Tag Archives: anger

28 January: you are my happiness; Brownings III.

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Elizabeth Barrett is writing to her dearest, Robert Browning, telling him something she had been unable to put into spoken words.

“Dearest, you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either; I simply understand that you are my happiness, and that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?

That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier. Talking of happiness—shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry and I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter—now—before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better and dearer and more to be considered than I, I do not choose it.

I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps (who can say?), if I should prove the burden of your life. For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past—I am frightened, I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing and displeasing you? I ask the question, and find no answer.”

On the firm basis that the good things of this world point us towards the eternal, let us take to heart some of what EBB says here. I daresay something else will strike you, dear reader, but I will reflect on: if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—I am frightened, I tremble!

Either Elizabeth took Robert’s promises and proposals seriously, and trembled, or smiled and dismissed them. Either I take God’s promises and proposals seriously or …

From “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning, available on Kindle and on line.
Image free of copyright via Wikipedia
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27 January: My unwary sentences: Brownings II.

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Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, masters of words both, still contrived to misunderstand each other in the early days of their friendship. It was a friendship largely based on letters since Robert could not risk arousing Mr Barrett’s suspicions as to his motives for visiting Elizabeth if he did so more than once a week. The penny post had been inaugurated five years before, and there were several deliveries per day, so misunderstandings could be sorted out quickly. A lesson for us, with our smart phones, Skype, Whatsapp and so on:
Never let the sun go down on your anger, don’t let resentment set up shop in your heart! (see Ephesians 4:26)
“Do you receive my assurances from the deepest of my heart that I never did otherwise than ‘believe’ you … never did nor shall do … and that you completely misinterpreted my words if you drew another meaning from them. Believe me in this—will you? I could not believe you any more for anything you could say, now or hereafter—and so do not avenge yourself on my unwary sentences by remembering them against me for evil. I did not mean to vex you … still less to suspect you—indeed I did not! and moreover it was quite your fault that I did not blot it out after it was written, whatever the meaning was. So you forgive me (altogether) for your own sins: you must.
For my part, though I have been sorry since to have written you such a gloomy letter, the sorrow unmakes itself in hearing you speak so kindly. Your sympathy is precious to me, I may say. May God bless you.
Write and tell me among the ‘indifferent things’ something not indifferent, how you are yourself, I mean … for I fear you are not well and thought you were not looking so yesterday.
Dearest friend, I remain yours, E.B.B.”
An old Dutch pillar box at Amsterdam Centraal Station. MMB.

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22 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 5: Good news to the poor.

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To bring good news to the poor (Luke 4:18)

  • Amos 8:4-8

  • Luke 4:16-21

Starting point

The prophet Amos criticized traders who practiced deceit and exploited the poor. God, who sides with the victims of injustice, will not forget such wrongdoing. In a globalized world, such marginalization, exploitation and injustice is rampant. The gap between rich and poor is becoming wider. Economic demands become the deciding factor in our relationships and the demands of justice are more and more pushed to the side-lines. Christians are called to challenge the prevailing attitudes and to work for justice.

Reflection

I’ll believe it when I see it!

I’ve heard it all before!

‘Things can only get better’

‘Audacity of hope’

Promises of something new!

Good news?

They are just bus-slogans when the poor remain poor,

the vulnerable abused and no-one speaks out!

Do you think I can jump up and dance

when my hands and feet are made heavy with the anger from broken promises?

And so I stare at you, because to stare is all I can do.

But

if ‘good news’ means

rising up against power,

overturning the tables down the road in the big city,

walking, talking and eating with people like us,

going the whole way with us,

not departing when things get too tough,

even when the suffering becomes too great to endure,

this would truly be something new.

It would be good news fulfilled.

Then I could be tempted to trust one more time.

Prayer

God, the bringer of good news,

forgive our lust for power

and free us from the temptation to oppress others.

Instil in us the determination

to see your good news made real in us and those around us,

as we share in the mission of your Son Jesus

to fulfil your promise of freedom from poverty and oppression.

We pray in his name. Amen.

Questions

  • Where do you see deceit and false promises?

  • Who are the poor and the powerful in your community?

  • What can we do to bring the good news of the gospel to both the powerful and the poor?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

The World Economic Forum meets from 22nd – 25th January 2019 in Davos, coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This moment highlights the extreme disunity and inequality across the world. 42 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent (Oxfam 2018).

Take time this week to work together for a world where there is unity not just between Christians but where we as human beings can flourish together. Renew your commitment to trade that is fair and ethical and to continue to campaign for taxes to be paid. Visit Go and Do for more information.

(Unlike those Amos condemned, these Victorian scales are accurate and still in use today.) MMB.

