A Holy Feeling: Expressing and Embracing Anger as a Form of Spiritual Friendship by Paul Blankenship

Come to Me, and Have Rest

 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 

These words of Christ in Matthew convey the fundamental gravity of the spiritual life. By nature, we are a people whose spirits pine for the living Christ. As we gasp for air, even without knowing it, so too do we long for the presence of the one who gives us love and rest—who carries our burdens with us.

What a great relief that our teacher and friend, a Palestinian Jew who lived over two thousand years ago, is real and present amongst us now. Christ is not merely a historical memory; He is still here—loving us and teaching us how to rest and walk easy with him.

Following Christ, The Church as a Place of Rest

We do not, of course, merely rest. We are not given spiritual peace to cozy up with a warm blanket while others freeze. We are loved to love. Given warmth to provide warmth. This too is our spiritual gravity. It is why we pray. And it is why (or should be why, rather) we form churches and come to church even when we are tired and in a bad mood. At church we learn how to embody the presence of Christ, together, so that we can give others rest. So that we can learn to befriend the world. So that we can unearth Christ’s wellspring of ranging, loving waters in human hearts and set people free to love and flourish.

A Weary World, Wearied and Weighed Down with Anger 

Many of us believe that Christ is present, and that the waters of love are ever-available. But those waters can be hard to experience as real. Though we are impelled to experience them, and swim joyfully in their current, we often find ourselves stuck on the fangs of the mundane, of affliction, and of suffering. We are weighted down with the challenges of everyday life. There is a lot to do. Bills to pay. People to see. Meals to cook. Kids to watch. We also suffer. Loved ones became terminally ill. Our bodies tire and become wounded. At times, it seems like a personal and loving God simply could not exist in the universe. That the raging, loving waters have dried up.

Sometimes we also become boiling mad. Raging not with cool love but hot anger. There are times in which, because of the anger we experience, we feel far from God. We are mad at God, if God exists. We are mad at the church for being hurtful, hypocritical, and phony. We are mad, with God, for the unnecessary pain and suffering that exists in the world.

Anger, though, is good. Or it can be. It is a healthy emotion when expressed and experienced in a constructive and safe way. Anger can also be a holy feeling: an experience in which God is present and searching for form, expression. A path of divine love and friendship. We don’t need to hide our anger at God, the church, or the world. It can be something that draws us near to God and that heals the church.

The History of Anger

Our tradition is actually quite rich with the expression and embrace of spiritual anger.

In Psalm 109, for example, we see the Psalmist’s anger at people who wounded him:

Do not be silent,” he cries, “O God of my praise.
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.[a]
So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.                                                                                                        6Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin.

(Yikes)

In Psalm 44, the Psalmist becomes angry at God. He says:

9You desert and shame us.
do not go out with our armies. . . .
11You put us to flight from our enemies.
Those who hate us tear us to pieces at will.
12You hand us over like sheep to be devoured.
You cast us among the nations.
13You sell Your people for nothing.
You do not make a profit on their sale price.
14You make us an object of shame for our neighbors,
a thing of scorn and derision for those around us. . . .                                                       24Wake up!  Why do You sleep, Lord?
Arise!  Do not abandon forever!
25Why do You hide Your Face?
Why do You forget our persecution and our oppression?                                                     26For our souls have been pounded into the dirt,
our stomachs are stuck to the ground.
27Get up!  Help us!
Redeem us for the sake of Your gracious love.

And Jesus, too, became angry. In John 2:15, for example, we see that he made a whip of cords and drove people out of the Temple for turning God’s house into a place of monetary exploitation.

The spiritual life is not all joy, peace, and giggles. There are times that call for the expression and embrace of holy ager.

Expressing and Embracing Anger as a Form of Spiritual Friendship

We come to church, I think, to learn how to be spiritual friends. At its heart, being a spiritual friend means helping people find and experience the presence of Christ, the divine waters. That means providing spiritual care to those who are suffering. To this end, we need to learn the wounds of the world and understand what people are going through.

Today, it is clear that people in our world are suffering from the wounds of unholy, destructive anger. The wounds of unholy anger is evident all around us. It is an aching wound that permeates our culture.

At Spokane Friends, we have been having a conversation about how to provide a safe and constructive place for anger to be expressed. For the wound of unholy anger to be made well by Christ and become healed, holy. We are interested in doing that because God desires our whole selves and wants us to be free of the unhelpful anger that can bind us and prevent us from being able to love the world more effectively.

Guideless for Expressing and Embracing Anger as a Form of Spiritual Friendship

In a moment, I will offer a few queries that we can use to facilitate a process where we can express and embrace anger that we have at God, the church, and the world. Before I do, however, so as to create a sense of safety, I want to name a few guidelines.    

  • The underlying reason we express holy anger is not to destroy. It is to build up, not tear down. It is to become more free to love. If you feel led, please share with that in mind.
  • We are not here to gossip and name names. This is not a time to air personal grievances. We ask that you keep any expression of anger impersonal and under control. More than anything, we want people to feel safe.
  • We are not going to argue with people about whether their anger is valid or not. We are just here to share, listen, and hold.
  • Other suggestions?

 

Queries

Here are the queries. I encourage you to spend some time sitting with them and then, if you feel led, to express holy anger safely and constructively. You do not have to, of course; this can be done in the private space of your relationship with God. But, if it would be helpful, please speak out and share. After we have finished, I will close us in prayer.

Are you angry with God? Can you safely and constructively name that anger?

Are you angry at the church, or religion? Can you safely and constructively name that anger?

Are you angry at someone or something in the world? Without naming names, can you safely and constructively name that anger?

 

This message was given to Spokane Friends by Paul Blankenship on Sunday, November 17, 2019.

 

 

 

 

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