of one’s heart to God; the way to communicate with God; a spiritual conversation that fosters relationship with God.
In Religion, Spirituality, and Masculinity (Rutledge, 2019), we see two competing realities. On one hand, men disproportionally make up the growing number of atheists or nones in the United States. On the other hand, prayer and a relationship with God are two key spiritual factors that enhance men’s health. Putting several strands of research together, we see that men can become so self-reliant, independent, and cognitively driven, that they talk themselves out of belief in the Sacred. As a result, men deprive themselves of a relationship with God and the associated health benefits.
Back to super heroes. Ironically, when super heroes seek solitude, they find people who can help them during their crisis. Superman’s father was present in the Fortress of Solitude. Alfred always offered Batman guidance in the bat cave. And Jesus, when He retreated to the mountain, was in the presence of God the Father and the Holy Spirit in His prayer. One can conclude that Jesus retreated to the mountain often because it was helpful to do so. During our time of solitude, it would benefit us men to ask ourselves: ‘who’s here with me?’ Chances are, there are others here with us—friends, family members, colleagues. And, as a spiritual director routinely used to remind me, God is here.