I have a difficult time with understanding hatred, mean spiritedness, and a vindictive heart. Yet I encounter it, read about it, and have experienced it. We see it expressed every day in vindictive words and actions between former lovers, friends, coworkers, and family. We see it acted out by people who are our supposed leaders, our role models, and people who are closest to us. Even those who profess to be religious or love God commit terrible atrocities against their fellow humans. Hatred is pervasive, and its seems to be harder and harder to appeal to the better nature of each of us.
The best I can come up with in understanding hatred, in whatever form it takes, is it comes from fear. We cannot truly be disciples if we live in fear. We cannot accept forgiveness or love if we have closed ourselves off in an effort to protect ourselves. We cannot show compassion, weep with, and comfort others if we insist on living behind closed doors. Opening ourselves up means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, thus hatred must come from an unhealthy fear of vulnerability.
We learn from adolescence that loving someone means allowing yourself to be hurt, and that vulnerability frightens us especially when we know the inevitable heartbreak will come. Yet, loving someone is to see the face of God. To understand hatred we must see what fear is fueling its fire, and with a loving and forgiving heart try to extinguish its flame. It isn’t easy, if not at times seeming downright impossible. During Lent we are called to see the fear in our “enemies” (another word I have difficulty with, but I’ll leave that for another day), and cool the hatred it causes, beginning with forgiveness — no matter how much pain has been inflicted.
The good news is we have a companion in our efforts – God. He is our “companion in the way.” God lives in us, and wants us to call on his love to see the unhealthy fear in our neighbor and to bring calm where there is anxiety. The more we encounter the closed doors of fear, the more we are asked to open the doors to our heart.