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25 October. What is Theology Saying? XXXVIII: We have locked ourselves in the shadow of death

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The evil in unredeemed desire is far deeper than the law could engender – which is why we are told that anger = murder and lust = adultery. The way evil cannot touch is forgiveness. We need to learn to desire without the need to compete, blame or measure ourselves against. We need to be free to relish good wherever it is found – but who decides what is good?

God gave a prohibition for our protection – which we have consistently ignored – not to eat of the tree whose fruit is knowledge of good and evil. But seeing something withheld led to rivalry and envy – we’ll show him – we’ll do it our way. Paul tells us that the Law is not sinful – Romans 7.7. – I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the command came sin sprang into life and I died. Paul sees the Serpent not as the Devil but as sin. Desire is a gift of God, but not when disfigured by envy. We have victimised the Law making it an instrument of redemptive violence, and locking ourselves within the shadow of death.

Desire turned to envy made what should have been the irenic way to life into the sphere of rivalry, envy and exclusion. Now all life is infected [universality of OS] by such distorted desire – they saw that they were naked – all this through ignoring that prohibition that was there to ensure our well-being.

It is my awareness of me as “I” that results from knowing other than me. Paul insists that it is Faith that allows us access to desire redemption, to desire in ways that owe nothing to envious rivalry. Sin means my “I” is not in control but is itself controlled by distorted desire. What is needed is the way of living that Paul describes as: It is no longer I but Christ living in me [controlling my “I”] – Gal.2.20.

Jesus shows that Original Sin is not of our essence, it is simply evidence of a faulty foundational principle [way of life]. Paradoxically, what Jesus was founding was subversion of the notion founding – in the sense of achieving identity by comparison over against others. It is totally gratuitous in every way… something that existed long before our capacity for distorting desire ever happened. Before Original Sin there is Original Grace.

The tragedy of Original Sin is not that it is universal, but in the universality of the new people we discover what is possible for “I” – to become enabled to move from the universal to the particular; whereas conversion requires recognition of our equality as the foundation of human dignity; unity in diversity, equal but not the same. Original Sin is what we are leaving behind when we take new life seriously. We realise the reality of Original Sin through those who have been set free from it. As Jesus told Nicodemus – we must be born into a new way – not going back and starting again. – Jn.3.3. Death was seen as an extrinsic punishment for sin – we all sin, we all die! Death and sin are connected – distorted desire cannot bring life, since only God is life!

AMcC

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4 October: Little Flowers, XXXX. Francis and the Robbers 1: better by gentleness.

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It’s St Francis’s day, so who better to continue our series on begging? This story concludes tomorrow.

Now there dwelt in those parts three notorious robbers, who wrought much evil in that country, the which came on a day to the House of the brothers, and besought Brother
Angel, the guardian, to give them food to eat; and the guardian with harsh reproof, answered them after this fashion: “Ye thieves and cruel murderers, ye be not ashamed to rob others of the fruits of their labours: but likewise, as men insolent and bold, ye would devour the alms bestowed upon the servants of God; in sooth, ye are not worthy that the earth should hold you, since ye respect nor men nor God who created you: then go your ways and see ye come not here again”; whereby they went away disquieted and full of ire.

And behold, Saint Francis returned from abroad with a wallet of bread and a little flask of wine, that he and his companion had begged: and when the guardian recounted unto him how he had driven the men away, Saint Francis reproved him sternly, saying: “Because sinners are brought back to God better by gentleness than by cruel reproofs; wherefore our master Jesu Christ, whose Gospel we have promised to observe, saith that they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick and that he was not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: wherefore he oftentimes ate with them. Seeing then, that thou hast done against charity and against the holy Gospel of Christ, I command thee by holy obedience, that thou take this wallet of bread that I have begged and this little flask of wine, and search diligently for them over mountains and valleys until thou find them, and give them all this bread and wine as from me; and then kneel thee down before them and humbly confess thy fault of cruelty; and then pray them on my behalf that they do no more ill, but fear God nor offend Him any more: and if this they will do, I promise to provide for their needs and to give them food and drink abidingly; and when thou hast said this unto them, return hither again in all humility.”

While the guardian was going for to do his bidding, Saint Francis set himself to pray, beseeching God to soften the hearts of those robbers and convert them to penitence.

Photograph by Christina Chase, Ste Anne de Beaupré, Canada.

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October 2: What Would You Do? The Beggar, I.

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Our good friend Christina Chase has allowed us to use this story from her own blog, ‘Divine Incarnate.’ It’s always worth reading her reflections; the second half of this will appear tomorrow. And thanks to her father Dan for the picture, which shows Christina’s hands cradling a family heirloom – a tin cup used by her grandfather in logging camps. Thank you for a glimpse into your family’s eternity!

