It has been a very strange week. Many of us, indeed not just us but people all over the world have been transfixed by the goings on with our neighbours to the south. Not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the full array of bombasity dressed up like fair play. Portrayed as a “he said, she said” fight for the truth, judgements are being made, that expose the fearsome truths of human tribalism. From the security of our various cultural silo’s, we have born witness to a wrenching polarization of our culture that threatens to tear us apart one from another. If only the wisdom of Solomon could be trusted to prevent us from ruthlessly tearing in two the tightly woven fabric of what is left of the fair-play that we struggle to raise up. Emotions have risen to the surface and exposed the rot that permeates our precious hierarchal structures. White privilege and male dominance have been laid bare and the pain of that exposure has triggered more pain.
This week several women have reached out to me to weep again over wounds so deep that they fear the tears will never end. The word “triggered” has taken on a whole new meaning, as vibrant memories seared upon the minds of survivors ricochet with such intensity; an intensity that rips those of us who have experienced the pain first hand. I still can’t believe the power of such memories to tear through us afresh.
I have listened as women have wept, and their tears have opened the wounds we share. We have seen the angry of the privileged blaze across screens, as powerful men bare their teeth and threaten dire consequences. Anger has been stirred on both sides, and unlike Solomon, I don’t possess the wisdom to dispassionately judge who should win and who should lose. My anger burns in me like a white-hot fury and I cannot see beyond to the beauty of the lilies in the field. Ah sweet Jesus, if only the memory of the future you envisioned for us, could calm our fears.
To those of you who haven’t been watching, or won’t watch, or cannot watch, and encourage those of us who can’t help but watch to simply turn off and tune out, well you may be right. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is to simply refuse to engage the madness that is transpiring. Just turn it off and walk away, move on and look at the beauty that surrounds us. The leaves are putting on a much better show as they begin their bursting forth into a beauty that is far worthier of our attention than the muck-raking display that constantly demands that we watch.
I was reminded this week of an old native story, a story that brought me some respite from my anger and frustration. I’ve read that it is a story first told by our indigenous sisters and brothers. It’s about a boy and his grandfather:
One day the boy says to his grandfather, “How is it you never seem to get upset? Don’t you ever feel angry?”His grandfather replies, “I sometimes feel there are two wolves inside me, each of whom fights to tell me what to do. Whenever something angers me, one of the wolves is full of fire, and wants to attack and act nasty. The other is calmer, thinks clearly, and makes better choices. But they’re both always there.And the boy asks, “But if they are always fighting, how do you know which wolf is going to win?” The grandfather answers, “The wolf who wins is the one I choose to feed.”
Our angry wolves have been well-feed this week and there are a few great feasts just waiting to be served up in the weeks to come. But surely that doesn’t mean that I have to feed my angry wolf? There’s a very big part of me that sees the wisdom of this old story and I am sorely tempted to starve my own anger. Indeed, I had resolved to do just that, turn it off, tune it out, pretend it isn’t happening, walk away, enjoy a more beautiful autumn view. But alas, this is St. Francis Sunday, and another wolf has caught my attention; and yes, it is an angry wolf demanding to be fed.
It too is an old, old story. It is the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. Apparently, Once upon a time, there was a very prosperous village in Italy that had a terrible problem. A wolf was eating their livestock, and attacking the people. Nothing the townspeople did protected them from the ferocity of this insatiable wolf. Never had they seen such a fearsome predator. The wolf killed a shepherd, then the shepherd’s brother and father when they went out to deal with this menace. The next morning the town was abuzz with the story told by the shepherd’s mother and sisters. The mayor of Gubbio announced he would send three of his best soldiers to find and kill the wolf. As night fell, the townspeople could hear the shouts and clashing of metal from the words. Then all was quiet. The soldiers had met the wolf and only one lonely survivor lived to tell the tale. The pain and torment of his story struck fear in the hearts and minds of the people of Gubbio. They locked themselves in their homes and vowed never to venture out into the darkness of the night.
There’s more that I could tell you about what fear of this angry wolf did to the town of Gubbio, but suffice it to say that the people became so desperate that they summoned a man of God to help them. Saint Francis was summoned. Francis had such a reputation as a peace-maker and the and the people hoped that his way with animals could subdue the angry beast that was tormenting them. Legend has it that Francis went out to confront the angry wolf. Now I can’t tell you that this actually happened, this way, but as all good stories go, I can tell you that this story is true.
