Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead, long associated with the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University in Chicago, have coauthored a dozen books including Holy Eros. In this enlightening and far-ranging work on our painful emotions, they show the positive things that can happen when, from a spiritual perspective, these negative feelings are welcomed and received as allies. They observe:
"We trace a spirituality that pursues befriending our emotions rather than mastering them. Resonant with the wisdom of both East and West, this spirituality honors the disciplines required to transform our volatile emotions into reliable virtues."
Taming our negative emotions involves seeing them as an alarm and a signpost and honoring the pain they bring without succumbing to it. But this is different from harboring negative feelings, which spells trouble. This tricky process demands patience, a spiritual quality which the authors find sorely lacking in our culture of short attention spans and immediate gratification.
The Whiteheads discuss anger in terms of our private and public relationships. Although we are used to thinking about the toxic effects of this volatile emotion, it is helpful to see that anger befriended and tamed can become a powerful ally as we pursue justice and fulfill our responsibilities in a world of constant change. The authors discuss various ways of dealing with anger and its place on our spiritual journey. At the end of each chapter is a "Reflective Exercise" and a listing of "Additional Resources."
The Whiteheads examine "Guilt" and "Shame" under the umbrella of "The Price of Belonging." We are all familiar with the self-destructive aspects of shame and the unhealthy sting of guilt that makes us constantly feel bad about ourselves. By taming and befriending shame, we can see it as a source of personal dignity. Guilt can be experienced as a support for our personal integrity.
The next chapters deal with loneliness as an ally in our search for intimacy, fear as a component of mature courage, and grief as an opening to genuine hope.
The Whiteheads make a good case for taming and befriending our painful emotions. They use a lively mix of quotations and other illustrative materials to reinforce their points. They conclude:
"The way of negative emotions brings us again to the metaphor of embrace. Before starting on the way, we aspired to 'master' our emotions. But crossing the bridge of sadness, we let go of our ambitions of mastery. We learn as the gospel predicts that losing control brings surprising gains."