Another nugget from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
The old man said to him, “Passions work in four stages –first, in the heart; secondly, in the face; thirdly, in words; and fourthly, it is essential not to render evil for evil in deeds. If you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil.”
I like the way he outlines the progression. I see how it works in my own life! When I get upset about something – especially some perceived injustice, whether against me or someone else – I get agitated in my heart, so to speak. I feel the agitation throughout my whole body, which is probably a result of the increase in blood pressure that accompanies my anger.
Sometimes, I can feel that physiological effect in my face – not just in my facial expression, but in the tingling sensation that means my face is turning red. How many times have I tried to smile through an upset like this, hoping to hide my anger! I’m not too good at that!
And then there’s the speaking part…oh dear. Yes, I should never speak when I am angry. I never know what will come out of my mouth, but it is never good. I can control this much more easily if I am writing instead of speaking. Recently a situation arose where I confronted someone on Face Book about something he had said that I found offensive. I made a calm statement about that, but he answered with some defensive aggression. Had we been in the same room together, I would have let him have it with a verbal blast, I’m sure. But since I was writing, I could take a moment to calm my passions, excuse his behavior at least partially on the grounds of ignorance, and offer a calm and reasonable response to his anger.
Finally, there is cutting the conversation short so as to avoid repaying evil for evil. In the situation I just described, I did just that. I knew that even in writing, if I kept going, I would say some uncharitable things, and that although I would think my responses were quite clever and sharp-witted, they would be lost on him, causing only more anger. Then my temptation would be to continue to escalate. No good could come of it. I suggested that we give each other the benefit of the doubt and perhaps have a cup of coffee sometime in the future to discuss the issue further. He agreed.
Now, even though I want to congratulate myself on that little success, I have to admit that I have no intention of meeting with this person face-to-face!
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