When I’m angry, and don’t deal with that anger in a healthy way, it leaks out in destructive behaviors. That’s what happened a couple of times this week, when I allowed my pride to be wounded and my feelings to be hurt by unintentional slights. First I unloaded my anger on a dear friend, who received it with such tenderness that she turned my ranting into tears and softened my hardness by her embrace. Amazing what love and acceptance can do, isn’t it? And later that night my sweet husband listened patiently and offered gentle encouragement without judgment. And while I am thankful for both of these kindnesses, I knew I still needed to address my own sinfulness—the anger itself—directly.
I believe there are healthy ways to deal with anger—the most effective for me being the sacrament of Confession. And sometimes talking with the people I'm angry with can help, but not if I’m just after an apology. I’ve learned from past experience that it’s not healthy for me to try to ignore the problem, because it won’t usually resolve itself. The last time I felt this level of ire was a little over two years ago. I wrote about it here.
And I guess a good thing that came out of that struggle was my essay, “Blocked,” which was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Journal's 2007 awards.
And yes, I eventually got “unblocked,” but spiritual health is not unlike physical health, in that we have to keep our souls cleaned out or they get clogged up. I was reminded of that in a beautiful way Thursday morning at our monthly women’s meeting, led by our pastor, Father John Troy Mashburn. We’ve been reading some of the writings of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich. Yesterday we read from his beautiful volume of spiritual poetry, Prayers By the Lake. (You can read many of the poems here.) Father John Troy had shared these poems with me many years ago, but I hadn’t read any of them in quite a while, until yesterday morning, when they arrived like soothing oil on a wound. First we read Saint Justin Popovich’s Introduction, which was a blessing in itself. St. Justin says, of St. Nikolai and his writing:
“He will be the hearth where those who have been frostsbitten by skepticism and lack of faith will come to thaw and warm themselves….
“He, a wonderworker of prayerful rhythms, has power over my soul. I tell myself: ‘I am locked in the senses, I think by means of the senses, but when his wonder-working prayer flows through my repentant soul, at once the senses, these shackles of the soul, are unshackled, and my soul, my wounded bird, regains her wings and flies off, diving into the sweet depths of Eternity.’ And my paralyzed heart tells me: ‘He breaks out of the cocoon of time and space which engulfs and suffocates your soul, and he dries the butterfly of our soul out into the blue expanses of infinite Eternity.'”
[Side note: When we read that part about the blue expanses of infinite Eternity, I thought about the work that our iconographer, Dmitry Shkolnik and his helpers are installing at St. John right now… and especially about the celestial effect of the new blue background in the altar. I’ll post pictures and notes about the new icons soon. A post from his last visit, in February of 2008, is here.]
We only read a few of St. Nikolai’s poems Thursday morning. St. Justin recommends that you read only one per day, and to read them slowly, and prayerfully. This volume of poems would make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone you love, or buy it for yourself and read a poem with your prayers each day. I’ll just share a few lines to show the healing power of his poetry:
"O Lord, Lord my only happiness, will You provide shelter for Your injured pilgrim?
"O Lord, my ageless youth, my eye shall bathe in You and shine more radiantly than the sun.
"You carefully collect the tears of the righteous, and with them you rejuvenate worlds."
I think the following are the words I most needed to hear today, when my self-inflicted wounds of pride and anger were so raw:
“Do not be afraid of the inextinguishable fire that He brings into you. For a long time the junk accumulated within you has been in need of a bonfire. The bonfire will last a long time, because the old junk within you has rotted.”
Oh, yes, I need a bonfire to burn up the vanities I have stored in my soul for so long. This week that bonfire comes to me in the warmth of my friends’ understanding, my husband’s loving embrace, and the healing sacraments of the Church, especially the mysteries of Confession and Communion. And it comes to me through the gifted theologian and poet, Saint Nikolai and the other saints who “know the mysteries of our Orthodox soul, they know how the rebellious and Christ-fighting … soul can be molded into a Christlike soul.”
Holy Saint Nikolai, pray to God for us.