My spiritual director asked me today what it might be like to invite Gd – and specifically the love of Gd – in to the emotional world I’m currently living within (mostly anger and grief). As often happens, questions about experiencing love left me somewhat speechless, and my director smartly redirected the question: What would it be like to invite the angry Gd in?
I haven’t done this before. I have a pretty unflappable belief in Gd. I know I believe, I don’t fundamentally care if others do. I have had intense Gd-experiences: a call to ministry, a childhood spent in conversation with Gd, a tingly feeling I get with some regularity when I am aligned with my purpose that I have always understood to be something related to Gd. These things have not really related at all to letting Gd in on my emotional landscape. Why tell Gd about how I’m feeling? It’s not as though there is anything that Gd could do about it.
But the thing is that, immediately, when posed the question, I imagined the rolling, pissed-off ocean surrounding Jonah’s ship (my Hebrew name is Yonah/Jonah), and calmed down. It was not a feeling of Gd being mad at me. It was a feeling of coherence, though: I feel like a mad ocean. My heart is full of an angry, rolling ocean.
What kind of emotional world exists out there if we allow ourselves to ask the question: What happens if you let the angry Gd in? The jealous Gd in? The grieving Gd in? The joyous Gd in? What if Gd can become a conversational partner with us in our feelings, instead of an emblem of feelings writ large?
I am calmer for being able to recognize the rolling angry ocean in my heart. My anger has a place. My deep grief has a place. I can picture it. I can name it. I can recognize that at best I am sometimes just a tiny raft trying to stay afloat in the ocean of my feelings. And that sometimes even Gd is an angry ocean.
There is a Jewish spiritual practice called התבודדות – hitbodedut. It is the practice of being alone with oneself (to make oneself be alone). Sometimes it is translated as self-seclusion, but I don’t like that translation as much because really hitbodedut is putting oneself in an environment in which one can be with oneself and with Gd, to talk. This practice is done aloud. Very often in nature. You take yourself to a tree, and talk to it. You take yourself to a field, and you yell. Various friends have suggested this practice to me and it’s scary: What happens when you open yourself truly to the range of your emotions? I have no idea.
What I do know is that, this idea of imagining that Gd experiences a range of emotions, that I can relate to because I have access to stories about Gd having emotions and acting on them in my biblical text, is useful. It helps me think about hitbodedut as a practice I can do, because at some level, Gd is not some huge other thing. Gd is also an experiencer of feelings. Who I can talk to. When I am angry, and feeling like there is a rolling angry ocean in my heart, I can remember the story of Jonah, and that Gd was once a rolling angry ocean, too.
The thing is, I only thought of righteous anger before as the anger of justice. Of Gd the judge. Anger that I feel on behalf of other people who are being oppressed, for example. But righteous just means virtuous or good, and we know it is good to feel and express emotions. Maybe a righteous emotion is equally one that has been hard to express that has finally found expression. Maybe hitbodedut is a way of making a pathway to that expression, opening us up to the possibility that our emotional and spiritual paths are far more connected to each other – and to Gd – that we often want to think they are.
I will be angry for a while, still, I think. There is a lot of anger that I have not yet learned to move through me. But I am excited to think about inviting Gd into that anger with me. It is a lot less scary and a lot less lonely to let my heart be the rolling angry ocean that it is if I think about getting to be fully in that anger in the presence of a Gd who is sometimes a rolling, angry ocean, too.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.