Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
share post

On Becoming: Anger, Snakes and Spring

August 4, 2022

My desk is in a little corner of the basement, facing a window well that is mostly corrugated iron, its floor covered by dead leaves pushed here by the winter winds. If I lean forward, I can see a thin line of blue sky. Around the corner, where the house faces south, daffodils turn their cupped faces to the sun and the first fingers of peony bushes push from the warming soil. A barberry bush is popping bright green leaves that will soon reach past its strident thorns. The world around me is warming, waking.

As I write, I see a flicker of movement beyond my field of vision, just above the window frame. Two garter snakes press their heads against the glass, and my breath catches, my heart beats faster. Something as old as time stares out at me from those flat black eyes.

As last summer turned toward fall, I began to learn to kick-box. Each time at the gym, I wrap my hands, pull on my gloves, and for an hour, kick and punch a heavy bag. As I move my body, an energy rises, an energy that is old and deep. At first, I was reluctant to name it, but now I know its name without struggle. It is anger. Some reasons I can easily name, others defy being pinned down. Some are ancient. Some are recent. Some arise as groans from my depths, others as faces, names. But I also feel deep resistance. Anger is dangerous. Wrong. But as I move my body, I find anger as an energy that is in me, not something that I choose. It arrives as a discovery. An awakening. But this awakening is fraught; I find myself afraid, not just of my anger, but of myself.

The religious culture I grew up in, as well as the family I was born into, did not welcome anger. My mother’s father was a dry drunk whose rage erupted without warning, magma scalding, disfiguring his home. It makes sense, then, that my parents looked upon anger with fear, using verses pulled from the Bible to maintain a holy distance. However, these methods were about as effective as a boulder rolled into a caldera. And so, despite these efforts, anger erupted in my childhood home with frightening irregularity. It was the volcano we lived on, but didn’t acknowledge. The unpredictability of these eruptions kept my heart on edge, disoriented by the insistence that to be angry was a sin, while my early reality was also disfigured by rage.

As I open the Bible to its very center, I find the Hebrew Psalter filled with outbursts of uncomfortable emotions, including anger. Ti Helim—the books of Psalms—in Hebrew means “book of praise.” And if this book that contains not only Hallelujah but boiling rage, what does that mean about what praise is? Have I missed an invitation to turn toward my humanity by only looking in the Psalms for theology? Can I even know God unless I’m willing to turn first to see not only my light, but my shadow side?

I am lying beside my daughter at bedtime. We are both tired, so instead of reading, or praying my own prayer over her, I turn on a recording of the Psalms. I hear in the 4th Psalm: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” Then Psalm 5: “Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.” Then 6: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping….the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping…the LORD accepts my prayer.” As I listen, I realize that these prayers are more than theology. They’re an invitation to real relationship. A relationship I both long for, and fear.

The snakes lie still, twisted like lengths of rope along the cement of the foundation. When I look it up, I learn that snakes brumate. Brumation differs from hibernation in that the organism can move in and out of this state of low respiration and metabolism, depending upon the warmth of its environment. Brumation mimics death, but is not. The creature is always waiting for the earth to warm, waiting to move toward life.

My gut has churned for most of the day, a cocktail of grief over a friend’s unexpected surgery; embarrassment over a communication mistake; embodied memories that have begun to surface, not anchored to a specific time or place. Inside, I hear the accusing whisper that my internal chaos is something I should have a better handle on. And though these old voices still feel painfully true, I have begun to untangled from them, but their lead weight still pulls me toward the depths.

My anger is a snake that has brumated, but the world is warming. My humanity is waking.

I have believed that my internal disorder makes me less human, less whole. And so I stuff these feelings behind me, grasping for a disembodied version of peace that seems to hover just outside my grasp. And then these Psalms, familiar as they are, surprise me. Instead of affirming my assumption that my unwieldy emotions are something to be wrangled, captured and broken, they show a glimpse of what I am experiencing, without apology. And not only no apology, but canonized within the story of God.

The snakes move slow against the edge of the window well, one on top of the other, round and around through dead leaves, deep in shadow, returning to tap against the window where I watch. 

I think of Genesis, the story of the fall, of how the serpent has become synonymous for evil. Even these garter snakes, who will help to control the population of small rodents and insects around our house. Even though I know that they mean no harm, I am thankful for the double pane of glass that separates us. I have treated my anger the same way. 

Each time I pull on my boxing gloves, I must reckon with the uncomfortable reality of having a body, and the anger that lives there. The overwhelming sentiment of the Evangelical culture that shaped me was that the body is an unfortunate necessity. And even as I came to understand the Gnostic heresy that this repeats, the dis-ease remains. I keep showing up because the feelings are all there, and by showing up, I am learning to welcome them. Also, I keep picking up the Psalter, when I don’t have words to pray, because it holds open the possibility that this churning isn’t something to be walled off, but can be acknowledged, even let in.

