Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free — Thich Nhat Hanh, Heart of the Buddha's Teachings
My life since the beginning of August has revolved around illness in one form or another: with being unable to control my stomach and my gut, with having a lot of heart pain, and with incessant headaches. As I shared with a close friend, it would seem I got sick in all three of the body's major centers. Every time I thought of writing, my heart fell: I simply didn't have it in me.
Feeling unable to put my life into words on a screen doesn't mean I haven't had words, or that I have had things to write about. The truth is that the thing that's felt most pressing, the thing closing in around me like some kind of horror movie trap room, has been conviction... sin... anger.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:26-32 NRSV
Did I mention that I've recently started reading my Bible again?!?! Yeah, maybe that was a mistake, or not. I can tell you that it's been hard to sit down in front of a book that doesn't always make sense to me and have it tell me something I really don't want to hear. Apparently, this is how the Spirit likes to work sometimes.
As I have been reading for my UCC polity class, some grief surrounding my Baptist upbringing and my Methodist training has surfaced. I've felt angry that I had to leave in order to be my most authentic self, angry at everything I had to give up, angry at the number of people who stood by and let me and other queer people be silenced and shoved out. I know anger isn't all bad. Hell, some of my favorite stories about Jesus are about him getting utterly pissed off at the people around him. Somehow, we forget that "You brood of vipers" is more accurately translated as "You fucking idiots."
Then there's a different kind of anger — the kind that surfaces in response to feeling hurt, the kind that wants to hurt back, and badly. I don't mean with superficial cuts. I mean with utter obliteration. The kind that wants to destroy another person's worth and value simply because you can. What has been troubling for me is just how often this kind of anger shows up in my thoughts and in my imagination, and how I've felt God challenging me to "get curious."
I want to say somewhere: I've tried to be forgiving. And yet. There were times in my life, whole years, when anger got the better of me. Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in. ― Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
I got really angry yesterday over something about which I won't go into detail. What's important is how the anger showed up: fast and hot, but internal and unspoken. It wasn't something I wanted to speak out loud - that wouldn't do it justice. I wanted to let this film reel play out in my head of just how savagely I wanted to hurt this other person, tearing them down, silencing them when they tried to respond, my face contorted and ugly, my heart closed off to any possibility of understanding or reconciliation. I wanted them to feel the kind of shame that pummels us into the ground, bloodied and beaten.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. James 1:19-20 NRSV
I realize that speaking this out loud might feel dangerous. It does. Most of us don't talk about our faults and our flaws. We're enculturated to keep these kinds of conversations private, behind closed doors. For me, that just makes the storm rage all the harder (cue the title of this post).
Growing up in the era of contemporary Christian music that was filled with tenor and baritone voices of guys with slightly shaggy hair, cookie cutter music videos with heartfelt scenes of people changing, I of course heard (and admittedly loved) this song from Scott Krippayne...
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child
That's not how it works in real life. I know this isn't the kind of storm that Scott was singing about, most likely. I believe and have been assured of times in life when indeed God does swoop in to bring the tumult to a roaring halt. However, this kind of storm, the one raging inside me, the one that seems to be a direct consequence of my very broken nature, is one that I am called to take responsibility for and to work to calm.
I write this today, first, because I know I'm not alone in this struggle. With the current state of the American political climate, anger and fear run rampant like toddlers whose parents have skipped town. But my current reality is this: I don't want to be controlled by this kind of anger, and I don't have to be. Rather than waiting for Jesus to wake up from his mid-hurricane nap to do something, I can step up to the bow of the boat and speak "peace" to the waters.
I have to believe that my decision to open up my Bible, to pursue ordination, to step back into a world of faith, and the resulting awareness of my own brokenness and call to do something new with how I am in the world are not simply chance happenings. Nor is my desire to write about it, hoping and trusting that someone else out there is on the same road.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid John 14:27 NRSV
photo credit: Richard Fraser (via Flickr)