Dear Donagh,

….I have very strong urges and they often run away with me as I've been saying.  But I've always been drawn to my religion even in the worst times…. Where I work there’s a born again Christian who keeps trying to recruit me.  If he only knew what I was like.  Maybe he does and that's why he keeps bugging me.  Or maybe he sees something in me.  But I'm beginning to wonder if all my see-sawing between good and bad is only hypocrisy.  It would be simpler if I was one thing or the other.  I'm nearly lost anyway, as things stand.  What do you think?  Dave

Dear Dave,

Do you remember the trick question that kids used to ask one another: Would you prefer to be nearly drowned or nearly saved?  Nearly drowned of course, though it sounds much worse than being nearly saved.  Born-again Christians ask you, “Are you saved?”  It would be fun to adapt the question and return it to them: “Are you nearly saved or nearly lost?”  Any confusion or ambiguity you could sow in their minds would be a good thing, I believe.  There’s a bogus kind of clarity to “I'm saved.”   St Paul recommended an attitude of “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), not smugness and presumption.  But you, Dave, you are willing to see that you are nearly lost.  That’s a good frame of mind to have – much better than “I'm saved.” 

“You have seen me when I was taken and swept / And all but lost.”  That tree at Robert Frost’s window was out in the weather, out in the world, enduring storms; it was not living in a bubble.  Likewise our life of faith is a life that engages with realities – inside us and outside – instead of refusing to look at them.  There’s a truthfulness and honesty in your long account of your life (which everyone doesn’t need to read here).  “The truth will make you free,” Jesus said (Jn 8:32).  When we look truthfully, without self-justification, at even the worst things in our life they begin to heal.  But when we try to justify ourselves, there’s no hope for us.  This is why the Christian faith keeps insisting that we acknowledge our sins.  

When you look, I said.  There are many ways of looking.  If you look for nothing but problems you will see nothing but problems, and you will be completely discouraged.  Don’t deny that there are problems, of course, but look, so to speak, through a wide-angle lens.  You have to see much more than the problem. 

You want to kill certain persons and ravish some others, you told me (but your description was more picturesque).  Those are certainly problems.  Anger and lust account for a high percentage of the world’s misery.  You have to try and see these urges, and understand them.  Otherwise they will continue to do great damage to yourself and others.  But don’t judge them first.  See them first, and then your judgment will be a little more enlightened and more likely to be effective. 

What do you see?  You see powerful bursts of energy.  They seem at times more powerful than you are.  Can you just look at them, without being dragged along by them?  Can you contain your anger and your lust?  Then you have to begin to tame the tiger within.  Foreign as it may sound at first, you have to take care of your anger and lust.  “Anger,” wrote Thich Nhat Hanh, “is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.  Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother.  Embrace your baby.”  Your lust is a second howling baby (you have twins).  It is a grotesque form of love, crazy and out of control, like a child who never knew mother-love – or perhaps even more significantly – father-love.  You have to become the father and mother of your frenzied inner life.  Your urges are like delinquent children who have had a bad rearing.  It’s never too late to begin to understand them, to accept them, and even love them.  It’s the lack of wise love that has them the way they are. 

No need to claim that you are saved, Dave; but you can say confidently, “I'm being saved, by God's grace.”  I'm nearly lost, but I'm being saved. 

I googled Thich Nhat Hanh because I remembered that I used to have a book by him on anger.  I found a helpful collection of extracts from his writings, which I used as the ‘Jacob's Well’ this month.  Take a look. 


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