Monday, March 21, 2016

Passion is a Virtue

"Crown of Thorns"
- in my meditation garden -

This is “Holy Week” on the calendar of the Christian church- the most sacred time of the year during which the events of Christ’s final week on earth are remembered leading up to Easter Sunday.  During this week the story of the Passion of Christ will be told and retold – the story of pain, suffering and cruel crucifixion of Jesus in his final hours.

I have been thinking about that word “passion,” other than referring to the suffering of Jesus, it is a word that is not used very much in any sort of spiritual lexicon. In fact, the word passion often conjures up a rather anti-spiritual connotation - we talk about crimes of uncontrolled passion.  But the more I think about it, a spiritual journey should indeed be passionate and in a very real sense, passion is a virtue.

Most wisdom traditions teach the virtue of “detachment” on a spiritual path – to be detached means that we don’t crave or cling too tightly to anything or selfishly try to possess others in this very impermanent world. However, to be detached is a far cry from being indifferent or apathetic. When you are indifferent you just don’t care, you “don’t give a hoot” about anything or anyone. Apathy is a great roadblock on a spiritual path.  

The psychologist, Rollo May, once wisely observed:

Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.

This is why I say that Passion is a Virtue because when we are passionate we are not indifferent or apathetic.  When we are passionate we are deeply involved with all our life has to offer us. When we are passionate we embrace our lives as fully as possible - we are fully alive.

When I get up in the morning and sit in my garden watching in wonder as the morning sun rises over the eastern mountains, listening to the breezes in the palm trees, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers in my meditation garden, I am being passionate. When I deeply feel the pain of a friend who has lost a loved one, I am being passionate. When tears come into my eyes as I gaze upon a mother tenderly kissing her newborn child, I am being passionate. When I laugh with unbridled joy at our baby grandson’s antics as he gleefully tugs at my beard, I am being passionate. When I am able to conjure up a holy anger as I witness racial prejudice or witness the unjust treatment of immigrants and foreigners, I am being passionate.

Passion is that virtue that allows me to fully engage with my life, whatever comes my way – on my spiritual path I need and want to be passionate.

As a Christian, I will be remembering the Passion of Christ during this “Holy Week;” but when I do so I will not just reflect on his suffering and death, I will also celebrate how  passionately Jesus embraced his life - he prayed under the glow of the cosmic stars at night and took delight in the splendor of flowers growing wild in the field, he laughed with children and boldly stood up against those who would oppress the poor and weak, ultimately sacrificing his own life in the cause of compassion. Jesus lived his life with passion – and I want to follow in his “way.”


Back in the second century, Saint Irenaeus, an ancient patriarch of the Christian church made this observation:

The glory of ‘God’
is ‘man’ fully alive.

To be passionate is to be fully alive – that’s’ why passion is a virtue on the spiritual journey.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Paul. I think we often go through life not realising that we are actually alive. To be fully alive is to know that we are alive so that we can embrace everything in this moment. I ponder sometimes on the fact that we are here at all. Just think of the pairings down through history that had to take place for us to be born...we are miracles! So yes, let's embrace our aliveness, and really inhabit it with passion. I'm off out now to gaze at the sky and listen to the birds as I walk to work. I'm alive! xxx

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