February 2010


Intricate and untraceable
weaving and interweaving,
dark strand with light:

designed, beyond
all spiderly contrivance,
to link, not to entrap:

elation, grief, joy, contrition, entwined;

shaking, changing,

forever

forming,

transforming:

all praise,

all praise to the

great web.

Denise Levertov, Web

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we are the face in the mirror
and we are the mirror itself.
Here, now, right now, we taste
the eternal. Yes, we are pain
and yes, we are the medicine for pain.
We are sweet cold water
and the jar, from which it pours.

Rumi

from the Church Times ( 19th February 2010)

As we begin Lent, with its emphasis on soul-searching and repentance, we might reflect on anger and its place in our living — its nature, its causes, and how it can be creative or destructive.With two young children and a wonderful new home in a fashionable part of north London, Rebecca had everything that she ever dreamed of. Her diagnosis of cancer shook her to the core and affected her marriage, her faith, and her deepest securities. The anger she felt when the oncologist told her in a matter-of-fact way never left her. It was raw, unpredictable, and created all kinds of hostilities.

 One day, she woke up and decided to do something: to gather young mothers together to listen to each other and hear what living with cancer had done to and for them. This support network, now ten years old, has been transformative for those who are ready to face their fears with others. Here is a creative example of how to use anger.

 Michael finds himself feeling aggressive. He has worked hard in his accountancy firm for ten years. He has always been willing to stay behind to meet deadlines and felt himself to be a supportive presence to his colleagues. Under the direction of a new senior partner, he feels disregarded and devalued. He cannot find a way out of this negativity. He feels discriminated against. He finds himself, out of the blue, attacking others. Here Michael lives with the destructive effects of anger.

  All have angry feelings from time to time. It is an emotion that can be harnessed if it is understood. Anger is an emotion directed towards one who inflicts real or supposed wrong on us, such as the driver who cuts us up on the motorway.

  Anger is thus a natural feeling, experienced when we feel frustrated or hurt. The pressure on time caused by constant family demands leaves us feeling that no one cares about us. Anger can be our response to perceived threat or unfairness. War gives rise to anger about the use of power in our global economy.

 Anger can be caused by many things, sometimes at the same time. For example, feeling angry with friends or family when they do not listen or understand; or feeling angry at how little we are supported at work. The work itself may be the source of insecurity and conflict; or it might be something more general, feeling angry at the Government and financial institutions.

  And that is just the present. Unsettling memories from the past can also lead to angry thoughts and feelings. We wonder what life might have been like had we made different choices. We have to live with the imperfections in all relationships. Recognising that we are angry, and articulating why, is an important part of the searching of the soul.

  When we have connected with the causes of anger, we might consider how to transform its destructive potential. It is important to under­stand that it’s not people or events that make us angry, but our reaction to them.

 Anger turned inwards may also result in a lack of assertiveness, stress, low mood, or even self-harm. We can get locked into a denial of how we feel.

  Repressing or ignoring anger may give the sense of dealing with it, but this inward control fails to harness creativity. Unless anger is managed properly, it can have a devastating effect on our family, work, and overall well-being.

  Anger is generally interpreted as a dangerous emotion in Western culture. We are told not to get angry. Most of us have learned to evade or ignore it. We fear harming others if we get angry with them. Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. When we do express anger, we often justify ourselves. “My partner is stubborn and doesn’t care if I am upset; so I teach him a lesson by showing how angry I am.”

  The Bible recognises the re­demptive aspects of anger. Jesus expressed anger in a number of circum­stances, demonstrating con­cern for particular individuals. In the Temple, Jesus threw out usurers and others who were taking advantage of the poor (Luke 19.45-46). Jesus was also angry with the Pharisees, who wanted to catch him breaking one of their laws (Mark 3.1-6), yet were unwilling to consider the real morality of the law.

  In both cases, Jesus was angry with people who were doing wrong and who refused to listen to God. He feels for others, rebukes those with power, and uses anger as an ex­pression of care when confronting individuals with truth, so that they might repent. The Bible asks us to make anger redemptive. We are right to feel anger and express it. When it enables change, anger becomes trans­formative.

  It is important to understand how we express our anger. If anger is ignored, it can lead to significant problems, such as mistrust and alienation. We can spend our lives avoiding our feelings. We digress or escape. We can over-work, or over- eat or drink.

  If we ignore these feelings, they can make us explode when it all becomes too much. Anger can lead to intimidating, violent, or bullying behaviour, making those around us anxious and frightened. “I show people I work with who is the boss by giving them a good shouting-at.”

  WE NEED to consider how this powerful emotion can be put to creative use.

  First, we can try to understand what it is that triggers our anger. Work­ing out what makes us angry now can be a step towards ac­knowledging strong feelings, and lead to the possibility of changing our attitude towards these feelings. We can talk about them, and try to accept that nothing can change what has happened in the past. A journal can be useful to give shape to these reflections.

  Hanging on to angry feelings from years gone by can cause un­necessary problems, but, if we can identify them, we may be able to change the way we deal with current situations.

