That being said, it was sometimes a challenge to be within his presence because, by nature, I’m an angry person… and he’d just exude calmness, wisdom, and gentleness, all while being perfectly perfect with the angry, ignorant, and ham-handed frame-of-mind in which I found myself. That kind of relationship, a sort of darshan, creates very clear and shared feelings… sort of like DreamFasting in The Dark Crystal, but only with feelings. It’s uncomfortable if you’re not prepared for the experience. I’m talking about the discomfort of being in the presence of peace when you yourself are not feeling at peace in the slightest. I’m sure you know the feeling I’m talking about. Wise Zalman would probably say it was because our frequencies were connected, in that moment and perhaps before (who knows), in some kind of diatonic harmony, or some other such completely-accurate, uniquely-phrased Zalman’ism.
Gods be good, I miss him.
It’s funny to me that today is the day I choose to write about anger. On this day, when I’m so steeped in my yearly mourning for my teacher (but it’s SO ZALMAN to do exactly this). If he were here, he’d be kindly, gently laughing (I’ll tell you why by the end).
So… back to anger, and why it’s hard to be an angry priest/religious professional.
I don’t remember being an angry kid when I was really little. If you hear my relatives tell it, they’d paint a picture of a sweet, gentle boy, who loved singing in church, dancing around the house, playing alone for hours with action figures, drawing everything that came to mind, rarely talking, and who especially loved being outside with friends… and sometimes, a boy who was helping others, often at his own expense.
But then, life started to happen. Ever-blossoming people problems: parental divorces, bullies at school, failures, abuses; all these things happening with no safe-haven in which to hide at home, because life was happening there too, y’all. The main model of how to be in the world, and deal with life, was given to me by my grandmother (of blessed memory) who reared me. She was an angry person, for sure. Imagine the visage of Sophia from The Golden Girls with the heart and mind of your worst bully from grammar school. Seriously. No shit.
Not trying to blame my grandmother for my anger; however, while correlation does not imply causation, relationships DO influence all involved.
Over the course of my life I’ve run the gamut of therapists, programs, techniques, and “cures” for my ever-present anger, and here it is, nearly fifty years later, and I’m still *#&%@?!* angry all the time. The quest for properly-managed anger feels kind of like feeding an addiction: the hunger for AND volumes of what we crave (which in my case is peace and kindness and knowledge) grows and grows… and when we’re not satiated, we’re raging in that not-enoughness of what we crave...
… and it doesn’t go away.
Since I’ve been in full-time service as one of the priests of Mountain Ancestors Grove, I’ve seen our community, our state, our nation, and our world devolve into fear-based insularity, sycophantic despotism, and sickening divisiveness…
… and just like when I was a child, it feels as if there’s no safe-haven in which to find refuge.
That makes me as angry as it ever has.
Gods be praised, I’m a different person now that I’m grown, albeit still perpetually angry. I think the difference now is that I can, even in the midst of all the above-listed sufferings, find solace in the guidance and resolve that comes from a committed spiritual/religious life.
Not because doing all the “religious stuff” makes me “feel” good, but because doing all the religious stuff gives me a fire-pit in which to hold the otherwise all-consuming fire; a foundation upon which to rest my angry spirit…
… and creating a reliable foundation takes quality material (teachers, training, ideas, values) and labor committed to excellence (disciplined mind and spirit, ego awareness and mitigation tools).
My challenge within paganism (maybe it’s in other places, but those places aren’t mine to talk about) is that so many pagan-identifying people are more interested in “feeling” good about “religion-ing”, in the same way we want to “feel” good about being part of a fandom at a convention, than changing their perspectives, being comfortable in discomfort, or growth as a human being in a world of other human beings.
That kind of attitude, when using the “foundation” metaphor, are the bits of wallpaper, artwork, and knickknacks that fill a house. The power of our practice isn’t in the style-points it automatically generates. It’s in the potential to self-examine and relate to the world in a more primal, lower bullshit-level sort of way. It’s in the deep lessons of interconnectedness, adaptation, and the cyclical nature of existence. It’s in the soil and rock… not the ones that adorn shelves in our houses, but the ones that uphold and support it from the Mother below, and the ones that build its very walls…
… and it angers me that so many of us pagans aren’t down for all the “material” investment (unless those “materials” generate some egoic, self-aggrandizing feelings within us) and committed labor (like actual hard work) it takes to ascend as a people; to be better today than we were yesterday, every day.
As a religious leader, it’s a professional pain-in-my-ass to have the above feelings. Why, you might ask? They’re valid feelings, or realistic perspectives, or whatever… right? Short answer: yes. But…
No one wants an angry shepherd.
Folx want a caretaker, a cookie-baker, a lore-spinner and entertainer. Folx want all the religion-ing to feel good, or at least to not make them feel bad in ways that they haven’t already approved for discomfort.
In the age of understanding and acceptance (at least from the “potential for, as a species” point of view), it angers me that there’s so much selfishness in the world blinding us to the needs of others that we fail to see that generosity and inclusivity could save us all, leaving no need for selfishness. In today’s world, we’re encouraged to be more accepting, right?
What about accepting the fact that everything that comes to us in life isn’t going to make us feel good? Or maybe accepting an angry priest who embodies that frustration and encourages us to think about these terrible things in the world?
It’s a challenge (read as “it pisses me off) to make relevant very here-and-now issues with a religious framework that was best functional before the next 5000 years of human evolution, global awareness, and interpersonal understanding. During a time when we, as a human species, needed different things as a species, all this worked just fine.
Well, y’all, we, as my NOLA-kin would say, “ain’t dere no more”.
The fact that so many of us can’t see that ALSO angers me. So, yeah...
No one wants an angry shepherd, but having one isn’t inherently bad…
… and what we want and what we need are entirely different.
Assess your needs accurately.
Oh yeah… I almost forgot to tell y’all why Reb Zalman would be kindly, gently laughing at me as a live my life of perpetual seething and grumbling:
He wouldn’t be laughing AT my suffering, or struggle, or fears… no, Reb Zalman would be laughing because he’d be filled with joy for me at such a great opportunity to practice relationship-ing with my anger. He’d very likely tell me (in between chuckles) that it’s a blessing to be an angry person. Why? Because without feeling the feelings of that great, constant anger, how would we have the opportunity to practice great, constant kindness, generosity, and love, or to develop the resilience and strength it takes to do so.
The places where we struggle are exactly the places we need to be, if our goal is to grow, evolve, and be of use to the world.
No one wants an angry shepherd.
And yet, that’s who I am…
… and that might be just what we need.