Francis greeted the wolf as his brother, “Come Brother Wolf, I will not hurt you. Let us talk in peace.” Something about Francis’ demeanor caused the wolf to stop in his tracks. Words were spoken, stories were told, and eventually Francis learned that Brother Wolf had been wounded and separated from his pack. Even if he could find his pack, Brother Wolf was too weak and too angry to run with his pack. So, he stayed close to the village and found easy prey to satiate his hunger.
Saint Francis in all his wisdom found a way to create peace between Brother Wolf and the townspeople. He invited Brother Wolf to accompany him back into the heart of the village, then Francis called upon the villagers to hear Brother Wolf’s story. Francis explained that from that day onward the Wolf would be their brother and that they must care for their brother. You will feed Brother Wolf and in return your brother will keep your livestock safe. Brother Wolf will safeguard your village. You must feed the angry wolf. Then you will find peace.
There you have it folks, two stories, don’t feed the angry wolf and feed the angry wolf. As is often the case both stories are true; it may not be the same truth, but it is truth none the less. When I think about the anger of the survivors who just the other confronted white-privilege in an elevator, I thank God for the power and raw emotion of their anger and the way in which their anger moved what was for all the world to see unmovable. Anger has a role to play in the work of love and there are times when anger is all that we have left to help us survive.
When we see atrocities among our sisters and brothers, or the devastation of the Earth, sometimes it is the anger that wells up inside us that empowers us to act. Sometimes the anger of another person’s indignation can move us from our carefully constructed viewpoint and help us to climb down from our lofty position. Anger has a roll to play in the work of love. We cannot, we must not stifle our anger. Anger suppressed turns in on itself and destroys. We cannot, we must not stifle the anger of a survivor. That anger may be the only strength they have left.
Anger must be soothed. Sometimes that means starving the anger, but I suspect that more often than starving the anger, which let’s face it, asking someone to starve their anger is far easier for us to say, than it is for us to reach out and try to sooth someone’s anger. I suspect that we often choose to starve rather than to feed anger simply because it is less frightening to give into the anger in the hope that it will go away. It isn’t easy to find the courage to sooth anger. Soothing requires feeding.
But with what are we to feed anger? I wish I could give you the answer. But my job is not to give answers. If anything, my job is to open people up to asking better questions. With what are we supposed to feed anger? How about hope? What does hope look like you may well ask. Hope, I suspect might be found by looking beyond the anger. What might we see beyond the anger? How about this:
“There is so much right with the world. The sun faithfully does its work, bathing us in life-sustaining energy. The moon faithfully does its work, lifting tides and letting them fall, and no one worries it will fail. Water faithfully does its work, the lifeblood of our planet, circulating from cloud to rain to stream to river to sea to cloud. Creatures do their work as well, filling the earth with life and song, sharing the gift of life through death and birth, through nesting and migration, through pollination and germination, each specimen a living miracle if we have eyes to see. Your body, a civilization of cells more sophisticated than any mega-city, works amazingly well amazingly often, your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your eyes seeing, your mind aware.
There is so much right in humanity. Children play. Adolescents fall in love. Young couples marry. Lovers entangle their limbs, breath, and dreams. Babies are conceived and born and nurtured, through their similes and cries teaching their parents to love in ways they never knew they were capable of. Friends laugh, plan adventures, through parties, stick together, weep at gravesides after a lifetime of shared joy. Farmers grow, harvesters pick, transporters transport, grocers distribute, and meals of unimaginable variety and delight are prepared and eaten. Entrepreneurs plan and launch new ventures. Colleagues work side by side as managers seek to steer their companies toward success. Researchers seek cures, discoveries, solutions, understanding. Teachers teach and children catch the gift of curiosity. People are honest. They make promises they keep. People take vacations. They watch the surf, ride horses, cast lines, take hikes, swim, ski, bike, sail, and slow down so they can remember they are alive. Grandparents and elders watch all this, their eyes brimming with tears of joy. There is so much right in the world, and in humanity, there is so much good. And so much beauty. When we see it, even a tiny glimmer of how precious it is, our hearts swell in gratitude and awe.” (Brian McLaren: The Great Spiritual Migration)
When anger threatens to consume us, perhaps, we ourselves are not the best judge of whether we need to feed the anger or starve the anger. I do know that I have never found the answer to my questions about anger, locked away in the isolation in which anger devours me. This question is best struggled with not in isolation but in the presence of our sisters and brothers. Together we must struggle with our questions about anger, together we must learn to when to starve and when to feed.
Remembering always, that peace is our goal, let us starve or feed our anger, so that in all things, together we seek justice, for it is only justice that can make peace. Together, let us strive to be a people about whom it can always be said, seek peace through justice. Let us, together be the peace we long for.