Anger and Advent

by Kristin on December 19, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Conanil

Anger and Advent don’t really go together. Anger clashes with the decorations—the peaceful candles and sparkling lights on the tree. It rudely contradicts the cheerfully wrapped packages and Christmas cards that arrive in the mail, summing up the season in imperatives: Rejoice! Be merry!

But anger feels more right to me than numbness. And numbness was all I had been feeling in the days following the school shooting in Newtown, CT last Friday.

I’m no psychologist, but numbness seems to be the result of strong, conflicting feelings slamming up against one another, canceling each other out. It also happens when what we are feeling conflicts with what we think we should be feeling. Facing tragedy in the midst of Advent highlights that conflict. I can’t express both joy and sadness at once. I don’t know how to feel both defeated and triumphant. I can’t seem to marry anger and peace. So I am left feeling numb. Nothing.

There is no place for numbness during Advent, the season of hoping, expectantly, for God to burst through all that once separated us, to be with us, in the flesh. When we’re numb, we don’t feel—we can’t wail or dance. We can’t see anything clearly, only fog. We don’t have the courage to confront or advocate. I was there, in that nothing place.

But then my anger was unleashed and broke through the numbness (thanks to Mike Huckabee and James Dobson, and the things they’ve said since the shooting). With my anger, I can see again, and one of the things I see is that there’s room for anger, even during Advent.

There’s room for anger toward a man who would kill a classroom of children and toward a society that would let him go through life that troubled.

There’s room for anger toward people who assign broad social blame for senseless acts of violence, and who feel entitled to speak for God.

There’s room for anger toward a world that can’t make room for a young woman, far from home and about to give birth.

There’s room for anger, because the ability to be angry proves we still care deeply—that we haven’t grown numb and indifferent, that we are desperate for a better world.

* * * * *

Each Sunday during Advent, at our church, children light the Advent candles as we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, adding a verse each week as another candle is lit.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and turn our darkness into light.

The Advent candles are a metaphor I’ve always loved—light that cannot be overcome by darkness. When I watch the light of the Advent wreath spreading from week to week, I feel a great peace spreading over me, like a blanket with just enough weight to comfort as well as warm.

But this past Sunday it was another song we sing at my church during Advent that got through to me—a song with a different metaphor that speaks to me even more right now, in my anger.

All the wickedness of this world is to God’s mercy, as a live coal in the sea.

There is wickedness in this world, without a doubt. We see searing live coals dropped into our communities far too often. When we are numb, the coals sit there, scorching holes in our lives, starting fires that rage and spread. Sometimes it takes the adrenaline and determination of anger to act—to charge at those coals before too much damage is done, to risk reaching out and grasping that which is intent on destroying us, and hurling it with rage into the deep and wide sea.

Because that is the key: what we do with the wicked live coal after we’ve become angry enough to snatch it up. The only way I know of to leverage the anger we feel without letting it multiply the hurt, is to take it to the sea of God’s mercy. It can be our only destination.


Here are a few other important posts I’ve read recently on this topic:

God can’t be kept out, by Rachel Held Evans

When I am angry, by Preston Yancy

Immanuel, by Alise Wright

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  • Alise Wright

    Beautifully said, Kristin. I tend to be an easily angered person, but I don’t like that about myself, so it can be hard for me to really look at evil deeds and know how to respond well. Thanks for the reminder that we need to acknowledge the coal before we can throw it to the sea.

    • kt_writes

      There is definitely a brand of Christian guilt that’s focused around anger—Preston addresses it some in his post. I know those of us who get worked up easily need to work on it (you know, slow to anger), but I also think we need to consider how to make it a good a powerful characteristic, rather than always a negative one.

  • Sarah Louise

    Hmm. For those of us who are still numb, I would speak to that: it’s okay to be numb, winter is like that, we hibernate and then spring happens. Everyone has their own internal clock…and at a time like this, I think we’re all like teenagers, mood swings all over the place, anger, then more numbness, then tears, then happiness in a moment when something good happens. Right now I’m just so pleased at the radio station that is collecting teddy bears that are given to kids in crisis by law enforcement officers and first responders. Some will go to Sandy Hook and most will stay here in our local area.

    • kt_writes

      Absolutely—being numb is OK. When I was there, that was where I needed to be. I guess the point is that you have to go with what you feel. There’s nothing really you can do about it. When I started feeling angry, I tried to push those feelings away rather than see the rightness of them.

  • Kirstin

    I really love this post, Kristin. Just: yes.

  • Preston Yancey

    Amen, friend. Amen.

  • Alex Marshall

    “There’s room for anger, because the ability to be angry proves we still care deeply—that we haven’t grown numb and indifferent, that we are desperate for a better world.”

    Thanks for this!

    • kt_writes

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I’m so glad there are spaces where we can work through these confusing issues together.

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    I’m been so creamed by the craziness on the news, FB and twitter about Sandy Hook…I dodged this last bit of talking head insanity, only catching peripheral murmurs…THANK GOD.

    It’s WAY Too much. I’m convinced more than ever that the sickness of our particular culture (North America…that is….including much of the Christian one) it expertly reflected in the hysteria and thoughtlessness that is the fever pitch of late. Our words are sounding so violent and very much like the arsenal of bullets too many stockpile. I wonder where are the thoughtful people. Well, I suppose they are quiet. Some of are still thinking intelligently. Later, they will speak up, though too few may hear them. Their wisdom may guide us. Right now we’re drowning in foolishness and folly b/c too many are people of action instead of people of thought. Too many are influenced by holy war type mentalities, and not by the way of Jesus. (As I think about it he didn’t need weapons or a “man card” ….am I right?)

    [It's not just the national scene...the local one is crapping out big time with a whole ton of brokenness, very bad news, and streaks of malevolence newly revealed's been overwhelming. More heaped together than I can remember in a very very long time.]

    I’m finding shelter in my Lord…my mother hen…until I have more strength. I’m not sure if I’m numb…but I am wounded. I’ve stepped back from blogging too. For me, I need a true break. In silence something holy happens. I await that.

    I’m sensing that I’ll need a kind of HAZMAT suit once I emerge and begin to engage my readers again. I’ll take all the prayers you can spare me!

    • kt_writes

      Oh, I so hear and feel what you’re saying, Lisa, about “the hysteria and thoughtlessness that is the fever pitch of late.” I’m glad you are seeking and finding solace, and I will definitely pray for you!

  • themoderngal

    I think the first thing to note is that there is validity to any emotion we have, no matter the time or place. It’s important that we acknowledge what we are feeling and try to understand why we are feeling it — which you’ve done a great job of.

    As my priest said on Sunday, God is always present, but sin still exists. We are angry at sin, but God is present when we use our anger as motivation for positive change.

  • Jennifer Luitwieler

    Just this. Yes.

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