the bastard child,
danger to the flock.
This I know,
for I’ve been told.
But, by night,
when the world is still,
I slip out the back door
to find anger huddled
at the yard’s edge.
“What do you want?”
I ask. “Something is wrong,”
she says, her eyes
wide with fear, longing,
By instinct, I open
my arms. I take her small,
dark figure into myself and
she settles there, like a worn
“Something was wrong,”
she murmurs, “I wanted
you to know.”
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and learning about anger. As an Enneagram type 1, anger is a key emotional dynamic for me – both a sinful temptation and a key indicator of underlying feelings, as well as a source of creative and prophetic energy. This spring, as I again pondered the role of anger in my life, particularly as a clergy person, I remembered a life-changing essay I’d read years ago, written by psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, Gerald May.
I was on a quiet solo retreat when I first stumbled across an article entitled “Love and Anger,” in Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation’s journal, Shalem News. Remembering the essay, I tracked it down (you can order a collection of all of May’s articles for Shalem News by contacting the institute directly) and I want to share a little of it here with you.
But first, I want to say that this poem came to me at a time when I felt called to embrace my anger as a messenger and a source of strength. As a person of peace, I have wrestled with anger, wary of its capacity master me and move me to sin. I have learned to listen to anger, as a warning bell, and to channel its energy into steadiness and strength in the face of evil.
One of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo said it well, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Perhaps the key to our hope in the weeks and months ahead lies in our willingness to allow love to move us both in anger and courage.
Some words on anger, from Gerald May’s article “Love and Anger,” (Summer 1984 edition of Shalem News):
“. . . even in the midst of a heated situation, it is occasionally possible to experience love and anger simultaneously. . . Love does not necessarily destroy anger, but it does transform and illuminate it. It is an error, I think, to assume we must get rid of anger in order to feel and be loving.
The illumination of anger by love cannot be attained by trying to substitute love for anger, and certainly not by stifling anger. Instead, one first needs to accept the anger, letting it be what it is, and pause for a moment to look around for love. . . .
There is a radical difference between experiencing anger (or anything else) on one’s own and experiencing it in the context of God’s love. . . With even just the slightest breath of God . . . compassionate action can spring forth from the energy of anger. It is especially important to remember the good, energetic side of anger and that looking for love in no way implies getting rid of anger. Instead, love is added to the anger. Then God’s alchemy of human emotions can be free to work.
. . . Love is always there. At a deep level, we wouldn’t even become angry if it weren’t for some kind of love; we wouldn’t care. Love is at once the source of anger and the source of hope for its creative transformation.”
What messages have you received about anger (particularly from the church)? What might happen if you were to work on developing a deeper awareness of and relationship with the energy of your own anger?