After reading the thousandth take on women’s rage in the U.S. yesterday, I realized what we need: we need May Sarton’s poem “Invocation to Kali.”
I once used this poem as a way to talk about holy rage with a priest of my acquaintance. “Isn’t Kali the destroyer-goddess?” she asked.
Yes, because creation and destruction are cyclical. Death fuels nature. Everything that lives, lives because something else died. And where there is violence in our relationships, or anywhere in our common life, there must be destruction. There must be a reckoning with injustice before we can make restitution. We need to listen—deeply, repentantly—to the rage of the disempowered before we can create justice. We need to listen to holy rage, and speak our own rage, so that we can create justice.
I don’t think my priest acquaintance got what I was trying to say, perhaps because, as a lesbian, she had been on the receiving end of too much downright abusive God-rage. But I’m not talking about wielding God’s anger like a weapon against sexual minorities, but about reclaiming the prophetic language of divine anger against systemic injustice. We need the language of holy rage, of divine rage, for abuses which do violence to God’s image, by which I mean violence to our fellow human beings. We need to talk about God’s rage in church, especially in the “mainline” churches where God’s rage has been censored. Again: not turned against LGBTQ folks (and let’s be clear: weaponizing God’s rage against LGBTQ people is itself a form of violence), but turned where the prophets locate God’s rage: against those who abuse the vulnerable.
May Sarton, in “Invocation to Kali,” channels her rage over the concentration camps. I first learned of the poem through Laurie King, who uses Sarton’s poem in her novel “Night Work” as a way to access rage over a variety of abuses of women. For both women, the poet and the novelist, the poem is a way to free the rage, to loose it, to let it show us what we need to see.
There is a deep, deep swell of women’s rage in this country. We live in a brutally patriarchal world. Even in a country where women nominally have equal rights, patriarchy is nothing less than brutal and brutalizing.
We tamp down our rage at this to survive. We hide it because it feels like it could destroy everything. Because rage can destroy. We should be careful with it. But instead of denying it outright, we need to respect its power, and we need to feel it and face it.
Rage has the power to destroy injustice. Theologian Beverly Wildung Harrison wrote that anger is a tool in the work of love; anger arises when people deny our mutual relationship, when they trample relationships to get power. In short, when they do violence.
In the Bible, God’s rage destroys. I’m not going to deny that reality. But the prophets show that what God’s rage destroys is systems in which the vulnerable—orphans and widows, the poor, the foreigner—are exploited, ground down, victimized. God aims to destroys violence.
I love Sarton’s poem because it invites us to face our rage at cruelty and inhumanity, and to destroy them. It creates a space to reckon with the breathtaking violence of our history:
“What we have pushed aside and tried to bury
Lives with a staggering thrust we cannot parry.”
Violence, when we refuse to face it, festers. It creates more violence. Rage, with its destructive power, tries to force the issue. It tries to force us to face it.
Rage is love at the moment when love shouts, “Enough!”
“It is time for the invocation:
Kali, be with us.
Violence, destruction, receive our homage.
Help us to bring darkness into the light,
To lift out the pain, the anger,
Where it can be seen for what it is—
The balance-wheel for our vulnerable, aching love.”
It is time to cry, “Enough!” It is time to loose the rage, and I mean all the rage: rage at those who assaulted us, yes—and also rage at those who imprison children, rage at the systems that imprison nonviolent Black men but not the rich white men who create worlds of violence every day. Rage at the white moderates who continue to call for civility towards those who abet murder, rape, and ecocide. Rage at those who create poverty, and at those who deny that poverty is violence. This is the price of solidarity with the world. Love will make you angry.
We need holy rage. And we need the language of divine rage to confront the depths of violence we live with and have denied:
“Put the wild hunger where it belongs,
Within the act of creation,
Crude power that forges a balance
Between hate and love.”
The poem ends with a plea:
“Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
“Bear the roots in mind,
You, the dark one, Kali
Note: for images of women’s holy rage, I recommend this collection of women demonstrating in 2017.