Thanksgiving is over - so why am I thinking of Passover? At Passover a meal is shared and each item that is shared has significance. One of those is a bitter herb -- to remind the Hebrew people of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt. I've been reading a book by Garret Keizer entitled The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin. It's a fascinating book -- I highly recommend it. But as I was thinking on it today I thought not only about anger -- but about bitterness. I wondered if, in bitterness, and in remembering bitterness there is any grace.
I've talked with a friend in the past few days who in the midst of some current struggles made a comment that showed his bitterness at an event 10 months ago. Clearly it feels to my friend that the world has conspired against him. Perhaps God. But in whatever case -- it's tough. And he tastes the bitter herb on his lips.
I thought of a situation in my life from 6 years ago. I can remember walking for miles and miles every day -- for over a year and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again without having my mind filled with the question over and over again -- "Why? Why did this thing happen?" I would find myself in situations -- with people who were involved with my bitterness and I wanted to snap at them.
I wonder if bitterness is healing if one expresses it. Does it serve a liturgical function to encourage violence -- or does it inhibit rage by speaking its name, rather than allowing it to simmer? Or does the occasion to speak bitterness -- fuel us with a righteous anger that gives us the strength, the energy and the commitment to make things right? Can it also serve to remind us that we have come from this bitter past, and that we have survived to face our current travail -- but freed from the bondage to the past?
Today, as a friend of mine and I talked together about sadness, sorrow, and grief -- I thought of all the trouble I got into as a kid. I remember being angry -- bitterly angry -- at my punishments. But I also have a memory of one time, in particular, when in the midst of my punishment my mother came to comfort me. And the memory of that time has returned and returned to me at odd times throughout my life. Perhaps it is a reminder that the cure for bitterness is comfort. Not a hiding from the problem at all -- but providing comfort in the midst of the bitterness. Often we shy away from it -- we don't want to get close. We are afraid. We are intimidated. We think people want to be left alone. Maybe so. But maybe comfort could be a help as well.
Tonight as I left the church building after dark a woman stopped me to tell me of her plight -- her hunger. We talked for a few minutes. In the few short minutes, I could hear some of her bitterness at the "rules" of places that didn't allow her to touch base with them until after a proscribed number of days. I tried to provide a little comfort. I think I failed. I hope I'll do better tomorrow.