Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Rage viewed from a world without soul

Television dramas seem replete with rage….angry victims perpetrating unlawful acts of rage linked inextricably to law enforcement agents pouring intense physical and emotional rage in their pursuit and capture. Pitting both extremes against each other, as a moral epic, however, too often misses the interstacies of the backgrounds of both victims and power brokers.

Why do people erupt in rage?

This is a question, in many different faces, I have pondered for decades. It was rage that seemed to trigger violence in the form of demeaning verbiage and bruising thrusts of a heavy right arm both erupting from a seemingly unleashed mother, whenever a trigger of imperfection ignited the roiling furnace of her rage. As a youngster, I lived in both fear and anticipation of the “next episode” and learned, without conscious awareness, to scout, to reconnoiter, to smell, and to intuit the danger signals whenever I entered our house. Whistling, the bottom false-teeth plate stuck out of the mouth, seated at the end of the kitchen counter smoking a duMaurier cigarette, frenetic cleaning, huge heaves of fatigued breathing while hanging the washing on the line from the back porch, and the basic withdrawal into the bedroom for days and weeks while the rest of the family ate the evening meal…these were the barlines in a raucous, untempered, unpredictable  score of rage the origins of which condition remain a mystery decades after her actual death.

Was it boredom, servility, perfectionism, the pursuit of the holy, revenge against her father, self-loathing at having married “beneath” her entitled state, competition of the Hollywood mother, volcanic eruptions of a deep-seated devaluing from an  early life of isolation, alienation and depravity??????....who knows. Some might  even diagnose it as a legacy of desperate and pervasive inadequacy and the fear of being “disclosed” especially in comparison with her highly talented, valued, appreciated and even honoured mother.

George Santayana: Depression is rage spread thin.

Paul Tillich: Boredom is rage spread thin.

Tina Brown: Servility always curdles into rage in the end.

What is the difference between the passion of soul and the soul of passion? How can we appreciate the relationship between rage and the conditions of the world in which rage seems to erupt? Is there a relation, given our highly conventional cultural fixation on the depravity of the individual, to the blindness of the social anatomy in which the individual exists? The nature vs. nurture discussion has often taken the form of a painting the different aspects of individual genetics on a canvas of the social laboratory as depicted by sociologists and historians and anthropologists. Are there more nuanced, perhaps refined, perspectives through which to examine rage?

Does the human imagination, for instance, include a conscious or unconscious vision of how things might be in any circumstance in which a human finds him or herself? Does this vision impel both emotions and actions toward fulfilment of that vision? Does this vision also potentially impel/compel thoughts, strategies, plans and even actions that “rebel” against the “what is” when compared with the “what might be or have been”? Is rage one of the potential outcomes of the perceived “deficit” in one’s feeling/experience of emptiness, given the perception of the ethos in which s/he exists?
Let’s look at some of the potential landscapes/streetscapes/kitchenscapes/bedroomscapes/officescapes/boardroomscapes that might potentially evoke, provoke, trigger, motivate rage!

Suffering, in its many forms and faces, pain, illness, scarcity, loneliness, abandonment, impotence, anger …..these are normally associated with an incident, another person, a workplace, and often generate feelings of retribution, revenge, jealousy. Often associated with Mars, masculinity, is painted with the brush of anger. And in a culture in which “talking it out” with and through the professional services of a therapist, a social worker, a coach, counsellor or even a psychiatrist is the preferred approach to healing. Included in this approach, too, is the potential of pharma-therapies. Currently, for example, in the western world, relationships, sex, alcoholism, and excessive emotional outbursts like rage, are considered
illnesses, disease, each requiring “treatment”. We will often hear or read about those who commit violent acts as “mentally disturbed” psychotic, perhaps even as sociopaths or psychopaths. And we are not either apologizing for nor excusing acts of rage that destroy the lives of other people. This argument is trying to shift the lens away from the pathologizing of the illness to the lens of the “world” or the culture as the subject of our perspective. Could it be that the world, itself, incarnates many forms of “disease” that impact the individual personal lives of millions of our colleagues?

