oxymoron: righteous anger

Midway through the week that followed my church leave-taking, I had an encounter with my former life which invoked righteous anger.  While the word for the emotion could be replaced with indignation, hurt or rage, the adjective was certain.  Make no mistake, I was the innocent in an unprovoked hurt.

Pouring good karma after bad, I lost 72 hours of my life that I will never get back.

For a couple of days I dedicated myself to measured and appropriate responses to rectify the identified injustice.  These efforts produced little fruit and much anxiety. While I was painstaking in my effort to use “sober adult” words, the endeavor was a fool’s errand. I am reminded of the good seed sown on the thorny ground which quickly thrives only to be strangled in the bramble.

Yet with the gift of hindsight, I find myself aware that seed might not have contained the rose that I desired.

As I sit in the brambles of my foray into righteous anger, I am reminded of a bit of advice in AA’s “12 Steps and 12 Traditions”, a bit of advice so stunningly countercultural that the dissonance alone is riveting.  “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.  If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also.  But are there no exceptions to this rule?  What about “justifiable” anger?  If somebody cheats us, aren’t we entitled to be mad?  Can’t we be properly angry with self-righteous folk?  For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions.  We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it.” (12and12I vividly remembering my first hearing of this text and my utter disbelief.  To live life without alcohol is one thing, to live without justifiable anger is quite another.

The spiritual axiom assures us that if we tend the internal trouble that is our own, we can live in peaceful challenge with whatever the external world brings to bear.  As I rail with a current chapter of tantalizing drama, the axiom is beckons.  What is troubling my spirit that I am responding with such internal vitriol? Lest I thwart the invitation to self-reflection with a justification of my hurt, I turn again to the teachings of Etty Hillesum.  The incredible poetry of this mystic in time of great trial bears witness to the efficacy of the axiom.

“If there is ever to be peace, it won’t be authentic until each individual achieves peace within him/herself, expels all feelings of hatred and change it into something else, maybe even into love — or is that asking too much? It is the only solution.” ~ Etty Hillesum (http://www.maritspaperworld.com/)

Hillesum was a Jewish woman who was also a Christian-inspired mystic, coming of age in Amsterdam in the nightmare of the Holocaust. Acquainted with sorrow and looking evil full on, Etty’s journals bear witness to her choice to love. From the deportation camp at Westerbork she writes, “Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” (gratefulness.org) Reflecting on the evil incarnate all around her, she lamented God’s inability to intervene and concluded, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.” (Brainy Quote) Hillesum was not naive to the suffering nor to her fate, she was not immune to the pain around her.  But she recognized that she had a choice each moment of each day to embrace that which is worthy, that which beautiful, that which is blessed.  And with her dying breath, she chose love.

Thinking about Hillesum, I realize that whatever trial I may face this day, it is comparatively trivial.  Considering her extraordinary embodied compassion, I realize that I too have a choice. Admittedly the feelings of anger and angst are a part of my being, but I can honor the feelings without perpetuating the hurt. The apparent choice between denial and rage is a false dichotomy.  Spiritual giants from across time and space invite us to consider a third choice, love. Love honors the hurt by investing in its alternative.

I will never get the hours back that I wasted pursuing my anger, but I can choose now to focus on the beauty of today.  I can be grateful for the lessons learned in the encounter and honor the pain by allowing it to water worthier seeds.  

For today, I choose to water seeds of compassion.


Please note:  The images in this blog come from a fabulous artist named Marit Barentsen.  You can read her blog, enjoy (and buy!) her art at: http://www.maritspaperworld.com/