- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -
I just finished reading one of my favorite stories about Jesus in the Christian Scriptures – the story of “The Cleansing of the Temple.” In this tale, Jesus angrily lashes out against the temple authorities and he boldly confronts the well-established religious leaders of his day who have turned the temple into a marketplace. Back in Jesus' day, if you had enough money to purchase birds and animals for use in the ritual sacrifices, you were allowed to participate in the temple services. If you were too poor to do so, you were cast away. Hence, only the rich and healthy were given access to God while the poor and weak were kept at the margins.
In the “temple cleansing story” Jesus angrily overthrows the money-laden tables of the temple merchants and he calls the religious authorities “hypocrites” who dress in fine robes and say long prayers but have no sense of compassion especially for those who are poor and needy. In this story Jesus raises his voice on behalf of those who have no voice and he declares that, in the eyes of “God,” there are no outcasts.
I think this may be one of my favorite stories because in it we see Jesus as far more than an “easy-going,” meek and mild teacher who preached a “nice” message about being kind. Instead, Jesus is portrayed as a fiery, passionate and courageous prophet who goes against the grain of the status quo and boldly proclaims the dignity and welfare of every human being without counting the cost. This story also teaches me something about the important role of “holy anger” on a spiritual path.
Many may think that “anger” is always a barrier that stands in the way of deeper truth and indeed, anger can (and often does) lead to spiritual destruction; but there is also another kind of anger that can lead to enlightened wisdom.
Anger is energy, and when this energy is used to assert a self-important ego, the energy turns into aggression "against" others - this is the kind of anger that blocks the path to enlightenment. But that very same energy can also be used to wake up compassion on behalf of others - the energy of this kind of anger motivates us to stand up, raise a fist, bare our teeth, and say "NO" to all that is self-indulgent and unjust.
I recently read this insightful description of the kind of “holy anger” that leads to enlightenment:
In its awakened form, anger brings good to the world.
It is the energy that inspires great movements for freedom and social justice.
It helps us to be honest about our own foibles
and to show a loved one how they are damaging themselves.
It is a vital part of every spiritual path,
for before we can say yes to enlightenment
we must say no to self centeredness, injustice and aggression.
Today, as I read that story about Jesus “cleansing the temple,” it was clear to me that Jesus was filled with a “holy anger.” I was also reminded of the many fiery prophets throughout the Hebrew scriptures who angrily “lashed” out against kings and princes of their own day, advocating on behalf of the weak and the poor. I also thought about about contemporary social prophets like Martin Luther King Jr. who opposed the use of violence but was consumed with a holy anger against any who would hoard and hog the table of life while barring others from an equal place.
It seems to me that “holy anger” has an important role to play on the spiritual journey.
I have often thought that there is far too much anger in the world today, and in one sense this is true; but in another sense, maybe there isn't enough spiritual anger in today’s culture. There is far too much aggression used "against" others, but perhaps far too little anger exhibited on behalf of others. Maybe we need a lot less aggressive anger and a lot more holy anger not just in the world in general but in our own personal lives.
It’s interesting to me that most world religions invite adherents to both “affirm” what they believe and to “renounce” what they do not believe, to say “yes” to compassion and to say “no” to self-centeredness and aggression. A while back I saw these two “renunciation questions” that pretty much summarize what is usually asked of the followers of major world religious traditions:
Do you renounce all desire to possess people and things
for your own use?
Do you renounce all envy, violence and injustice against others
and against the earth?
It takes the concentrated energy of “holy anger” to answer these questions with passion. It takes the energy of this different kind of anger to say “no” to selfishness and to stand against violence and injustice.
Of course, you don’t have to be a religious believer to feel a “holy anger.”