Pastor’s Post-June/July 2019

Jun 7, 2019 by

Roberta Bondi writes that the fourth-century monastic teacher, Evagrius Ponticus, considered anger “’the most fierce passion,’”1 the passions being those habitual things that skew our vision toward others and ourselves and prevent us from loving. He and the other early monastics considered anger more potentially destructive of love than any other passion. They also taught that with anger, there was more danger of self-deception, as people tell themselves they are correcting others for the others’ own good. However, as Abba Poeman said, “’Instructing one’s neighbor is for the [person] who is whole and without passions; for what is the use of building the house of another, while destroying one’s own?’” And they considered very few, if any of us, to be completely without passions. Therefore, we do better to correct, not others, but ourselves in our chosen responses to things that anger us. They also knew that holding resentments interferes with prayer and prevents us from even approaching God, for anger and resentment absorb our energy and attention.2

Anger is a valid emotion and invites us to acknowledge a hurt, loss, or unmet need. It can also let us know that an important boundary has been trespassed. Evagrius saw anger to be the result of a real or imagined injury, and so did not consider an angry person responsible for the origins of his or her anger.3 Our challenge, however, is in how we choose to respond to anger. We can choose to nurse our anger until we are completely given over to it, or we can choose to fight against it and refuse to allow it to reach the point of becoming destructive. However, we must deal with it in some appropriate way.

The response Evagrius recommended as appropriate was to persistently attempt a resolution of whatever problem it was that caused the anger. Such an attempt could not be based on a feeling of superiority over the offender, however. Sometimes situations simply cannot be resolved, but often, we give up too easily.

Today, some believe that Christians should not argue and, thus, they choose not to mention their anger to another. This, however, is not a virtue, but a temptation, according to Evagrius. Anger will not go away on its own. It can fester and be highly destructive of relationships. We must talk with a person with whom we are intimate if a problem arises that causes us to be angry with them.4 This is true within the church as well. Rather than correcting others, we can speak our own hurt and genuine needs. A helpful way to do this is to use “I” statements that express one’s own feelings, needs, and experiences, rather than “you” statements that can come across as blaming. When anger leads us to speak our experiences of hurt lovingly and work through conflicts, or to attend to our own unmet needs, it becomes a gift that helps us grow in our ability to love as God loves.

Blessings in Eastertide,

Betsy Caudill

1 Roberta C. Bondi, Roberta C. Bondi, To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 73.

2 Ibid, p. 74.

3 Bondi, To Pray & to Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), p. 37.

4 To Love, p. 74.

 

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