Now let us say something about the senseless passion of anger, which ravages, confuses and darkens every soul and, when it is active, makes those in whom it is easily and quickly aroused behave like beasts. This passion is strengthened particularly by pride, and so as long as it is so strengthened it cannot be destroyed.
If, therefore, you continually recall this [who He is, and what He became for our sakes] with your heart, the passion of bitterness, anger and wrath will not master you. For when the foundations constructed of the passion of pride are sapped though this recalling of Christ’s humiliation, the whole perverse edifice of anger, wrath and resentment automatically collapses.
-“Letter to Nicolas the Solitary”, p. 154 & 156, St. Mark the Ascetic
Luke Becker, our generally happy and sturdy lad of almost two, has an anger problem. He is generally loving toward his parents, housemates (especially baby!), grandparents, you name it. He even will initiate hugs with young kids he meets at the mall playground. Simple things make him happy: seeing fish at the PPG Aquarium, listening to the “Elmo” song or the “Bus” song, and hearing/seeing buses, trains, fire trucks, trash trucks, etc. The kid loves life.
But then there is the dark side of Luke: his senseless passion of anger. When Luke wants to keep watching his favorite wrestling video again and his dad says ‘no’ or when he wants to open the front door himself and walk outside when his mom says ‘not now’ or when he wants this and mom and dad say he needs that, he gets angry. Still not completely capable in the verbal articulation department, Luke cannot express his anger and frustration except by outward physical action: Books and toys (even his favorite ones) get thrown across the room; a cup or spoon is lobbed across the table; mom and dad become punching bags; steps become places to bang his head. He is, as St. Mark writes, ‘quickly and easily aroused’ and behaves like a beast.
However, I don’t believe Luke’s anger is so much strengthened by pride as it is by his immature ability to express himself verbally. He is just too young to know any better- for now. I, on the other hand, do have years of experience in expressing myself verbally and yet I also struggle with anger. I have learned to control my angry outbursts so that neither my husband nor my son, neither my friends nor strangers have to worry about me throwing harmful objects at them when I am angry. Regardless, I cannot escape the reality that my personal pride continues to strengthen anger within me.
One way I’ve recently been confronted by my anger within is when I’m behind the steering wheel driving to and from work. For many years I did not have to pay much attention to the roads when commuting to work because there was either a bus or a subway driver taking care of that task for me. Since March, however, I have been driving to work and have been regularly frustrated and angry at the incompetent driving of others I experience along the way- the man who doesn’t signal when switching lanes, the woman who drives under 25mph when everyone else normally drives at least 35-40mph on that road and the bus that takes up 2 lanes of traffic and stops at every block along the way. I’m always trying to get to and from work in just under ½ hour…I don’t want to be late for work and I want to be back on time to relieve Tim from watching Luke so he can resume work. Why can’t other drivers drive better? Why don’t they signal like me? Why don’t they pay better attention on the road like I do? When I get angry at those kinds of things my heart beat quickens and I’ll often make some snide remark or loudly state my frustration at their incompetence.
Another pride-fuelled anger that I have comes into play when I am challenged in different places or by different people to think introspectively about growing edges in my life. Sometimes I can be my own worst critic, yet at other times I can be my own best defender. I can put up a nice shield of defense to keep protected from the questions that penetrate my heart. I know in my head that I am broken and prideful, but my guarded heart does not always understand or acknowledge that. And so I get angry at the person or the thing I’m reading that asks those prodding questions. I find it easier to be defensive and angry than to soften and receive the words of challenge.
St. Mark asks us if we want this ‘tree of disorder’ to dry up within us and become barren “so that with the axe of the Spirit it may be ‘hewn down and cast into the fire’ together with every other vice (Matt 3:10).” I know my answer is YES, but my tree is still wet. This Lenten season it has been helpful for me to follow our House’s daily practice of reading over St. Mark’s advice and reflections regarding keeping the humility of the Lord in my heart and never forgetting it. “Call to mind who He is, and what He became for our sakes. Reflect first on the sublime light of his Divinity revealed to the essences above…” These words are potent and humbling. These words are beautiful and true. I need to read them more and more, over and over and to continue reflecting on them more deeply. I pray that these words might penetrate my guarded heart and in so doing make my edifice of anger collapse.