A Nigerian woman, a physician at a teaching hospital in the United States, attended a Gordon MacDonald lecture. After, she approached Gordon, to offer kind words of affirmation. She introduced herself using an American name.
“If I may ask,” Gordon inquired, “what’s your African name?”
The woman pronounced her name, several syllables long, with a musical sound to it.
“And what does your name mean?” Gordon asked.
She answered, “It means ‘Child who takes the anger away.‘”
When he inquired about it’s origin, she told him the story.
“My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much that they defied the family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. After my birth, and when the grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that’s the name my mother and father gave me.”
This story tugs at two heart reminders.
One, remember what tethers you (don’t ever forget the name you’ve been given).
And two, that which tethers you is the fuel that spills wholeheartedness and empathy and compassion into the world around you. It makes the difference.
Garrison Keillor once reflected on the church of his youth: “We had a surplus of scholars, and a deficit of peacemakers.” I would argue that is a ratio, which needs to be reworked. Or maybe this story is more personal than that. Because the bottom line is that I would like to be known as a person who sweeps anger away. Being a reconciler sounds like a pretty good way to live.
Well, here’s the good news; every single one of us have been endowed and equipped, because every single one of us has been given the name, peacemaker.
Too good to be true? I can relate. So, I settle for less. Because, “That can’t be me,” I tell myself.
Which begs the question; in this churning and uncertain environment, from where do we draw our identity, and our character?
This is from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, “So; chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline.
Be true to who you are…
Yes… Child who takes the anger away.
Yes… Embrace this new life of love.
Yes… Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.
So here’s my question: What would happen if we lived as if these are true?
Can we hear that today?
I resonate with the Nigerian doctor’s story because I know about anger and it’s power. It can be like acid, corroding the heart and spirit. It’s not as if I even require an enemy. I lash out indiscriminately. It doesn’t mollify much, other than taking me away from my self.
Anger can find a home in the shape of sadness or brokenness or despair or hopelessness or loss of control. And we give in to anger because we are afraid, or we feel out of control. Because we live from fear, it’s no wonder we wish for control. We feel at the mercy of. So our lives simply react to chaos.
Plato reminded us that, “What is honored will be cultivated.” I like the verb honor. It’s not about belief or cognitive assent. How did the Nigerian Doctor honor the name her parents gave her? She lived into it.
But we give way.
When my identity is hijacked by distraction, I cannot honor.
When I am consumed by prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, I cannot honor.
When I label or dismiss others, I cannot honor.
When anger consumes my energy and I overreact or wound, I cannot honor.
When I cannot honor, I lose sight of what is real and authentic.
In Sabbath Moment (The Artist Inside) last week, we used the metaphor of the artist and being tethered to that authenticity given to our childhood. And how life knocks it out of us.
In the opening scenes of Shine, we first meet the middle-aged David Helfgott (played by acclaimed Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush), babbling to himself incessantly and wandering in the rain, in a state of transition. Behind him is the isolated existence as a child piano prodigy whose emotional turmoil led to a nervous breakdown, and a series of stays in various mental institutions. Ahead of him is his eventual reconnection with the world around him, guided by both love and his virtuoso talent that has been long abandoned. We witness the awakening of the artist. In the movie (and in real life), David eventually moves toward that which gives life.
For me, the tragedy is that (in the name of love) David’s father (Peter) squeezes the artist out of the prodigy. But in truth, it doesn’t always require a pathological “love” to hide or extinguish the light.
In the movie rendition, there is a scene that stops my heart. David and his father are walking home after a competition. David has placed second.
(In his father’s eyes, anything other than first is a failure.) The father is seething, and there is no hiding his disgust. David has lived his entire life absorbing his father’s pathology, doing his very best to make his Daddy happy. The father walks ahead, hurried, his spirit heavy. David follows. On the sidewalk, in chalk, there is a hopscotch pattern. The camera follows from behind, and we see young David unconsciously, intuitively, childlike, hopping and skipping and jumping–the joy and the light (and the artistry) of his childhood still alive.
So here’s the deal: The artist—the authentic voice, the authentic name, the authentic wardrobe—in David did not reside only in the talent or prodigy or genius, but in the spontaneity, vitality, innocence, passion and delight.
He dressed in—he honored—the wardrobe…
Yes. Let the child spill.
And yes, every one of us is afraid at times. Who knows all the reasons? But when it happens we revert to a zero sum view of the world. We believe that resources–including compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and generosity–are finite. We believe that life is short and you get what you can. And if I don’t know you, you are my enemy… or at the very least, someone to be mistrusted.
Remember the wardrobe? Those bearings that unlock mercy… and who knows, maybe even the possibility for healing and peacemaking.
A blessed Mother’s Day to you all. I wish for you hugs and kisses and flowers and chocolate.
I spent my day working in the garden. No surprise there. And yes, a cold IPA awaited me at the end of my day. I filled the bird feeders. And watched the Mallards fuss with the squirrels and chipmunks over who had fist dibs at the dish by the pond. And relished the garden’s wardrobe of calm and wonder and restoration.
More than ever we need sanity and restoration. Speaking of which… Please join me for a live webinar this week… May 16 (Tuesday) or May 17 (Wednesday), about creating sanctuary places. There is no cost. And if you can’t make it live, now worries… sign up, you’ll be able to replay the webinar for up to one week after.
And don’t forget to tell a friend. The Sanctuary eCourse begins May 22.
Be gentle with yourself.
Quotes for your week…
It seems that in the spiritual world, we do not really find something until we first lose it, ignore it, miss it, long for it, choose it, and personally find it again–but now on a new level. Richard Rohr
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian. Jesus came to make us fully human. Hans Rookmaaker
It’s time to break out —
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
And the jasmine vines, and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?
Now I Know Why I Sing When I Walk
Sing to God a new song – Psalm 33:3
Generation unto generation—
Deserve the voice of an angel,
So that my longing
Be lifted up like Jacob’s ladder,
Giving song to what I know
I don’t know.
In my heart there is one
With a violin so pure,
Each string sings
When the wind weaves
And all I can do is hum tunelessly,
Over and over, as a I walk
My daily worship,
Jennifer (Jinks) Hoffman