Anger is rarely a part of spiritual journeys—it's usually something we try to leave behind.
Considering that the first line of my own personal Lenten Prayer says that I will “Let go of anger and embrace joy,” sort of puts me among popular opinion that anger’s place in spirituality and personal growth is no place. But in the last several years, as climate change has become an in-your-face existential threat, as environmental justice communities collapse while wealthy communities thrive, as racism rises along with global seas while capitalist demigods amass fortunes, it’s been harder for me to let anger go. Go figure. So am I failing at Lent?
Not necessarily, but I’m not an A student either...not yet. The Black feminist lesbian poet Audre Lorde speaks a lot about anger, but rather than dismiss it as a negative reaction to be overcome (despite its total justification in many cases), Lorde says: “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”
She further clarifies the important difference between hate and anger: “Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.”
So this anger of mine that bubbles up out of pure response and emotion, sticking to me like glue, might have purpose. My anger at social and environmental injustices is wasted if I simply push aside, ignore it, make it “a thing to get over.” And waste, whether it’s food waste or energy waste or anger waste, is no longer sustainable. We can empower ourselves and use our anger as Lorde says—as a spark for change—directing our voices and actions to change what has stood in the way of justice and a sustainable, viable future for planet and people.
(1981) Audre Lorde, "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism" • (blackpast.org)