Bless the Beast

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Sadao Watanabe, “Jacob Wrestles the Angel”

Like all seasons of life, this sabbatical year has been beautiful and brutal.  It has been bitter and sweet.  It has held great joys that I have relished and great griefs that I have lamented.  There have been moments that have been good and moments that have been good for me.

Along the way, I have wrapped each negative feeling with a purpose.  By God’s persistent grace, I have journaled my way from loneliness to self-reflection, from loss of career to personal re-stocking of wisdom, from loss of community to gained a connection with the common experience of living far from home.  Though our return to Louisville is only a few months away, my endurance for resting and reframing has begun to run low.

As a One on the Enneagram, I have learned that my root sin is anger and the avoidance I practice towards it.  As Richard Rohr describes Ones, “They avoid admitting the vexation that motivates and drives them. For anger too, as they see it, is something imperfect.”  So last week, I set down the pen and allowed myself to feel all the feelings.  I neglected my morning time and focused instead on my preparatory Doctor of Ministry reading for another semester at Duke.

By the time Drew and I reached that sweet spot on I-40 on the way to the mountains for the weekend (kids fed, older boys with iPads and headphones for the final part of the drive, Cookout milkshake in the cupholder, and baby boy napping, though would be brief), I was ready to tell Drew about it all.

I named each feeling, filed each complaint, lamented each grief, and voiced each voiceless sigh.  By the time I was done, I rested.  With a pile of feelings now examined, articulated, and laid out in the open, I rested in Drew’s affirmation in the feelings’ validity.  I rested from fixing them.  I rested in my finitude.  I was done trying to resolve it all because I had lost the ability to do so.

In the open space of the weekend and the mountain air, the old Cherokee legend came to mind (albeit edited, as memory audaciously rewrites the words but retains the truth of the saying).   “The beast that grows is the one that you feed.”

Indeed, letting myself affirm the feelings merely allowed them to hold hands together until they had formed an insurmountable obstacle in my way – a beast who feasted on every negative feeling that arose.  The resentment had gone from a low simmer to a boil that spilled over into every task, every moment, every relationship, every thought.

Across the density of time (as truth has an ease of doing), Augustine lanced the beast by calling it what it truly was – wounded pride raging over all that it has lost.  My pride was fed up with my reduced life. My pride was tired of swallowing its well-earned protest.  Ironically, pride’s vain attempt to reclaim its territory of accomplishment and identity only led to more lost ground.  With every feeling I fed the beast, the beast chewed apart the past until it hung gnarled in its jaws.

“For the misery of human pride is great,
but the mercy of God’s humility is greater.”
– Augustine

As Paul Kolbet writes of Augustine’s work in Augustine and the Cure for Souls“The cure of soul, then, is not so much the binding up and making whole of the flawed human being; rather, given the analysis that much illness is due to the compulsion to impose our own order on the world, health has more to do with the difficult task of letting go of this responsibility, residing in creaturely finitude, and awaiting a not year realized completion of existence.”

Monday morning, I waved the white flag.  The beast slumped exhausted from its efforts.  I remembered Christ crucified whose humility was more glorious than human pride’s illusive attempt at glory.  I remember my finitude and God’s mercy.

The feelings still come.  The beast remains with me for the beast and I still have years ahead of us.  Christ can surgically resolve the damage the beast has caused, but pride is a chronic condition.  So I am now practicing, perfectly and imperfectly, a new way.  When the feelings arise, I see them.  I name them.  But I seek to stop feeding them to the beast.  I stop the beast’s appetite from ravenously desiring more and more.

L. Gregory Jones writes of blessing in this way, “God declares the creation good and calls forth the good from all that God blesses, even as brokenness is never far away and awaits healing… Blessing is a way of life lived before the God who first blessed, and continues to bless, humanity and the whole creation.”

So I pray, “bless this beast.”  As Jacob protests to the angel, “I will not let this beast go, unless you bless its heart.”  In so praying, may I trust God whose very being is blessing.  May I trust that God can still call the heart of the beast “good” and still be able to produce good in the world through it.

Good and good for me.
Letting go and letting be.
Blessed and blessing.

Beast and all.

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