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Being angry together

Last week, in the midst of my usual packed days of appointments with students/staff/faculty, I had two conversations that have stuck with me. Both were with folks who came to chat with me ostensibly about “coping mechanisms” for traumatic events they or a family member had encountered. One was a staff member, one was a first year student. In both cases, we talked for a while about practical concerns:  their need to see a professional counselor and the other resources available to them. But nothing seemed to connect. And then, in both cases, I said, “You must be really mad at God.”

That did it. Both individuals broke down, talked with great passion about how hard they were trying to stay faithful, how angry they were when they tried to pray… And so together we talked. We talked about the idea that sometimes keeping the faith means raging at God, how that means we refuse to give up on the idea of a God who loves us, we demand that God pay attention to what is going on.

They each left my office – and I have been left with their conversations. Sometimes, in this position of campus chaplain, I feel like I act as triage for Counseling Services. I am the person who helps folks get through until they can see someone else, or the person who walks with them and helps them process what is going on with the team of professional therapists and psychiatrists assigned to them. Yes, there are also faith conversations (more on that in a later entry!), but often when people arrive in tears, I am a holding place until we can get them an appointment elsewhere.

So last week was a good reminder that in those situations, the spiritual questions are as big as the emotional and mental pain. I have been remembering that healing includes being honest about our anger at God, never mind at anyone else, and that can be really scary – so the support of the priest or chaplain is essential.

And I am grateful – for a university college (Renison) that ‘gets’ that (despite the fact that we are not a religious school and have no seminary or department of theology),  and I am grateful for a church that even in the midst of tremendous uncertainty, continues to financially support campus ministry.

And perhaps most of all, I am grateful for a legacy of faith that says raging at God is not only OK – sometimes it is the only acceptable response.

About Megan Collings-Moore

Megan spent 8 years in parish ministry before arriving at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo. Raised as a Quaker, and with roots in the Presbyterian Church, she has been Anglican since her teen years. She loves to talk about faith and God – and enjoys a good debate! She likes finding ways to connect popular culture with faith, and thinks there is nothing quite so interesting as people, and finds that those who are seeking truth always have interesting conversations.

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0 Responses to Being angry together

  1. Kyle Norman

    Hi Megan (and welcome to The Community)

    I really enjoyed your post.  It seemed to go hand in hand with the Job readings that have been in our lectionary over the past few weeks.  In reading your post, I couldn’t help but think of all the conversations that I have had with parishioners over the years, that for some reason were told that something faulty about communicating their feelings to God.  They say things like

    • I was told I should not ever yell at God.
    • I was told that it is a sin to feel angry at God.
    • I was told that asking for something in prayer is wrong.

    Thus, when tragedy hits them, they have no outlet to express the emotions and feelings that they have within them.

    Thanks for reminding us that sometimes the expressions of our anger at God can be the very means by which we draw closer to Him.

  2. It’s funny, isn’t it? The Christian story has long included stories of anger and questioning, from Moses’ pleas to Jesus turning tables over, to the plea, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…”

    Doesn’t mean we are always right, but it’s an important part of the human experience.

  3. Matthew Griffin

    One of my favourite moments in film and TV is just such a moment: President Bartlet raging against God after his beloved friend and secretary’s funeral in the National Cathedral. It’s a deeply human moment:

    It’s a special gift, too, to be able to be there for someone as they offer their feelings to God. When we give ourselves and our feelings to God, it can’t help but draw as closer to God in the long run: why else would we see the whole range of human emotions in the psalms?


  4. Love the clip, Matthew – thanks. It is a funny thing how we think anger at God cannot co-exist with faith… I think one of the best ‘stories’ I have heard on that is the one about God being tried in the concentration camp (is it Elie Weisel who tells this?) – where God is put on trial for crimes against humanity, and is found guilty – and then the same folks who gave the verdict notice that it is sunset, and so they turn to Jerusalem and begin to pray…


    And yes, walking with people in all of that is a tremendous privilege – and one of the great blessings of being priest…

  5. While we’re living in paradox, any thoughts on living peacefully with anger?

  6. Kyle Norman

    I think you probably need to define what you mean by ‘peacefully’.  Are you talking about ‘non-aggression’? or more of a state of rest or contentment?  Sometimes I think of anger a boiling pot of contaminated water.  You need the boil so that the impurities can burn away.   But that is for the purpose of cleansing and purifying.  At the end, you exist back in a state of coolness. (temp wise – not socio-popularity wise).

    I think the trick is knowing when your anger begins to consume you, and then walk away from it.  If you boil to long, everything you are will just evaporate.

    So living peacefully is about knowing the purpose of anger, the role it can play in soothing/healing a person, but then holding that in tension with our call to love our enemies, and forgive those who wrong us.

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