Based on early science that discovered “germs” at the root of disease, the term theory “holds that disease in an invasion of the body from the outside by bacteria, each disease being characterized by a distinct malignant biological entity.” (Robert Sardello,
Facing the World with Soul, p.66)

On the other hand, if we were to take a more prescient, insightful, penetrating lens to the “world” and the contemporary culture, we would pay more attention to the conditions of the world that might be negatively impacting human health and well-being:

The present age is characterized by a physical deteriorating of the structure of culture and by a loss of soul. Anonymity abounds with a pervasive incapacity to experience individuality…Emotional life becomes shallow, the will absent, the interior life lost. These disappearing qualities belonged first to the world; the world’s suffering and the neglect of that suffering are secondarily manifested through the microcosmic world of the individual body. (Sardello, p. 71, in his analysis of the roots of AIDS)

When confronting the ubiquitous malaise of cancer, Sardello writes:

Cancer is the most substantial, most concrete, instance of the suffering of the things of the world, a suffering belonging to the body of the world before it belongs to the body of the individual. While actual cancer is pervasive, cancerphobia is now universal, producing morbid fear of everything in the world. Which is to say that everything in the world is in fear….The belief that medicine will conquer this disease brings about forgetfulness of the world conditions that express cancer while it simultaneously enlarges individual fears to neurotic proportions…(ibid, p.72)

After listing carcinogens, made from synthetic inorganic chemicals, Sardello writes:

(T)hey do not belong to nature and they make possible the proliferation of mass-produced objects on a scale unheard of before. These synthetic substances possess a peculiar kind of immortality, because they are incapable of entering into the organic cycle of life and death, and when discarded they do not return to dust because from dust they did not come; they came from chemical factories. As such, they lack the true individuality of things and bear no mark of handiwork. Without exception, the world of cancer is the world of mass objects that individual things. Cancer appear in the body as the uprising of masses of undifferentiated cells destroying the individual structure of the body. Cancer goes together with mass society. (Ibid, p. 72-3)

Through Sardello’s lens, if disease can be interpreted as the impact of a soul-less culture and world, would it also be feasible to posit a credible apology for rage, based on the lack of soul, the absence of beauty and the failure to acknowledge the “dearth” both so requisite to the healthy imagination of the well-being of each human being.
Paying inordinate attention to the performance of the “garden stage,” the “church-stage” of mandatory attendance and literal readings of scripture, the jack-booted rigour of three-hour-piano-practice appointments every Saturday morning for nearly twelve years, the kitchen-based performance of competitive meals larger, more endowed with calories, and officiously served to humbled and overwhelmed guests….perhaps these were some of the conditions that were causative of a mother’s and a wife’s rage. Was she attempting to do more than was either needed or appropriate? Was she compensating for her hidden (and even unconscious) inadequacy in light of her mother’s generosity and equanimity? Did these “world” conditions approximate a soul-less and ‘ill” culture, which could and would generate different psychic ripples and waves in future generations?

Similarly, a rural, isolated and isolating village, in which child abuse was never reported because “everyone ‘covered’ in silence for everyone else” (the authentic Children’s Aid Society’s assessment), in which more literal, evangelical fundamentalist ideology, essentially a weaponizing of that theology against a moderate, liberal, poetic scriptural reading and interpretation, prevailed, where guns and violence substituted for reason and discussion, especially when fears of inadequacy and illiteracy reared their heads, where alcohol was the medication of preference for the repressed anger and rage and where socializing focused on commerce, materialism, and land prices…does this comprise another example of a soul-less world?

Another example comes to mind from an upper-income, elevated social class hub in a parish church proud of its half-million trust fund while street people went starving only a few blocks away, proud of its list of professional memberships, and its so-carved homilies fashioned specifically for various “types” following the Myers-Briggs test administration, hollowed out by an uber-ambitious female priest’s military, power-driven management threatened by an internal assessment that the part-time surrogate was a “real leader and you are not”….urban focus on maintaining the façade of superiority, of superficiality, and a fixation on function and performance….is this just another iteration of a soul-less world, ironically and paradoxically constructed and purposed to “birth, nurture, elevate, develop and sustain the “soul” of the parishoners?