Becoming a mother brought the reality of emotions into an inescapable immediacy. Holding my daughter, watching as feelings crossed her face and she began to cry. This is confirmed by recent neurobiological research: feelings happen. As a culture—both broader and religious—we name them, categorize them, and try to control them, rather than letting them inform us about the world, both without and within us. And to my grief, I began to lay the false categories on her that had been laid on me. Naming her curiosity as disobedience, her independence as willfulness. I knew I wanted to help shape and discipline her strength, but I had no resources from which to draw. As her self grew, my volcano began to erupt, and I would shout at her, shaking her foundation, spilling my anger onto her. We were both afraid. Terrified, even.

I don’t get to choose whether or not I am angry. I do get to choose how. For years—nearly my whole lifetime—I have kept such distance from my anger that I became numb to what was, numb most of all to myself. Anger would still erupt, but I would turn inward in shame and contempt. And yet, as I continued to distance myself from these primal parts, I fancied myself better than those who were angry. I first believed, and then lived out of a recycled fabrication. But my body calls me back to the truth. Slowly, I am moving away from the false security of disembodied theology toward the messiness of being human, but as I do, I must let in the truth that I am capable of the rage that sometimes wrecked me. I must be willing to hold both.

I must be willing to see both my shadow and my light.

There is no right way to be angry; there are plenty of wrong ones. I’m waking up to the possibility that the most wrong way to be angry is to pretend like my anger doesn’t exist. When I welcome my anger, I must be vulnerable and I can’t do this without confronting my self-righteousness. I am suddenly in need of having my vision healed, of deliverance, not from anger or my humanity, but from the ways I have tried to divorce myself from my humanity, and diminished the humanity of others in the process. 

Years pass, and my daughter is sitting at the kitchen table, nail polish on the placemat, drops of remover spattered past its laminated edges. I gasp, grab a rag and begin to mop. My words toward her are sharp, exasperated, angry even. The finish on the table is sticky, and I remind her, but my words are lost in the sharpness of my voice. This is my girl who I want to grow into a woman who enjoys being in her body, but my anger is a loud contradiction.

Her eyes tell me what her words do not. I have hurt her. Again. The seed head of my own control has blown into the field of her soul and will do what seeds do. Later, I sit beside her and look in her eyes. I ask her what it felt like to be her in that moment, if she will forgive me. I ask if I can hold her, take her lanky body onto my lap, and slowly rock, both of us welcoming comfort.

The snakes move against the edge of the window well, one riding on top of the other, slowly, round and around through dead leaves, deep in shadow, returning to tap their heads gently against the window where I watch. When I check next, they have untwined from each other, untwisted muscle and bone. They begin to climb. They arch against the glass, against the corrugated iron. Up, always up. 

I leave my desk for a while, sit in the early spring sun. The air is cool on my skin but the sun is warm. A breeze makes the pine trees across from me whisper like a long exhale. Breath in both Hebrew and Greek means spirit. Human beings are the only mammals able to consciously control their breath. When I breathe with intention, I am able to calm my central nervous system. When I breathe, I choose to inhabit my body, rather than abandoning it under hyper-spiritual pretenses. I teach my body a new way, slowly unwinding trauma responses, rejecting the net of Gnosticism that has entangled me and so many who I love. Am I willing to choose curiosity, living awake to my anger? If I leave the door to my grief unlocked, will it bring me to a God who doesn’t answer my anger with words, but with presence?

When I return to my desk the next morning, the snakes have climbed from the window well. They are gone from the darkness of their den, into the expansiveness of life above ground.

Entwined with my anger, there is deep grief. When I turn toward my anger, I turn toward the ache of a world not as it was intended to be, in both the global and the particular. If the Psalmist is right, as I do this, I open myself to a God of comfort who doesn’t want to chase my anger away. I make space to encounter a God who hears me, who sits beside me as I face myself, peeling back layers, doing the mysterious, quiet work of making me whole.



Featured image is courtesy of Tyron Pippin via Unsplash. We are grateful for his generosity.



 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Christine Lawton says:

    Amy thank you so much for your openness & honesty you have written such a clear story and reminded me of what I’ve forgotten that I know. But also shown me why I keep forgetting it. Shalom

  2. Amy says:

    @Christine, I’m so glad this found resonance with you. We need each other to, as Buechner says, tell our secrets, so that we realize that we all share the same secrets in common. Then they become something that galvanizes, rather than isolates. May you keep doing the hard work of remembering, and offering what you remember to others. Blessing.

  3. Laurie Klein says:

    This: “The seed head of my own control has blown into the field of her soul and will do what seeds do.”

    And this: “Am I willing to choose curiosity, living awake to my anger? . . . When I turn toward my anger, I turn toward the ache of a world not as it was intended to be, in both the global and the particular. . . . I make space to encounter a God who hears me, who sits beside me as I face myself, peeling back layers, doing the mysterious, quiet work of making me whole.”

    Dear Amy, thank you for this sharply observed yet gently written and needfully relentless—naming of our quest to become fully His.

  4. Amy says:

    @Laurie, What a delight to find you here! Thank you for your generous comments. It is a gift to find my words as seeds planted into the soil of a reader’s soul. May they sprout generative reminders of the Gardener’s good work, and the worthiness of the work we do alongside him. Blessing on your wrestling, your living, and your writing.

A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship

Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!

Receive your complimentary e-book

Explore the

Journal Archive

i

organized for ease by author and category.

View Our Journal Archive