Ready to Burst

Monday, September 8, 2013 — Week of Proper 18, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Job 32:1-10, 19—33:1, 19-28

Acts 13:44-52

John 10:19-30

I once participated in an anti-oppression workshop with a group of young adults. The group was diverse in race, gender, and sexual orientation, but we were all in roughly the same age bracket. The facilitator asked us to come up with definitions of “ageism” and “racism.”

We took great care to define racism properly and meticulously, including elements that some of us remembered from previous anti-racism trainings. Our definition of ageism, on the other hand, reflected the passion and pain of the misjudgments, exclusions, and denials that we had experienced because of our age.

Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite speaks with similar rage against ageism in today’s first reading. The passage starts with repeated assertions of Elihu’s anger: “He was angry at Job, ” “he was angry also at Job’s three friends,” “he became angry.” Elihu has contained his anger so long because Job’s other three friends were older and supposedly wiser. Elihu has held back because “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you.”

But at some point, Elihu can’t take it anymore. He declares that his heart is “like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.” He finally has to speak in order to relieve his heart of this intense pressure. Elihu protests that it is not simply days or years of age or experience that bring us wisdom; rather, “it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding.”

What forces of intimidation keep us timid and afraid to speak our minds, or to speak from the heart? What forces condition others to contain their anger until they’re ready to burst? When we are afraid to speak or unwilling to listen, we miss out on the breath of the Almighty that could help us understand.

A former student of mine had direct experience of harassment by the police in Ferguson, Missouri on several occasions. If we hadn’t crossed paths and weren’t still connected by social media, I never would have heard her experience. Of course, that leaves us in the familiar and troublesome dynamic in which people of color recount painful stories and white people have the luxury of choosing whether or not to believe them. It’s not a dynamic that I would like to reinforce.

But I do hope that we can work with both sides of the dynamic in our own lives. I hope that we can find the courage and anger to speak when our hearts are ready to burst, as well as the wisdom to acknowledge when others have overcome great barriers to share the breath of the Almighty with us. Whether we hear impassioned voices from the streets or over Twitter, it is a deep privilege to hear from hearts that are bursting like new wineskins. Listen up.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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