Rage Is Not Holy 

“The Devil Wears Prada” is a savagely funny movie about the imperious editor of an important fashion magazine who makes life hell for the assistants working under her—and everybody else. Success is the name of her game. It consists of using people as if they were objects. Her work style is fueled by anger, narcissism, arrogance and extraordinary self-interest.

Far more than a new movie, it becomes a morality play. Why? Because people similar to the driven editor are legion. They’re found in politics and business and the arts—and religion. Sometimes they live just up the street and around the corner. Their smiling faces are often intricately-constructed masks that effectively conceal truth.  They are enemies of peace. Their agendas and machinations endanger healthy community.

Rage is too much with us. Some people speak of “holy anger.” Rage is not holy. In all the years that I encountered Martin Luther King in myriad public situations, he was never enraged. He was demonstrative. He was impassioned. He was committed to nonviolence. Once I heard him describe nonviolence as the way one should pick up a telephone receiver to respond to a call—a simple act of wholeness and integrity instead of a big public relations gesture or a political act for the 10 o’clock news.

This is why Christians engaged in the work of social justice need to cultivate an inner spiritual life centered in prayer and quiet reflection. This is indispensable for a public life of debate, action and complex relationships. When I became a Freedom Rider in 1961 and, following the example of Martin Luther King, opposed the Vietnam War—which included participation in a Peace Mass inside the Pentagon—I sometimes neglected my inner spiritual life because of the pressure of immediate demands. At such times I veered toward self-righteousness and became shrill and angry.

I see clearly what went amiss. I denied the central place of prayerful reflection in my life. In recent years I have undertaken the task of being spiritual director for around a dozen women and men, mostly clergy, ranging in age from late twenties to early seventies. I feel that anyone involved in the work of social justice needs to be actively engaged in the discipline of centering prayer. It enables a needed perspective, integrates the inner life with the outward life, and allows humility to serve as a companion in one’s public, bigger-than-life controversies.

I like what Margaret Guenther says about spiritual direction in her book, Holy Listening. She writes, “To know in truth, then, is to allow one’s self to be known.  This is the truth that became incarnate in Jesus Christ, a truth known not in abstraction, but in relationship. The shared commitment to truth ensures that the spiritual direction relationship is one of true mutuality, for both director and directee must allow themselves to be known.”

Encouraging directees to discover and embrace their own questions, she turns to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, where the poet urges his reader “to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

May I suggest this is a hugely significant moment for us to move toward spiritual perception? The process can include:

In other words, accept responsibility—even in small or personal ways—to help break the growing and killing cycle of violence, destruction and anger that turns into rage.


Published as “You and Me” column in The Episcopal News, Late Summer 2006 issue (August 2006)