Photo credit to malvernretreat.com
by Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B.
A told me "You dodged the issue on that 'smite the enemy' question in Ask a Sister #1. How do you pray when you ARE really mad at someone? If you're angry at God, how do you pray?" Fair questions. I'll tackle them.
Praying when mad #1. It IS hard to pray when my temper is hot. It's easier to complain, replay the details, or plan a rebuttal -- useless but gratifying responses. Our prayer schedule reminds me to pray; including God in my internal conversation makes a BIG difference. I am not alone with my useless lists of wrongs and protests that I deserve better: the psalms have them too. They often help me let go of anger: when the psalmist laments "I'm like a lonely bird on the rooftop!" I have to smile at the pathetic image (Ps 102). God seems to say, "Don't take yourself so seriously."
Praying when I'm mad at someone #2. "But what about a serious problem -- someone who lies or steals or hurts people you care about?" my friend asked. "You don't laugh about that, do you?" No. But - after years being marinated in Benedict's Rule and scripture - revenge prayers don't spring up to bother me very often. Instead, I beseech God to do SOMETHING to stop or change the situation. I try to leave it up to God to figure out what to do. As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day, God is always surprising us with things better than we could think of ourselves. I can be vehement and prayerful at the same time: "O God, I've had enough! Change her! Change me! Bring something good out of this, but end it!"
Isn't anger a sin? No: anger is what the Catechism calls "one of the principal passions" which are neither good nor evil. Anger happens, for Sisters like everyone else. It can prompt us to do good - social justice organizations usually begin when someone has righteous anger a systemic wrong. If I nurse my anger toward revenge and hatred, that becomes evil. Prayer - bringing my anger into conversation with God's goodness - lets my reason use anger's energy for action to change things, or my will to choose to forgive.
Praying when I am angry with God. People think prayer always sounds holy; a powerful experience taught me otherwise. I ranted about something that seemed unbearable: "God shouldn't allow such awful problems!" The parish pastor handed me his keys. "Go unlock the church and yell at God," he said. "He already knows you're mad, and he can take it." Many saints did the same. In a vision, God told St. Theresa that he sent trials to friends. She replied, "No wonder you have so few!"
Benedictines stay aware of God's presence everywhere -- even in awful events. God CAN take my anger -- and transforms it and me. My job is to show up, ready to be surprised. Prayer is most important when it's hardest to do.
(Have a question about how a Benedictine Sister applies her Catholic faith and St Benedict's Rule to life in the 21st century? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. But remember: Sister Edith is a sociologist, not a theologian!)