It happened on a chilly September day, a simple moment that’s never left me. I was a young adult with my parents, following my eldest French-Canadian cousin in a tour of old Montréal. I remember the colourful splashes of garden amidst stone buildings, the glassed-in eatery where we had hot chocolate and poutine, and, indelibly, the old man begging outside of Notre Dame Basilica.

When I saw him, I was being pushed in my wheelchair by my father, because the sloping, cobblestone roads had tired me too much to power it myself. The imposing structure of the Basilica came into view from the sidewalk, soaring above us, and there, ahead of us, resting against the thick outer wall, was a man with grizzled gray hair, wearing faded clothes, and holding out a little cup in his hand.

Having lived a fairly sheltered life, I had never seen an actual beggar in person. Homeless people I had seen with their shopping carts downtown, but they were not beggars because they didn’t ask for anything. This man, however, this old bearded man with beautiful, wide-open eyes was holding out a little begging bowl, silently requesting someone, anyone, to help him.

What I Did

My cousin, an inhabitant of Montréal, was walking ahead of us and obviously saw the beggar, but didn’t stop walking and passed right in front of him. My parents followed suit, and so, I did too, literally pushed along with them. Perhaps they were thinking that any money given to the man could be used to buy alcohol or drugs and they didn’t want to take part in enabling his habit, but this thought didn’t occur to me.

In my youthful idealism, the sight of the beggar was a call to action. My immediate impulse was to put something into the old man’s cup, to do something for him, to at least give him my coin-sized care. In order to act on this, however, I would’ve had to stand out from my little group of people: asking my father to stop pushing my wheelchair and to take some money out of my bag to put in the little begging bowl. Easy enough, but thinking about the reactions of my group, I intimidated myself.

Of course I knew that my parents and cousin would think warmly of me if I asked to put money in the beggar’s cup. But that’s precisely what I didn’t want. I felt like a little girl, like any little child who gleefully wants to put money in every donation bucket that she sees. I still looked like a child, and often still felt like a child because I had to be cared for by my parents, but I was supposed to be an adult and I wanted to walk, so to speak, in the company of adults, not sticking out as the child among them.

Giving in to my pride and cowardice, I chose to go along with the crowd—a rather childish thing to do.

As I passed directly in front of the beggar and looked into his sky-blue eyes, it was as if we were both suspended in a chasm of time where I felt, where I knew, that I was about to pass by an irretrievable moment, an irreplaceable something. He did not look down at me, his gaze remaining straight and above me, and perhaps this was what made me look up to him so completely, experiencing the lowness of my place, as though I were down on my knees, dejected there on the pavement.

Broken away from that moment, I squirmed and fought myself to ask to turn back. But I didn’t. I let my childlike desire to help go unspoken, and as the beggar receded further and further into the background, I didn’t experience remorse so much as petulance. Like a petulant child, I thought only about my inabilities, placing fault on the others beside me while really angry with myself.

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4 July, What do the Saints Know? Part II, 4: HOPE: The Gift of Filial Fear

The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”

This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.

This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.

SJC

*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.

 

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21 May: How do you find treasure in a field?

 

NAIB and I were awaiting the rest of our party in the hotel lobby. I pulled out the leaflet about Beeston Castle, which we had visited half a lifetime ago.

370 years ago it was the scene of a siege during the last civil war in England, after which it was demolished by the parliamentary forces removing a threat to nearby Chester.

Naturally we were more concerned to recall our visit than the long siege of 1644-45. It was February when we were there and the nettles were no more than brittle grey stalks, the ground beneath them bare.

Here and there were stones and the odd shard of pottery. NAIB and I both found scraps that looked like the reconstructed 17th Century wine flasks in the museum. George, her younger brother, was becoming frustrated that he had found none, and his mother was getting anxious to return to base before dark.

His sister offered him one of her pieces; no, that was not finding it for himself.

Here’s one’, said his mother, but that was not finding it for himself.

What worked was for one of us to spot a shard on the surface, but not to touch it, nor to point at it, but just to wave a hand over it and say, ‘This looks like a good place for pottery.’

George went on his way rejoicing with his own piece of pottery, after finding it for himself.

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It seems to me that each of us has a ‘treasure hidden in a field’ that the Good Lord allows us to find for ourselves, even providing endless clues to guide us. Let’s be open to that guidance, not consumed by frustration, fear or anger.

Come Holy Spirit!

Beeston Castle by JMW Turner

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

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One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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November 9: Loving Memory.

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Loving memory hurts: an extract from a letter Henry James wrote to Clare Sheridan, a newly wed and newly widowed soldier’s wife in the Great War.

I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel, because I have, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel. Feel, feel, I say — feel for all you’re worth. and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.’

From ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 2007, p217. The book describes life in Tehran under the Ayatollahs and during the Iran-Iraq war. Compelling reading.
Photo from Cheriton Cemetery, Folkestone; the grave of  another of the fallen. 

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