Saturday, May 01, 2004

The Collar

Reading April's wonderful words about seeking inner peace and Anj's heartfelt thoughts on learning to turn away from her flight or fight automatic response has been cause for me to revisit one of my old internal disputes.

I know that the fight or flight response is a primal instinct, left over from days when we faced sabertooth tigers. I know that most people find it more of a hinderance than a help. The problem is, for so much of my life, I found that instantaneous flooding of rage to be a quite helpful tool.

On the street, if you let that strange mix of chemicals flood your being, even though the particular tiger confronting you was of the two legged variety, your adversary thought you were crazy, and usually decided you weren't worth the effort.

On the loading dock, if you had a 200 pound ream of paper to move from one skid to another, and no help near, if you got really ticked at the fool paper, and then at yourself for being such a wimp, the rage would make it possible to lift that ream.

When the home became absolute chaos, with four kids running in and out accompanied by their peers, one passionate shout of "Enough!" would bring a moment of absolute peace.

In day to day life, when encountering salesmen, and other manipulators, the glint in your eye and the body language of one who had a storm brewing just under the surface was enough for most to understand your no did indeed mean no.

The problem arose 15 years ago when for some crazy reason I entered my current vocation. As a priest, in most situations, the instantaneous flooding is very much a hinderance. I've learned to control it, but still keep it in the tool box, hesitate to let go of a tool that has served me so well for so long. It is helpful at times, especially when involved in crisis intervention. I'm one of those fools who has always run towards a fight when others were running away. It is also helpful in some peace and justice issues, which is rather ironic, when the tool of oppression is polite discourse.

The usual justification is those saints in history who were able to use their rage for great good. As but one example, an example that I tend to use frequently, is Jesus cleansing the temple. No doubt in my mind that he was flooding.

The truth is that I'm getting older now. It just takes too much energy to flood. When I was younger, I knew if I waited for about 10 minutes, and added no more fuel to the fire, the chemicals would cycle out of the bloodstream, and I could carry on. Now, the after effects include a sense of weariness, slight nausea, and a bout of depression.

I think it is time to look at this rage for what it is; a demon that was never in control, and has cost me much that was once dear to me. Will I continue to justify the need for such an ally, or will I turn to confront it? I think this dangerous form of strength needs to be surrendered, to make way for a strength that will endure.

This brings to mind something written by a Country Parson in the 17th century. He was an Anglican priest serving in a small church in a rural area. He became frustrated with his vocation. He saw the farmers enjoying the fruit of their labors and the cycle of seasons, while he felt trapped by his "suit," his vocation, to debate what is fit, and what is not, a rope of sands. He decides to go away, and make up for lost time with "double pleasures," a glass of cordial fruit in both hands:

I STRUCK the board, and cry’d, ‘No more;
I will abroad.’
What, shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it; there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it,
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted,
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures; leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not; forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made; and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s-head there, tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thought I heard one calling, ‘Childe’;
And I reply’d, ‘My Lord.’

- George Herbert

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