I love the story of the two wolves warring inside of us. I especially love the second ending that people hadn’t heard before, where we have to feed both the black and the white wolf(check out the longer ending here: https://danherr.com/2015/05/27/two-wolves-the-real-cherokee-story/ ). When I was growing up, for example, it was the established understanding that we shouldn’t show anger or cry in public, for that was a sign of weakness. Our comic book heros didn’t cry, the Lone Ranger or Zorro never shed a tear. Instead they triumphed and rode off into the sunset, satisfied with a job well done and another case of justice made right.
A lot of the cowboy westerns by people like Max Brand and Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour would have a brave individual fighting to make things fair through perseverance, cleverness and knowing the difference between right and wrong. But this was a lop-sided view of the world. The image of men who could take a pounding and rise up to still prevail against the guy with the scar and the black hat was unrealistic to say the least.
Men did their best to live up to these high expectations. They stuffed their anger down, they pretended everything was fine. They denied to themselves how they were feeling. They learned that it was more important to show folks a calm demeanor than to be real. They embraced the phrase, ‘boys will be boys’, and bottled up all the negative energies they had. Women didn’t do much better. We were supposed to bottle up emotions and never get angry either. We grew up with a double standard. Nice girls don’t get noisy or demanding or angry or asking for justice. Nice girls keep their legs together, dress modestly and stay at home dreaming of the prince who will ride into their lives, sweep them off their feet and plunk them into the castle of their dreams where they would live happily ever after.
Women needed rescuing and they couldn’t make decisions and the only emotion they were supposed to show was gratitude for being rescued by their strong man. So no wonder the greatest pain that most people struggle with is one you would least expect.
Last weekend at the workshop I was at, we talked about spiritual pain, and how there were four kinds. The loss of meaning, the loss of hope, the loss of relationship and the loss of forgiveness. The one that was most prevalent in dying people was lack of forgiveness. Veterans from the military, the modern tough cowboys of our society, were 73% more likely to be struggling with forgiveness than meaning, hope or relationship. Forgiveness was broken down to four different issues: forgiveness of myself, forgiveness of others, forgiveness of God and forgiveness of multiple groups. Guess who vets struggled the most with? Forgiveness of themselves. Guess which was the hardest to forgive? God. 83% of people who were mostly angry at God failed to find peace and the strength to forgive God.
What is forgiveness? It is not going up to someone who abused you in the past, pasting on a cheesy grin and saying “I forgive you and Jesus loves you”. No, that is shallow and not terribly believable. Instead my course taught that forgiveness is a voluntary letting go of the desire for revenge. It does not say that the harmful actions were inconsequential or unimportant or even appropriate, but that we are not going to dwell on those harmful actions any more. It is saying that I don’t want to live my life full of thoughts of resentment and envy any more. It recognizes that anger is, as the Buddha taught, a hot coal that I pick up to throw at someone else but it burns my own fingers first.
Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot fill our minds with negative angry thoughts and holy ones. We cannot spend our time thinking about grudges and hurts and resentments and God as well. We cannot be both full of judgement or inflexible condemnation and Christian love. It is one or the other. Jesus taught that when we are feeling negative emotions, it can help to go for a walk in nature, thinking about birds or flowers or fields of grass. Another practise is to write down a list of things we are grateful for. In fact this is a very effective tool for healing our resentments. It’s why we celebrate Thanksgiving. And it is a powerful form of prayer.
But there are times when feeding the white wolf is not enough. We need strength and resiliency. There are times when, like Jesus, we need to have the courage to name oppression and abuse for what it is. We know that it isn’t easy, and it couldn’t have been easy for Jesus to start heading to Jerusalem where he would speak against the injustices he saw around him, the abuse of power, the attempts to control vulnerable people, to exploit the poor and the lonely. We saw plenty of that this week with the coverage at the senate hearings. Regardless of who we found more credible, there is a troubling sense of conflict over what should be a priority in our world, unbiased, fair, level-headed justice. Trustworthy people that will make wise choices not based on who is in power or what their personal beliefs or biases are, but for the highest good of the whole community.
The God view. Seek first the community of God. Even a practice of gratitude as the psychology experts recommend should take back seat to the work of looking for and creating the community of God, one that does not fear the future or what other people might think or say. A community that seeks to heal one another and work for justice and equity for all. A community of radical hospitality, radical generosity and radical forgiveness. That is the kind of dream worth making great sacrifices for, that takes God-given strength and courage to work towards. That takes radical acts of thanksgiving and forgiveness and uses it to benefit all the world, not just humans. Thanks be to God that we are not alone in this journey.