One more! please be patient, dear reader!

This time, the introduction came through the windshield of a mid-nineties burgundy Subaru, loaded with things that would be required for a stay of years potentially. Rolling, dry, sand-covered hills, dotted with the occasional herd of cattle, and a few lines of skimpy pines and cedars, interrupted by the overwhelming beauty of high-wire curve bordering a mountain cliff over-looking a meandering stream reflecting the afternoon sun….comprised the greeting of nature.

Immediately, upon entering the main street, with the tumble-weed blowing up and down the deserted street, the sun-baked store-fronts evoking images of western movie-sets, merely facades almost unconsciously forcing a shift of the head, to the right to catch a glimpse of the sand-rock outcrop that bordered the north edge of the town. An adventure into the American outlier-wilderness, only admissible to the innocent Canadian romantic as a “new challenge” in a foreign place demanding a dramatic shift in what had been an established “picture of the U.S. big-brother” borne of summers of carrying out groceries from the local Dominion store for wealthy American tourists, and earlier Thursday afternoon penny-scrambles on the town dock for the local “poor kids” patronizing performed by the blue-rinse set from Duluth.

And then, the faces and the perspectives of the small tribe of six people still pleading for survival as a mission church in a town with twenty-two other places of worship started to flow in the first few days. Money, that barometer of soul-less-ness, was and remained the core issue in negotiations with this “Canadian alien.” They wanted what apparently amounted to a mere “sacramentalist” for Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings and, most importantly, no threat to their constricted budget and the even more constricted parameters of their individual and shared expectations.

“We can afford to pay for someone to meet only basic needs,” came from the shrivelled and controlling treasurer. “We have been struggling with supply priests for the last while and we have certainly not been growing.”

To which I responded, “If you want only a sacramentalist, I did not drive 3000 miles to fill that role! Either we will engage in a full-time relationship, or I will return to Canada!”

Protests in frowns, shifting bottoms, darting eyes and silence greeted my retort.

For nearly forty months, after securing a minimal commitment, we struggled, screamed, performed and rehearsed a form of ministry that could only be considered a mere placebo, if the growth and development of individual spiritual lives is the measure. Throughout, I not infrequently drove my fist through the giprock walls in the bathroom, bedroom and hallway of the vicarage in a rage that I am convinced has to have its roots both in the repressed rage of my youth and in the impact of the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social desert of this lost and forgotten town on the west side of the continental divide. I recall sitting on a loaned pink sofa many mornings bemoaning the truth that if I were to venture out into the parish community, by visiting or even by phoning just to “visit,” I knew that I would be considered “invasive” and “gushing” because I would be invading the privacy of their frozen and private and isolated and controlling lives.

There is a phrase in jewish lore, “tsim tsum”…translated as presence through absence, a phrase that was brought to my attention in conversations with classmates in theology, as a positive “take” on the tragedy of my factured family and marriage, brought on by my own decisions. While it never soothed my broken heart and spirit, I only hoped my absence in the lives of three daughters would afford them enhanced opportunity and space for their rich imaginations to flourish in their own lives. In that desert western town, however, I could and did only despair that the impact of my ‘withdrawal’ would be to deepen the isolation and the entrapment of the uroborus snake’s head-in-the-tail repetition of their circular, private, isolated and alienated and anonymous lives.

Perhaps, it is long past time for each of us to re-examine the circumstances, conditions and the attitudes and habits and perceptions of the “world” in which we live and breathe and find our meaning and purpose…asking ourselves to what extent we are conscious of our seeding, watering and weeding the world’s soul…and asking how we can cultivate, each in our own way, an acceptance and adoption of that perspective among our peers.

Rage, at least the rage that I punched into those many holes in that vicarage, is a social and a political embarrassment and, also, importantly a scream coming from  a sick soul of the world….and my failure to plant seeds of world soul in that little community is one of the most glaring failures of a long life.


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