There is a story told of a young boy who would persistently do vicious things to his classmates. His concerned teacher kept him after school for a talk. In reply to her question: “Why are you always so difficult?” he answered, “I have two dogs fighting inside of me, a bad one and a friendly one. When the bad one wins, then I do bad things!” When the teacher asked why the bad one seemed to win more often than the friendly one, he replied: “Because I feed it more!”
That is a rich parable. The hardest struggle that you and I have in coming to community and celebration is our struggle with resentment, with the bad dog inside of us. We all have resentments, deep painful blistering hurts. They started when we were very little. We hollered from the crib and nobody paid attention. Left to ourselves, we began imagining things and the bad dog got his first feeding.
Then, as five and six-year-olds, they sent us into the jungle of school and playground where we were laughed at, excluded, bullied, passed over, misunderstood, not treated tenderly and found to be slow, fat, inferior, poorly complexioned, cross-eyed and not wearing the correct clothes nor having the right smarts. By the time we reached adulthood we were already carrying a lot of hurtful baggage.
Adulthood brought new opportunities for growth, but also new opportunities for resentment and paranoia: All of us, despite close friends and loved ones, find ourselves regularly excluded, slighted, betrayed, missing out, taken for granted and made to feel inferior. As a result we grow resentful and begin to nurture an image of ourselves as a cheated and unloved person. Sometimes this resentment flares forth and we vent it on someone; sometimes we take it out on a scapegoat, some person or group whom we judge vulnerable enough to hurt without fear that they will hurt us in return; and sometimes it remains hidden, but we grow colder and more suspicious than we would like to be.
“Belive me,” wrote Henry W. Longfellow, “every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” The end product is that we lose the Holy Spirit, that love between the Father and the Son which makes us feel like embracing others instead of hurting them.
Like the little boy in the story, too frequently we are under the influence of the bad dog…and we feed him! We nurse and nurture our resentments like a gardener trying to bring his prize rose to bloom. We magnify, re-examine, re-run, re-gurgitate and simply wallow in our hurts until we hurt all over and are convinced that nobody loves us and that everyone is taking us for granted. But that type of thinking leads us into deeper exile. We end up creating in ourselves a bottomless pit into which people around us can pour years of loving and kindness without results. Eventually there isn’t enough love in the whole world to satisfy us. Only forgiveness can lead us out of this and into life. But how do we move beyond our hurts and resentments? There is no painless, or quick, solution. It is a process of gestating and giving birth to forgiveness.
We need first of all to become pregnant with the desire to move into love and celebration with others. Then we need to gestate that hope, that holy spirit, into concrete flesh. It will be a slow organic process with its setbacks and its morning sicknesses but, if persevered in, eventually will lead us to the real labor, that of giving birth. The forgiveness which we gestated so warmly and tenderly inside of ourselves will not emerge into the outside world easily. Like a woman in labor, we will be forced into perspiration and tears as we scream in agony as forgiveness pushes though the birth passage in an attempt to come to light outside its womb. In the agony of birth, there will be those moments when we feel it isn’t possible, that the passage is too small to allow the new child to be born.
To vary the metaphor: In Tibetian Buddhism the bowl is the image for resentment. It contains all our bitterness, disappointment, hardness and disillusionment. We sit holding that bowl in front of us. We can either pour it forwards, allowing the whole resentful mess to flow away from us, or we can tip it the other way, allowing the poison to infect us. It is an important choice; perhaps the most important one we will ever make. The struggle between heaven and hell, between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of despair will, at least, not be centered on the flesh with its propensities of sex, laziness and passion. It will be centered on paranoia and resentment. We will make it or break it depending upon whether we can move beyond the resentment which poisons the Holy Spirit and makes us unable to forgive and move on to new life.
It is a staggering challenge; too much for us to do. To resent is human, to forgive is divine. But, casting ourselves into grace’s mercy, we must let divine help move us beyond ourselves. Our metanoia will lead to life; our paranoia to madness!