Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 78:40-55) transports me to my first eye witness acount of a genuine outburst of rage and anger. I was around 8 or 9, and it was not in my home. My parents never displayed any anger; I don’t know what they did with the frustrations and irritations that must have welled up occasionally, but they didn’t vent it for me to see. My first time viewing such an expression was in the home of my best friend at the time. He had invited me to spend the night, and my visit started with the family dinner. My buddy’s mom had fixed my favorites – ham, potato salad, corn, green beans, brown and serve rolls. When our plates were loaded, my buddy asked for some ketchup (he had seen me cover my food with ketchup at my house and wanted to try). His dad said No, son, you don’t put ketchup on this kind of food. My buddy started the begging routine, and his mom began to take up for him, saying it wouldn’t hurt to try. Eventually she won out and got the bottle out of the frig. His dad said, Son, whatever you do, you’re going to clean your plate. My buddy put the ketchup on his ham, tried it, didn’t like it, and asked for some more ham. The dad said No, you’re going to eat it, and the son said, No, I don’t like it, and the mom said, We’ve got plenty, let him have another piece, and an argument ensued. The voices got louder, something I’d never heard happen, and before you know it, the mom and dad were on their feet, shouting at each other. And then, out of the blue, the mom picked up the centerpiece ham by the bone and walloped the dad right across the head with it. That’s all it took for me – I bolted. I ran all the way home, came into the house crying about how my friend’s parents were going to kill each other and it’s all my fault because I like ketchup. About that time the phone rang and my buddy’s mom was apologizing to my mom for scaring me like that, explaining that outrageous family arguments were part of the routine in their house, but they always get over it and laugh about it later. Not to worry.
Even though I didn’t experience any venting of rage in my own household, I think if I’d been paying attention to my daily Bible reading I would have been prepared for it. Here in today’s Passage, the Psalmist is recounting the faith history of the people of Israel, especially the centerpiece of that history, the exodus from Egyptian bondage. The Pharaoh’s actions were vexing to God; the senseless suffering of the slave community was maddening. And so we read about the argument that ensued between God and the Empire, with God sending more than a ham hock across Pharaoh’s head to convince him to let the people go. God started throwing frogs and locusts and boils and rivers of blood and darkness. When none of that worked, it says God got good and mad. He prepared a path for his anger and unleashed the full heat of his wrath and indignation, not sparing them from the death of their first born. Later God would send his own first born into the madness, so that kind of thing would never have to happen again.
Preparing a path for anger. It reminds me that in the ancient Greek myths, one of the five mythological rivers is Acheron, the river of woe and rage. The myths teach us that one of the currents of our underworld, subterranean lives is anger, and this river Acheron cuts a path through our souls to create a space for that anger to flow. The Psalms and the Exodus story tell me the same thing – anger and rage are part of life; there are things in this world that are not right, and cause anger to well up inside us. There are maddening and vexing abuses of power that provoke fury. The best we can do is take a cue from this Psalm and prepare a path for that anger, create a riverbed for it to flow through. Finding appropriate channels for rage at the world’s injustices is a spiritual discipline and practice. You don’t have to look far to see evidence that our culture is not very good at that practice; we are not as a society creating very good pathways for rage. People are essentially walloping each other over the heads with ham hocks left and right. I still have a tendency to bolt whenever I encounter these outbursts. And I still like to put ketchup on all my food. And I wish my folks were still around, so I could ask them where they channeled their anger. I have a feeling there was some spiritual discipline involved.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to commnent.