Rage: Reflection and Prayer

To readers: I wrote this yesterday, Monday, April 27, before I heard the news about the riots in Baltimore. As a Prologue, I emphasize one theme: the human need to announce, name, and lament human injustice.

Rage: A Deadly Virus

The wars currently afflicting the world are attributed to an unholy elixir of ideology, religion, patterns of victimization and colonization, corruption, and economic injustice. One of the primary ingredients causing the horrific violence we see on the news is of a spiritual nature: rage.

When we speak of rage, any number of images appear to us. Hollywood-produced television programs show us mentally ill men who become obsessive and frenzied in their desire to control others. Sometimes we experience rage on the road, not understanding why the driver behind us is so angry about slow traffic. We see parents berating and beating our childrens’ athletic coaches and ask ourselves, why?

It is possible for any one of us to be driven to rage, to cross the threshold into a place of wild impulse, where we become belligerent,throw objects, and strike others. One needs spiritual discipline to acquire the quiet space needed to assess matters and see them as they really are to avoid rage. Small children have temper tantrums because they are still developing and acquiring the spiritual and other human gifts required to identify the threshold that leads to rage. When children perceive that they are victims of an injustice, they are prone to resorting to emotional patterns of communicating their displeasure with an injustice; emotional immaturity results in crying, screaming, throwing objects, and striking others. Adults are also prone to this behavior, which only contributes to the vicious cycle of rage: husbands hit wives, mothers berate fathers, parents strike their children, parents and children hit their pets, and on it goes. The ability to pause and discover a quiet space of peace that permits a rational assessment of the injustice is compromised by stress, illness, lack of sleep, substance abuse, and the crisis of loneliness currently afflicting the world. These situations, addictions and illnesses inhibit the ability to gradually acquire the gifts needed to find peaceful space where rage slowly dies. This is not a matter of dismissing injustices; each injustice warrants a fair forum, and the healthy human mechanism for communicating injustices occurs through prayer, exercise, creating works of art, recreation, and speaking directly and truthfully about injustices. Note that loneliness also inhibits all of these activities because they are meaningful only if received by another, who can reciprocate in some way.

Christianity has dozens of exercises that encourage healthy human development where one finds a peaceful space and rage dies; monastic elders and patristics experts can elaborate these with great skill and detail. In this time of viral rage in the world, I would suggest that Christians should also come forth to receive communion frequently. The exterior signs of liturgical participation, such as singing refrains and acclamations, hearing the word of God, singing the thrice-holy hymn (together), and receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ initiates one into patterns and habits of healthy human development. One practices singing, hearing, proclaiming, and dining, together with others. It is essential for children to participate, too, and not be denied communion. The childish exuberance for sharing food with others (“Can I try that?”) represents their readiness to develop the discipline of coming forth to partake with everyone else. The habit of partaking correctly is an essential part of their spiritual development.

Of greater significance is the human need for God’s gift. No human mechanism or structure can facilitate processes of healthy development that eradicate the problem of rage. Christian communities that encourage people to come forth for communion unveil the human brokenness that leads to rage; receiving communion is an a reception of God’s divine spirit who provides us with the energy required to identify our threshold for anger and dangerous rage, and avoid that threshold by seeking and finding peaceful spaces. In other words, liturgy is a rehearsal for initiation into the eternal peaceful space, the kingdom of God, which has no room or tolerance for abject human rage.

May Christians acknowledge their brokenness, their loneliness, their dependencies; may they speak honestly about the injustices afflicting them; may they approach God’s table to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by partaking of his holy body and blood, for the quieting of the rage that hurts others, and for the life of the world.

A Prayer in a Time of Rage:

O Holy God and Father of lights, who appeared to the Prophet Elijah in a still, small voice, you sent your only-begotten Son into the world to draw all of humanity into your kingdom of peace. When the raging crowd shouted for your Son to be crucified, he voluntarily ascended the cross and died for us, forsaking the way of anger and violence and giving us your kingdom of peace. Look down upon us, your servants, and send your Spirit upon us, so that we would abandon rage, violence, and murder, and take on the image of your divine son by adopting lives of peace for the life of the world. May your divine Spirit implant courage in us to come forth and partake of your Son’s holy body and blood so that his grace would shine in us and we would present our lives of peace, reconciliation, and love as our gift to you. For you are holy, together with your only-begotten Son, the king of peace, and your all-holy and life-creating Spirit, now and forevermore. Amen.

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  1. When I think of rage, I am reminded of Psalm 137 . . .

    1 By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
    2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.
    3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
    4 How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
    5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
    6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
    7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
    8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
    9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

    As I’ve dealt with folks who were the victims of child sexual abuse, or who were the friends, neighbors, and families of those victims, I often hear them say something like “But I can’t get angry, because that’s not Christian.” At this point, I invite them to read Psalm 137 with me.

    Their response is often some version of “Wishing babies were killed? How can that be in the Bible?” I tell them that when the Jewish rabbis pondered that question, their answer was to say two things. First, by including these words in the holy writings, it shows that there is no emotion, no frustration, and no amount of rage that is too much for God. Let it out, just as the psalmist did. Second, the rabbis noted that so far as the writings tell us, the prayer of the psalmist for vengeance was *not* answered. Deliverance from exile, yes; deliverance via a mountain of dead infants, no.

    These words from the end of the post really stood out: “May Christians acknowledge their brokenness, their loneliness, their dependencies; may they speak honestly about the injustices afflicting them; . . .”

    Amen. That’s Psalm 137…

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