Batman is in despair, Superman is questioning his abilities and Wonder Woman has lost her wonder. A new series has thrown the comic book world into turmoil. The story began with a brutal murder for which they all felt partly to blame. Superman even shed a tear. In the fourth monthly episode out last week the heroes and heroine are acting more or less back in character but there has been real concern about long-invincible characters experiencing such a dramatic identity crisis.
Self-doubt and distress in a hero or heroine can be unsettling. Those who depend for their own sense of security on people they perceive to be strong generally want that strength to be impervious to sadness or uncertainty. It’s partly because seeing others struggling with painful feelings puts them in touch with their own. Adulation of others’ power is often a way of avoiding acknowledgement of our own weakness.
Yet accepting our weakness is sometimes a way to strength. In the Old Testament, Jacob goes off by himself to reflect, we assume, on his chequered past of deceit, evasion and broken relationships. But in struggling with his inner demons, he finds he is in fact struggling with God and emerges stronger from the experience (Genesis 32.22-32).
Author of Identity Crisis, Brad Meltzer, said: 'It is taking the heroes and testing everything about them, putting them in difficulties and seeing if they come out the same way.' His intention seems to be to give these characters a new ‘human’ side. If so, when they face their inner pain and insecurity, they won’t come out the same, but stronger. When real people do that, the strength they discover can give genuine support to others who need someone to lean on.
A bar where heartbroken people can cry as they drown their sorrows is proving a big success in eastern China.It even provides onions and red peppers for those who need help bursting into tears.The Nanjing bar charges 50 yuan (£3) an hour, on top of the charge for drinks, and provides tissues, menthol drops, sad music and dolls which customers can throw around or beat, if they need to vent their anger at a broken or struggling relationship.
Expressing our emotions can bring healing. This is certainly the psalmist’s experience: ‘Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning’ (Psalm 30.5). If we’re in an environment where we feel safe enough to let out our anger, frustration or disappointment, what follows can often be greater clarity about the situation which caused the outburst and even a way of dealing with it.
Usually however such advantages are denied us because we don’t feel safe enough to let go. Most British people are embarrassed by, if not disapproving of, emotions being forcefully expressed. We rightly, and perhaps sadly, feel that at present more harm than good would come if we expressed our feelings in public. Yet perhaps we would all benefit if in our more private relationships we were able to encourage each other to find harmless ways of letting out pent up feelings. For want of bars offering the service in this country, maybe we could provide the equivalent of ‘onions and red peppers’ for each other.
Dozens of Balinese Hindu young people defied their Islamic government’s ban on public passion to take part in a kissing festival in the village of Sesetan on Monday. Around 70 young men and women dressed in traditional sarongs prayed in the local temple before parading in lines through the street and choosing a partner.
As a gamelan orchestra chimed in the background and with hundreds of cheering locals and foreign visitors looking on, they kissed for around 15 seconds before priests stepped in, soaking them with buckets of water. The ceremony, which dates back to the late 19th-century is said to ensure the good health of those taking part and prevents bad luck hitting the village.
The link between expressing passion and health is no myth. Bottling up our feelings can place unnecessary physical stress on our bodies. Sometimes we do this because we feel guilty about them. Angry or inappropriately amorous feelings, or feelings we are ashamed of, are often buried because we feel we shouldn’t be having them in the first place. The Apostle Paul quotes a psalm approvingly: Be angry but do not sin*. Anger and all other emotions are part of the human make-up and to be treasured. When we acknowledge what we feel, however uncomfortable it may be to do so, we are much less likely to experience the damage that bottling up emotions can bring.
"I am kind of uncomfortable what with all these people watching but I came along with my friends," said one female participant in the festival. Public display of our emotions will not help most of us but allowing ourselves private awareness of how we are feeling may help us keep healthy.
Knitting is developing a broader appeal than that described in yesterday’s thought. Julia Roberts and Geri Halliwell are among celebrities who have recently taken up the hobby. Its ability to calm the knitter down is bringing new converts. The gentle, rhythmic click of the needles, the concentration on things other than niggling work worries, makes it an excellent way of relaxing the mind and the body.
Angela Tilby writes, in Let there be light, of how she used knitting for that purpose after the break-up of her marriage. On one occasion, she discovered she had made a mistake forty rows back. “As I began to undo it I felt almost overcome with anger and disgust. I found I was almost tearing the garment to pieces in my fury to undo the mistake. I could not stop until I had unravelled the wool to the point before where the mistake occurred. Even then I found it hard to stop. The floor was by now covered in twisted wool.”
We often need something external to ourselves to help us deal with internal struggles. Julia Roberts appears to use knitting to help her deal with her restlessness and anxiety. Angela Tilby found it helped her deal with her rage over the mistakes of the past. Occasionally we sometimes unwittingly use for similar purposes, not activities but people. Those close to us undeservedly get the rough end of our tongue, if it's anger we need to express; or criticism, if it's panic because things are going wrong; or, more enjoyably, our company, if we need someone to help us relax.
To use and be used in this way is part and parcel of intimacy. If we are close to people with whom this happens, let’s today be aware of what we are doing and grateful for this particular way of expressing love. If our relationships are not of that sort, let’s seek out those external activities which help us deal with our internal needs.