("The Great Day of His Wrath," 1853, by John Martin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
--by Alden Solovy
G-d of the inner journey,
Source of strength,
I’ve been assaulted by an unseen foe
And comforted by a steadfast friend,
Cut down in the name of love,
Lost in confusion and dismay,
Blinded by a wave of rage
And soothed by gentle breathing.
I live between moments of desperate anger
And days of boundless joy,
Between a heart of war
And a soul of peace.
Anger is a defense.
Anger is power.
Anger is intensity.
G-d whose gifts challenge my understanding,
Open my eyes to injustice
And let my anger become a source of energy
Channeled toward building and healing.
Let anger be a gateway to tikun olam
So I become a force for holiness and love.
Blessed are You, Source of Wisdom,
Who created anger to illuminate the path to justice.
I was recently musing on my friend Fran's Facebook page about the topic of "anger." It's a topic with which I have struggled mightily. In text message language, "Anger? I haz it." But it has been only recently I have come to realize I've been dealing with it all wrong. I was reminded recently that wrath is one of the seven deadly sins; anger is not. Wrath is misguided anger; anger gone haywire; anger that destroys the good in its path as well as the bad. Being angry for the right things, the right reasons, is okay, and doing the right things to help heal the world because of it is okay.
I have struggled for years--no, make that decades--about my anger. It came out in weird places--like the time I had to go to Anger Management classes because I had too many traffic tickets. It's really only been in the last year or so that I can say, "You know, I had a right to be angry," with a straight face. "I grew up in an alcoholic household. I was denied things that every child should have--like the right to go to bed every night and feel safe. I had to grow up too fast. I'll never have those things back. That's worth being angry about, and it's worth being sad about, and having the right to grieve them." But finally, I heard other people tell me that--and I heard it and took it to heart. Until only recently, no one looked me in the eye and said, "You have a right to be angry about that." For decades all I heard was a bunch of put downs. "Don't be angry--it's not right to be that angry." "I can't deal with YOUR anger." "What the hell is wrong with you? Get over it. Grow up." People mostly met me with guilt and shame to get me to curb it. In all fairness, I probably didn't listen much in the Anger Management classes. I had to do them to keep my driver's license...and really, the whole class was a bunch a people who had been "put" there. No one was there because they wanted to be. So I think we all just sat quietly and seethed and bided our time till we could say we "did" it.
I had been dealing with my ability to become angry as if it were a character defect, a sin, something to be blotted out. But when I tried to suppress it or push it away, it just got worse. Even more difficult was I began to realize that there were some people in my life who were using me by manipulating my anger. One had me flat out in an abusive, psychologically incestuous situation where on the surface it looked like the roles were reversed as to who was "perp" and "victim." Because of my anger (which really was suppressed resentment for the abuse and no visible "way out" at the time) I always looked like the "perp" because I was the angry one. Meanwhile the real abuser got off scot-free and even, in some ways, got rewarded.
The hardest part was I was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I was stuffing my anger because I came to think it was a sin, that I wanted to be rid of it so I could be more "Christian."
All that ever happened when I stuffed my anger was I became more resentful. All that ever happened with other people was I would launch on the wrong person for no apparent reason. it was loaded, volcanic, and lava-hot just like the picture I posted in this post. It was wrath. Not anger.
I have come to understand what I needed was not anger management, but wrath management. Anger, really, is neutral. It's not unchristian. In fact, my present priest has been really helpful there, as was our interim. It was pointed out to me that Jesus got angry. He got angry at the money changers in the Temple--angry enough to chase them all out. It wasn't wrong to be that angry. Once I was pointed to some good resources for entering communities where our stories are shared and our goal is to hear them in a vulnerable place and build each other up, I started feeling less and less need to "go volcanic."
Anger's like fire. I can either use it to keep everyone in the room warm and safe, or I can burn the whole house down with me in it. I have found the remedy to my anger has been to do my best to channel it into some form of tikun olan, as the poem says. Tikun olan means "The repair of the world." My extrapolation from this Hebrew phrase, as a Christian, is to build up the body of Christ rather than tear it down--the body of Christ for me, meaning all of the created world. You can't imagine how much peace it has given me to accept that anger is also part of God's good creation--just one that is very flexible in its use for good or evil. I no longer have to feel like a demonic thing lives inside of me. I no longer have to feel shame for it. Guilt only comes when I misuse it. I have literally gone from feeling like an untamed demon lived inside of me to feeling like I've been given a very precious gift--the gift to really care about a broken world. As a result, I've not had a volcanic outburst for over a year. It's not that I am not capable of it, but it's that I am finding more and better things to do with that energy every day. Now, it's up to me, with God's help, to use it to help heal the broken-ness.