Saints of Rage

By Colleen Shaddox

Everyone I know is angry, heartsick, choking on rage and despair. This Friday afternoon, the news came down that Kyle Rittenhouse has been found not guilty on all counts after shooting three men, killing two. We’re angry because we know that if Rittenhouse were Black, he could not have strolled, combat weapon slung behind him, by police officers as his victims lay bleeding in the street. We are angry because in the United States, Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at roughly five times the rates of white people. We are angry because there is no justice.

Even as I answer the phone calls and the texts, I am sitting with the memory of my favorite visual work of art: Lamentation over the Dead Christ, by Niccolò dell’Arca. Don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. It’s not the stuff of postcards. Six terracotta figures surround the dead body of Jesus on another Friday afternoon bereft of justice. There is no pious mourning in them, but rage, the emotion of saints. Mary Magdalene dominates the scene. Her clothes and hair are whooshed back as she rushes toward Christ’s broken body. The Magdalene is a chaotic swirl, as if she were made of fire. Her mouth is open almost to breaking. Her scream is visible, as are those of the other Marys with her. The grouping rests in a niche in a silent church in Bologna. The psychic noise is deafening.

Though the work dates to the 15th century, its rawness is modern. It reminds me more of Pablo Picassco’s Guernica than any religious art. In fact, the people of Bologna once found many of the figures too frightening to reside in a church. For years, Mary Magdalene and some of her companions were placed outside and commonly referred to as “the witches.” (The male figures got to stay inside.)

We must build churches – and mosques, temples and more – that welcome raw, unpleasant emotion. We must create a place in our spirituality for Moses slamming the holy tablet of God’s law to the ground in disgust at human ingratitude. We must make room for Jesus turning over the tables and beating back avarice, even for a day. We live in tumultuous times, and Marx’s “opiate of the people” line hits a bit too close to home. I don’t want placid hymns. I want to hear the Magdalene’s scream. That is the sacred music of this moment.

For decades, the very people who are now celebrating Rittenhouse’s acquittal have flocked to fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches, almost always white churches. I wonder if part of the appeal is that it is alright, encouraged even, to be angry there. But that is a self-serving anger, not the creative kind that is so necessary right now. In mainline churches, with the blessed exception of some Black churches, there is seldom room for anger in the pews. There is talk of acceptance of God’s will, as if injustice could ever be compatible with the will of God.

All faiths must make room for dangerous emotions. We must do this because people need to reckon with the spiritual consequences of their own tempests. We must also invite anger in because, as with Moses and as with Jesus, it is often inspired by a fidelity to what is true, what is just, what is of God. Faith should make us dangerous, not violent and not hateful, but dangerous. We should be overturning the moneychangers’ tables every day.

I’ve spent years of my life working on campaigns to get kids out of adult courts and prisons. The criminal legal system is my moneychanger. I do not long for Rittenhouse or for anyone to be incarcerated. But I long for Tamir Rice to be alive. I long for a government that values human life more than store windows. I long for justice. Dear God, may I never stop screaming until it is here.

Colleen Shaddox is a writer and advocate based in Connecticut.

Joyofmuseums, "Lamentation over the Dead Christ" by Niccolò dell'Arca by Joy of Museums, CC BY-SA 4.0