Be angry but do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26a)
I am well acquainted with the emotion of anger. I have felt its power surge within me from depths I didn’t know existed. I have felt its power overtake my rational functions and grab hold of my tongue and unleash its rage onto the unsuspecting. In my better moments, the anger seems to be rooted in the recognition of profound injustices both small and great. In my worse moments, the anger is rooted in fear and the protection of my ego. So finding healthy ways to “be angry” has always been at the center of my own life.
I am encouraged when I read of Jesus turning over the table of the money changers. I cheer on the prophets as they hurl their condemnations at those who neglect justice. I find this prophetic anger inspiring because it seems to stand for something, to believe in something, to have allegiance to something bigger than itself. The anger is representative of the hope for a better world and the unwillingness to accept less than God’s promised shalom.
But my anger rarely rises to that noble level. So I search for ways to redirect or tame this wild emotion. In my search for remedies and help, I stumbled across a book by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on anger. He does something with anger that I had never seen before. The very first chapter of his book is entitled “Consuming Anger.” In this chapter he counsels his readers to “…look deeply at how we eat, how we drink, how we consume…” What? The first move he makes in his book is to counsel his readers to be more mindful what and how they eat! Could the act of eating and drinking really be one of the ways to combat anger? This thought has stayed with me ever since I read that book years ago.
As I have turned this thought over and over in my mind, I have been unable to resist the desire to connect it to the Eucharist — the primary “meal” for Christians. So I began to pay attention to myself and my anger as I shared in Holy Communion. Some interesting things emerged. I realized that I eat the Eucharist differently than I eat any other food. I savor it. I reflect on its meaning. I try to receive the promises that the bread and the wine communicate to me. And sometimes the sweetness of the wine or the heartiness of the bread reminds me of the goodness of God and how our senses seem perfectly attuned to the enjoyment of such pleasures…a great gift indeed. I consume the Eucharist as gift. I consume it in gratitude…for the prayer that surrounds the eating lifts my soul in thanksgiving. Most of the time, my experience of Eucharist brings peace and wholeness, however briefly those ‘experiences’ may last. Anger rarely if ever shows its ugly head in those moments.
Perhaps the wise monk was onto something? Perhaps we can receive “wisdom for cooling the flames” through eating and drinking? As he is so careful to remind his readers, we are what we eat. And for Christians, that means something quite special…”we are one body because we partake of the one bread.” And this “body,” the body of Christ, has overcome death and the grave. This “body” is no longer bound to sin or fear or unhealthy expressions of anger. My prayer for each of us is that as we eat, we remember we are what we eat. Amen.