Evagrius Ponticus was a fourth century theologian in and around Jerusalem many of whose writings deeply inspire my spiritual journey. Like many of us, he was a complicated man and one of his besetting sins and passions (for the one so often results from the other) was anger.
Anger in churches is not allowed in the same way that anger was not allowed in my own family of origin. Everyone was to “obey Father” and everyone was to be mild, meek and quiet. If one had feelings they were to be kept to oneself and repressed – sent to the basement of one’s psyche in its confinement and darkness – every so often tossing a steak down the stairs and quickly shutting the door lest it escape like some diseased animal. But here’s the thing; both families were alcoholic systems. And in alcoholic families, the repression of emotions and passions like anger is considered normal. And since I was raised in that kind of family, it made a lot of sense that I chose the church as my next “family.”
My move to absolute seclusion in the middle of a 20 acre farm on the lush, green land of the South Valley, behind a bolted gate and beyond a canal, was my way of seeking a healing from the poisonous stew in which I have been simmering these past 40 years. Who knows if it will work, but one must try.
Evagrius says that anger blinds prayer by locking it into only one stance and one perspective – effectively locking God into a position of stasis – a position diametrically different to the change for which God is so well-known. Secondly, he says that brooding over injury destroys the memory of God’s grace. He, like so many others who write about anger, calls us to forgive but not to forget. Forgiveness is Christian. Forgetting is simply ridiculous and careless. And thirdly, anger irritates the mind like the effects of a fly around one’s face when one is trying to meditate. It is a distraction from love.
There will always be morons who tell us not to feel and not to express our feelings. But what is true is that, just as Leviticus says “there is a time to hate;” there is also a time to forgive and to love, since not doing so will only erode one’s prayer life which will, in turn, erode one’s life and relationships.
Who decides how long to hate? Well, I suppose it depends on what system you find yourself in and who decides that for you. But in the hours of silence on this farm south of Albuquerque, I am finding that anger is a fine defense against abuse; but a terrible long-term plan.