In the Passover meal, one of the symbolic foods consists of bitter herbs which can be represented by horseradish. This food reminds Jews of the bitterness of slavery. Reflecting on their history of captivity and its harsh realities enhances the celebration of Yahweh’s goodness.
Lately I’ve been thinking much about the subject of bitterness. It’s a feeling I deeply dislike and one I don’t feel too often. However, when I do have occasion to be bitter, it threatens to swallow me whole. And that precisely is the danger of bitterness. It can completely consume us threatening to drain our vitality. Not only that, it carries a stench somewhat like a skunk’s. When we reek of bitterness, people can smell it and try to get as far away from us as possible.
However, there is danger to by-passing our bitterness as well. If we do, we lose the opportunity to let bitterness, which is affiliated with anger, eventually soften to grief. Then our tears can finally fall and wash out the wounds lodged in our hearts cleansing them. In a way we have to embrace bitterness for a time, giving it a voice and letting it rip with its naked rage.
Related, I once participated in a psychodrama workshop that explored themes from the “Wizard of Oz.” In one of the exercises, I was asked to step into the role of the bad witch which I welcomed for I had played Dorothy in a childhood production and wanted to play against my ingenue type. As Dorothy and her little friends came prancing down the yellow brick road, I stepped onto a chair and hovered above them. “Hello my pretty!” I cackled in a high pitched voice. Initially, I loved the thrill of power I felt as they all cowered in my presence. But as I continued with my tirade of bullying, I began to feel lonely. And as I let it rip in improvisation, I was shocked at how much rage I felt – at Dorothy for having friends and support, at their happiness and camaraderie and by what I perceived was their happy little lives. Suddenly real tears were smarting in my eyes for all the ways in which I identified with the witch. Even though on the surface I was Dorothy – a friendly, well liked person with things going for herself – on the inside there were so many deep wounds no one saw or knew about that I realized I understood the rage and isolation of the witch. And if I wasn’t careful, I could easily become her when life’s pitfalls ripped down the walls protecting my heart to expose where it had once been bludgeoned.
Every time deep hurts get re-activated, quite frankly, it’s a bitch. But like the Jews remembering captivity at Passover, it’s important that we don’t by-pass bitterness. It’s essential that we recognize where we’ve been hurt in order to understand how we navigate through new risks. And sometimes closing the heart is self-protective. It is only when we can sink into that deep pit of rage and despair that we can finally surrender and say, okay Lord. Part the Red Seas. Help me get out of here. Carry me to the Promised Land.
After the taste of bitter, comes the taste of grace.