Perhaps the Vietnam War generation can remember a country as divided as ours presently is, but I am astounded by what I am seeing. Everywhere I look people are unhappy with the state of our nation. Everyone has an opinion on who is right and who is wrong. And everyone seems very angry.
And anger, unlike self-pity or low self-esteem or fear or anxiety, can feel incredible. I feel so powerful when I am hopped up on anger, when I have it just running though me. It is that one place where everyone else is wrong and I am right. It feels so pure and true. And not all anger is bad. Sometimes justice is born out of our unwillingness to accept situations that hurt us. But when we choose to live in states of anger, something happens to us, something happens to our country.
Anger is also a state of complete isolation because I don’t have to be responsible for the emotions that brought me there or for the situation in general. I don’t have to be responsible for any of our leaders or for the culture that produced them. I can just condemn. Most importantly, I don’t have to look at how that same culture lives in me.
But if I live with anger for too long, I always end up feeling ill. A few hours or a day after a real anger binge, I am left hung-over, nauseous and depressed. Sometimes I go back to the anger and the angry thoughts as a way to refuel, as a way to get me out of the hangover symptoms. But it is a cycle that just seems to bring me further into suffering.
And I think this happens on a national level also. As a country, the objects of our anger are also the products of our anger, even if it is easier to see them as creators of it. Our nation literally seems to feed off of this anger. Much has been written about the Tea Party and their anger as an anxious response to a changing workforce and a changing demographic and a changing world, but I think their anger, our anger, psychically and spiritually, goes much deeper than just our present situation.
There were a lot of people who lived on this land before the Europeans first arrived. And they were massacred. And there were a lot of people who were taken from their homes in Africa and they were enslaved. And there were a lot of people, the poorest of Europe, some of whom came here willingly, and many who did not, and they were told they could not speak their language any longer and they should be ashamed of who they were and where they came from. And certain people were allowed to do whatever they wanted to these people and they did horrible things. This is the forge in which the culture of our nation was founded. And there was a lot of anger and there was a lot of sorrow. And we were all created by it. But the story does not end here.
Thich Nhat Hahn has said that he does not believe the Kingdom of God has no suffering because it is only in the experience of suffering that we are able to learn understanding and compassion. He comments, “You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grown them on the mud. Without mud you cannot have lotus flowers.”
All transformation, all peace begins with us as individuals. By understanding the anger, the sources of our anger and our willingness to transform our anger we are able to cultivate lotus flowers where once there was only mud. We know this is true for our individual lives. We all have had some success with resolving anger and benefiting from what has grown in its place. This is also true for our culture. As individuals we are able to build communities of peace and transformation when we are able to address the larger angers of our society, angers which are too much for any one person or for any set of isolated individuals no matter how enlightened they are as beings.
The anger that lives in us comes both from our personal lives, pain and slights we have experienced, and from the larger community of which we are a part. We cannot fully resolve to be without anger if we are unwilling to address the suffering that exists around us. And we cannot address the suffering of the culture if we choose to see ourselves as separate from it. The anger of the Tea Party is my anger, at least in part. The anger of the genocide and enslavement that happened in the formation of this nation, is my anger, at least in part. But when I am in community I don’t have to carry it all on my own. It is also carried by others and it is also carried by God, for I truly am not separate.
Wendell Berry writes:
Whatever is foreseen in joy / Must be lived out from day to day. / Vision held open in the dark / By our ten thousand days of work. / Harvest will fill the barn; for that / The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled / By work of ours; the field is tilled / And left to grace. That we may reap, / Great work is done while we’re asleep. / When we work well, a Sabbath mood / Rests on our day, and finds it good.
We are called to action, to speak out against injustice. But we are also called to enter into the stillness and allow it to work on us, for forgiveness to move through us. Our culture can feel nauseous from the anger and often it turns right back to anger to try to solve that nauseous feeling, to get some power back, to refuel because anger feels so good. But the cycle of suffering just continues when that is the pattern. Because anger is all about isolation, it is a denial of our true self, our interconnected self.
So we pray for a release from anger. And we do so with the hope of not just freeing ourselves but also of freeing all those around us who are often held in place by our anger, who cannot be redeemed because we hold them in a place of badness.
The redemption of the world comes through us more than we do the actual redeeming. I don’t know how to make a lotus bloom. But I do know how to prepare the ground so the lotus might choose to bloom.
I am sad for my nation right now. This self-righteousness, this judgment, this anger is no place to live. But I also believe the suffering allows us to find a deeper understanding and compassion. So for that I am grateful as it gives me the opportunity to love more and more powerfully. What we nurture becomes the future. Let us starve anger and nurture love so we might be the transformation our culture so desperately longs for.