The first thing I read or listen to tends to set my emotional course for the day ahead. By this I mean that whatever bit of news first appears on my screen, and my instinctive reaction to it, will, in some measure, define all my other emotions for the day, along with the thoughts and decisions which these emotions will affect.
Today, it happened to be William Bell’s article in the Comment section of the current issue of the Church Times. Bell’s is a factually sustained account of why we still ought to feel a deep sense of outrage at the ongoing injustices being perpetrated in regard to the Palestinians by the continuing appropriation of their land, and denial of their basic human rights, specifically in the context of East Jerusalem. Yesterday, it was the murder of two young Cambridge graduates by a crazed individual wielding a knife during a seminar designed to bring people together through shared learning.
Many of those who read this post will have experienced similar feelings to mine in regard to the news of the day, and possibly a degree of helplessness in the face of all this evil. But does it have to be like this? Might it be possible to turn our feelings of helplessness and anger to good use, or to ‘convert’ them? I understand this ‘converting’ as a kind of composting, as when biodegradable material is sufficiently concentrated and rendered down that it becomes a nutrient, a source of life and growth for the soil it feeds.
Perhaps our feelings of anger in regard to the events going on around us, not to mention our distrust of politicians and increasing disillusion with the political system itself, need to be rendered down and converted in a similar way. Positive anger may not always translate into writing newspaper articles, but it can fuel hope. For one thing it strengthens resistance, as it has been proved to do in wartime situations when there is a common enemy to defeat. Resistance is not just about defending oneself against danger. It is about being proactive in the face of evil, a proactivity which both defines and tests our humanity.
Our humanity is really the spirit that makes us the persons we are. You could also describe this spirit as ‘will’ or ‘conscience’. It reveals itself as the line we draw between right and wrong, or which defines those situations that require wisdom rather than cleverness, compassion rather than pragmatism. In politics, mistakes are made when decisions taken by politicians are the product of delusion, because they are self-serving or part of a wider power-mongering agenda, as is the case with Trump’s support of Israeli settlements.
The human spirit learns through wisdom to discern motive. So the human spirit is tested not only in how a person or nation responds to the evil being done to others, and to the duplicity and lies of the powerful, but in how that person lives a ‘just’ life, to use a rather biblical expression. Living a just life will involve anger, but it will need to be ‘converted’ anger, anger which is fuelled by compassion and the desire for wisdom and understanding. For the person of faith, this particular kind of understanding, the understanding which ‘bears fruit that will last’ (John 15:16) begins in the life of the spirit.
There is nothing nebulous or abstract about this life. On the contrary, it is a conscious ongoing and deliberate willing of ourselves into any given set of circumstances that are affecting people’s lives. Right now, the greatest of these, and the one with the most enduring consequences, is the accelerated rate of climate change. Getting into this situation, from that place of wisdom and compassion, involves a willingness to become, in a sense, those whose lives are most affected by extreme and long-term changes in climate. It is not hard to imagine who they are. We read about them every day. When we become who they are, when we see their faces from within our own spirit, we begin the work of resistance, because it is in this place of deep compassion that anger becomes ‘converted’, and so changes the way we think and the way we do things.
If we remain in this place, at a sub-conscious level, we will find ourselves questioning our every action, insofar as any given action is likely to make the world a safer or happier place for other human beings and other species. Small actions count most because they are within the reach of all of us. How long to leave the hot tap running, whether to drive when, with better planning, we could easily have walked or cycled, opting for loose vegetables rather than packaged, or, better still, growing your own if you have a bit of garden space.
All these decisions are made in and by the human spirit, but they are only made possible by an encounter with the face of Love itself.