Praying my anger away
February 26, 2008
O my God and God of my ancestors, save us today and every day from anger, our own and that of others; from bad people, from wickedness in our friends, our companions, our neighbors; from the internal adversary within each of us; and from harsh judgments, our own and those of others, whether they are part of our community or outside our community.
This brief snippet of morning liturgy leapt out at me this morning. It's from a personal prayer the Talmud attributes to Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi (see Brachot 16b.) It's a passage I often breeze right by, but today it caught my attention. Probably because I really needed it.
Last night I read something online that made me angry. What it was isn't significant; what matters is that it tied my insides in a knot. Someone was saying something that upset me profoundly. I got angry, and defensive, and sad, all tangled together.
The tough part was, that morass of feelings stuck with me. After sixteen years online I'm smart enough to know not to respond when I'm in that kind of emotional place (thank God!) -- but I couldn't shed the feelings. I had trouble getting to sleep. I had uneasy dreams. The stuff was still reverberating in me this morning during my shower, when I usually try to recite modah ani to myself as a way of setting an intention of gratitude for my day.
After I took my blood pressure meds this morning, I felt a strong temptation to go and check out the discussion thread. (There's something ironic there, I realize.) I told myself I wasn't going to respond; I just wanted to see what people were saying. Of course, had I done so I would have entangled myself right back in the midst of what had made me so angry and so sad.
Instead I minimized my web browser and dialed in to my Tuesday morning shacharit group. And then during our davenen these lines jumped out at me. "Save us today and every day from anger -- our own, and that of others." Oy. Rabbi Yehudah, I am so right there with you.
I don't mean to suggest that anger is never warranted. Sometimes
it's the only legitimate response. Sometimes it calls us to action.
But most of the time, when I get angry about something, it feeds my
ego and my sense of self. The puffery of righteous indignation
feels good, in a certain way. Adrenaline starts pumping. I get to bask in the sense that I'm right and someone else is wrong. But I'm not sure that's good for me.
This makes me think of a teaching from the Me'or Eynayim. Reb Menahem Nahum wrote that we can serve God by becoming aware of, and refining, the middot (divine qualities) that are in our natures. Each of us, he taught, can become conscious of her/his own spiritual level, and of which middot are in need of repair -- and then we can engage in the internal repairs we need to do. This isn't just a nice option; it's our obligation. We need to become more whole in order to do good work in the world more wholly.
Maybe this is part of why I am so discomfited by the passages in Tanakh where God's anger blazes forth: they resonate with something in me that I don't want to strengthen.