“Nursing her wrath to keep it warm”
I apologise for the lack of a post, or even a message, last week. This was due to various technical difficulties. The computer now has a new hard drive, so apparently it was not Windows that was to blame.
I was planning to post this week on Agatha Christie, but recent events have reminded me of an earlier inspiration from Robert Burns, and his only significant narrative poem, “Tam O’Shanter.”
Both comic and spooky, this rollicking yarn tells of the man who stays late at the pub, and on his way home spies on a party of witches and warlocks dancing in a state of underdress in church. Made too bold by drink, Tam calls out a compliment to the youngest witch, and is chased terrifyingly all the way home. As his horse Maggie crosses running water to safety, the witch tears off her tail, and Burns draws the moral for drunkards: “Think! Ye may buy the joys o’er dear: Remember Tam O’Shanter’s mare.”
However, it’s the beginning of the poem I want to focus on, and one line in particular. Merry husbands like Tam (and himself, Burns says) sit with their friends “getting fou and unco happy”, forgetting home “where sits our sulky sullen dame, Gathering her brows like gathering storm, Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.”
My minister in the 1970s and 80s, Rev William Henney (one-time Moderator of the Church of Scotland) would quote this line with great relish: “nursing her wrath to keep it warm”, in sermons about resentment and bitterness. And he was quite right. It’s a vividly expressed and challenging satire, because that is indeed what people do. When family members are home late, or neighbours are making a racket early on a Sunday morning, or politicians spout nonsense on television, we sit and seethe – we boil – we fume – all hot metaphors.
Then, afterwards, perhaps, we boil over, and the boiling over is more scalding and damaging to the relationship because our wrath has been “kept warm.”
As I say, I do agree with Bill Henney that we should beware of this, this unhealthy pawing over and over our resentment.
But also (“on the other hand”, as I love to say), Tam O’Shanter’s wife had a point. She couldn’t express her anger – which Burns half-seriously admits was justifiable – to Tam, because he wasn’t there.
What should she have done?
She could have a) nursed her wrath; b) forgiven him, set it aside, gone to bed, and greeted him with a cheery smile in the morning; or c) – what is c)?
Sometimes criticism needs to be expressed. Over the centuries thousands of wives in particular have had to sit at home while their husbands behaved badly outside, or indeed inside, sometimes much more badly than Tam. Nowadays we don’t accept that women (or children, or employees, or tenants) should just put up with anything, and forgive without a word.
“To love your enemies doesn’t mean being a doormat” – this is often said. Often, indeed, without reflecting that doormats are very useful things, and perhaps sometimes that’s exactly what we should be. But I think we can agree that a modern spouse is entitled, sometimes even required, to complain politely about bad treatment. And if the errant spouse isn’t there, this criticism has to wait, be held back, until (s)he is.
But it’s very difficult to “hold” that criticism for the next day (or whenever) without “nursing” it – to forgive while still keeping a mental note.
So many sermons on forgiveness concentrate on forgiving people who have injured us, or those we love, and there are many moving stories of people who’ve done just that.
By God’s grace it may be possible to forgive the man who murdered or gaslighted your son or daughter. But how do you go about forgiving the man, or woman, who is abusing or betraying or torturing your son or daughter now, today; and may do so again tomorrow?
(Of course sometimes, often, you may need to call the police. But that isn’t always possible or appropriate, especially in countries where the abuser is a government official.)
This wasn’t intended originally to be a political post, it really wasn’t, but in recent days it has become political. (There is some overlap with my previous post: https://www.penelopewallace.com/boris-johnson-jacob-rees-mogg-and-certain-others/).
How does one forgive politicians for lying, for undermining the constitution and actively trying to promote anger and illwill in the country and towards the House of Commons as an institution? For doing this now?
A prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
“O God, the Father of all mankind, we beseech Thee to inspire us with such love, truth and equity, that in all our dealings one with another we may show forth our brotherhood in Thee; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Love from the PPI Blogger