On the pilgrim way: ‘I find myself unreasonably angry’
Sheila Maxey on dealing with unhelpful anger
Sometimes I just long to be allowed to withdraw from all the clamour and suffering of the world – and I find myself unreasonably angry with those who force me to pay attention to it all. A colleague of 40 years ago rang me up. Being politically to the left of the Labour Party, and an atheist with a vocal social conscience, he was angry that his town in Essex had no plans to offer a home to even a single Syrian refugee family. He phoned me because he remembered that I was a Christian and therefore was bound to support him in pressing for something to be done.
He had written several times to the diocese and had been fobbed off. Taken aback, I suggested a website he might start with and then, I am ashamed to say, fobbed him off with: ‘I am 79, you know.’ I then felt angry with him for putting me in this position.
Our Big Issue seller, Monica, has had another baby – number five – and has started begging for nappies and baby milk. Of course, she is not supposed to beg, and I suspect she is not even licensed to sell the Big Issue. She is on our church knitting group’s prayer list because we gave her a shawl when number four was born. I have twice bought her a pack of nappies but I now find myself trying to avoid her because I don’t know how to respond to her obvious need. I feel angry with her for putting me in this position.
During a spring retreat at the Othona Community, on the Essex marshes, I shared the situation with a Muslim participant. She told me that she had talked about the question of giving to beggars and generally giving to charity with her Moroccan father-in-law – a very devout and wise man. He said that God calls us to give to those in need and that we have to answer to God for our record in this matter. What the person who receives does with what we give – in other words whether he or she is honest or not, or sells on what we give, etc – is something for which that person is answerable to God and not to us. I could, perhaps, have then have had a discussion about responsible giving. Instead, that advice has stayed with me like a grain of sand in a shell which, as I keep mulling it over, may yet produce a fine pearl.
For the moment, to let the unhelpful anger die away, I need to pay attention to the opening words of Psalm 131: ‘O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.’
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the July/August 2017 edition of Reform