This morning in the car Anthropapa and I were having a discussion about affirmative action and the fact that there have only been 3 African American US senators since Reconstruction, and how maybe President Obama will be a positive role model to increase that number. Yes, at 7:45 am, we were discussing that. I guess the coffee had already kicked in.
Anyway, we were stopped at a busy intersection, and I made another comment in our discussion. Then I noticed that Anthropapa hadn’t responded. I said, “I’m sorry, are you trying to pay attention to the traffic?” He said yes in what sounded like a slightly annoyed tone.
I felt myself get angry all of a sudden. Like, hey–I was just continuing the conversation, why are you annoyed at me? I felt really irritated at how I thought he was judging me.
Then I stopped myself and looked at that angry reaction. What was that all about? Why anger in that moment?
Recently my pastor lent me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. Miller writes in a sometimes profane, sometimes silly, sometimes profound way about how Christianity cannot really be broken down into bullet points and structured dogma without losing the fundamental purpose behind it: a relationship with God. He says that we all have a “lifeboat mentality”: constantly comparing ourselves to others in formulaic ways and placing value on transitory and truly meaningless things to see who comes out ahead and who gets thrown overboard. We do this because we have lost that sense of relationship and have forgotten the love God has for us. If he were Buddhist, Miller might have said the same thing in terms of attachment, and a skewed vision of self that leads to separation from the truth of oneness. There’s a fundamental human truth there, whatever the religion.
Whether you see it as literal or figurative, the Fall in the Garden of Eden presents a picture of that loss of relationship: one minute we had perfect, all-encompassing love, and then we didn’t. And since then all we’re doing is trying to get that love back. We somehow equate that loss of love with a lack of self, a judgment against us, an isolation and fear and trembling. We try to assuage that lack by buying things, judging others to prop up our self-image, even making checklists of things to do to be a better person. We feel so many things in life as tiny reminders of that huge loss, and so we act and react out of fear.
As I thought about my angry reaction this morning, it occurred to me that it felt almost like what I imagine being a baby feels like. Have you ever seen the look of perfect outrage on a baby’s face when the baby feels pain? It’s an instantaneous, loud, and passionate response. It’s like a very primitive sense of un-rightness that neither I nor the baby could explain rationally, but surely feel strongly.
Then I thought about how the Christian answer to that moment of pain would be to remember that God’s love is sufficient. I’m not sure I can fully get there in my mind and heart, but I can at least realize this: whether Anthropapa was really judging me isn’t really the issue, but rather that I don’t need to feel fear or lack or low self-esteem in the face of any perception I might have. And there’s an important point: it’s my perception. My little ego gets in the way of my higher self and clouds my consciousness with such primitive reactions, regardless of what’s really going on. Anger like that is a semi-conscious reaction at best. There’s no higher self involved there.
The Bible gives Jesus as the model of the higher self, and here’s what he and his disciples say is the answer to pretty much everything: love. Love one another. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Of the highest virtues, love is the highest. Over and over again, because even the ones you would think would have totally understood, like St. Peter, needed a lot of repetition to really get it.
So, what it occurred to me to do is observe my anger, and see where I am lacking in love. Why am I feeling in that moment like I’m going over the side of the lifeboat? When did I put myself in the lifeboat in the first place, and why? Why do I perceive the lifeboat as limited–why isn’t there room for everyone in there? Why am I so busy staking out my spot in the boat that I can’t see the fear on someone else’s face, and another that is feeling so seasick, and another who’s worried about catching enough fish to eat, and so on? Why am I letting my little self get in the way, when I’ve got this marvelous higher self just dying to get out there and love my shipmates?