"A Crown of Thorns"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
I’ve been away for the past few days attending a conference in New Mexico. When the conference ended, my wife and I decided to take a little side-trip and spend a few days in Santa Fe before returning home.
This past Sunday as we arrived in that charming “old world” city, we soon discovered that we had “stumbled” onto a wonderful outdoor celebration of “Palm Sunday” taking place in the Central Plaza. Hundreds of Christian believers from diverse denominations throughout the region had gathered there to remember Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem one week before he was crucified. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, various and sundry Protestant churches (including all the respective bishops) were all represented. The atmosphere was electric as red banners swirled in the air along with the sound of bagpipes and drums while people marched around the plaza waving palms and shouting “Hosanna.” I can’t remember a time when I felt so much energy and so much passion at a religious event.
My experience in Santa Fe has caused me to reflect on that word “passion.” After all, this is “Holy Week” on the Christian calendar, 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 the pain, suffering and cruel crucifixion of Jesus ultimately leading to an empty tomb on Easter Day.
As a Christian, I will indeed be remembering the Passion of Christ during this “Holy Week;” but when I do so I will not just reflect on his last days of suffering and death, I will also celebrate how passionately Jesus embraced life while he lived. He silently prayed under the glow of the cosmic stars at night and took great delight in the splendor of flowers growing wild in the field. He went to lots of parties where there was plenty of laughter and he cried deeply when he heard that his best friend had died. He rejected no one, “passionately” taking a stand in the cause of justice, serving as a loud voice for those who had no voice in the society of his day. Jesus also embraced death passionately, ultimately sacrificing his own life in the cause of love and proving that, in the end, you can’t kill loved.
As a follower of Jesus’ Way, I want to live and love and die just as passionately as he did.
Oddly enough, when it comes to spirituality, the word passion often conjures up a rather anti-spiritual connotation. We talk about crimes of uncontrolled passion or we think of elicit affairs as being hot and passionate; and yet, the more I think about it, any spiritual journey should indeed follow a passionate path.
Most wisdom traditions extol the virtue of “detachment” on a spiritual journey, teaching that 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 doesn't mean that we should not be passionate. Detachment is a far cry from being indifferent or apathetic. When you are indifferent you just don’t care and this kind of apathy is a spiritual roadblock.
The psychologist, Rollo May, once wisely observed:
Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.
As I see it, on a spiritual path path, passion is a virtue because when we are passionate we are not indifferent or apathetic, 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.
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.
When I get up in the morning and sit quietly in my garden watching in wonder as the morning sun rises, listening to the breezes in the palm trees, inhaling the fragrance of new life in the springtime, 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 and when I laugh heartily with friends, I am being passionate. When I am able to muster up enough courage to take a stand against hate and prejudice and do what I can to raise my voice against 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, and so on my spiritual path I need and want to be passionate. When I am passionate I am “fully alive.”