  Second, if anger is building up, we need to deal with it. We shouldn’t let it simmer away until we have a violent outburst. If possible, we could try taking ourselves away from the situation, thinking about the bigger picture, and considering the consequences of our behaviour before we react.

  Third, we might ask ourselves how far some of this is associated with our lifestyle. Do we pack too much in so that we are struggling to cope? We might need to do fewer of the demanding tasks, and spend more time doing things that we find relaxing. Find a pleasurable way to let off steam, which will prevent the build-up of tension and increase self-confidence. Even simple pleasures such as a relaxing bath, a pleasant walk, or a good book can help.

  Fourth, make sure to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. Lack of sleep and food can make us feel irritable. It may help to talk things over regularly with a friend or member of the family.

Fifth, learning to keep calm may help us cope with our feelings. Learning to breathe slowly, prayer, silence, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help us to slow down, and to see and feel more. Sometimes we have to learn to let go of our desire for control, and to allow God to take and shape us. A regular life of prayer can place our lives into the broader shape of God’s narrative of love.

  Sixth, confrontations are usually hard to deal with. It is important that we try to express ourselves assertively without losing our cool. We can do this by preparing what we want to say. If the discussion gets heated, it can be useful to remember that it is OK for someone else to have a different opinion.

 We can try to express ourselves as clearly as possible, and use phrases such as “I feel angry with you because . . .” rather than being abusive. We can also try to be clear about what we expect to come out of the discussion. We can listen to the other person, and avoid taking things too personally.

 Anger is complex. This fearful emotion can be embraced and transformed. It is essential that we explore with ourselves and others what we do with our anger. Reflect­ing on what makes us angry, being aware of the different ways anger shows itself, and finding ways of putting our emotions to creative and spiritual use might be part of our journey of self-discovery this Lent.

Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna (today known as Izmir), a city on the west coast of Turkey. The letters to the “seven churches in Asia” at the beginning of the book of Revelation include a letter to the church in Smyrna, identifying it as a church undergoing persecution.

Polycarp is said to have known the Apostle John, and to have been instructed by him in the Christian faith. Polycarp, in his turn, was known to Irenaeus, who later became Bishop of Lyons in what is now France. We have (1) Irenaeus’s brief memoir of Polycarp; (2) a letter to Polycarp from Ignatius of Antioch, written around 115 AD when Ignatius was passing through Turkey, being sent in chains to Rome to be put to death; (3) a letter from Polycarp to the church at Philippi, written at the same time; and (4) an account of the arrest, trial, conviction, and martyrdom of Polycarp, written after his death by one or more members of his congregation.

Polycarp was denounced to the government, arrested, and tried on the charge of being a Christian. When the proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The magistrate was reluctant to kill a a gentle old man, but he had no choice.

Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he waited for the fire to be lighted, he prayed:

    Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved
    child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of
    you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole
    race of the upright who live in your presence:  I bless you
    that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be
    numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for
    resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the
    incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  Among them may I be
    accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice,
    just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and
    foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things
    I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal
    heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through
    whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for
    the ages to come. Amen.

The fire was then lit and shortly thereafter a soldier stabbed Polycarp to death by order of the magistrate. His friends gave his remains honorable burial, and wrote an account of his death to other churches. See the Penguin volume, Ancient Christian Writers.

PRAYER (traditional language)

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who didst give to thy Venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, after his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

PRAYER (contemporary language)

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to your Venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

 Like the water

 of a deep stream, love is always too much.

We did not make it. Though we drink till

we burst we cannot have it all, or want it all.

In its abundance it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore

 to drink our fill, and sleep, while it flows through the regions of the dark.

 It does not hold us, except we keep returning to its rich waters thirsty.

 We enter, willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

 Wendell Berry

Bach’s contribution to Western imagination and spirituality is immense His is a sounds-world that in its scale and depth accompanies us on a profound spiritual and musical journey.

The bass notes travel, often at walking pace, rising and falling, journeying through the narrative with delicacy but with seemingly inexorable harmonic confidence. The melody is horizontal, often based on Lutheran psalm chants or hymn tunes, pointing us always forward in the direction of travel. The harmony is vertical, but again travelling forwards, moving us on, resolving, moving us on again, taking us through the sadness of minor keys to the brightness of the major.

 In the horizontal melody and the vertical harmony, I can hear, as others have before me, Bach’s cross-shaped faith that brings meaning in a chaotic world. I find the music consoling and emotional, and, in its journey towards musical resolution, I learn that the movement of the Spirit is to bring order out of chaos.

In the movement and energy of harmonies, it seems too that reformation is always possible, that things do not have to be as they are. Although the music is not afraid of turbulence, in the spirit of Psalm 107 it travels with us through the storms of our lives to the haven where we would be (Psalm 107.29-30).

(Lucy Winkett)

 

Midwinter spring is its own season…
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

T.S.Eliot, from Four Quartets

 

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