Passion Means What Again?
Here is some exciting news; we have found a donor who is willing to give 50k to First Things Foundation this holiday season. This particular person is passionate about First Things. They, like us, are excited to get three FTF coordinators into the field starting in January. Our donor friend has issued a challenge, however. He/she is asking us to match their passion, dollar for dollar. Daunting, but exciting. More on this to come....
For now, however, let’s take a look at this notion of passion. In education circles you hear it all the time. Everything is about passion. Are the kids passionate about their lessons? Are they fired up? Are they in their element, “doing what they love?”
For some of us teacher types all this talk of passion is kind of, well, irritating. But why irritating? I’m irritated because we’ve managed to turn the meaning of the word upside down. We moderns have managed to denude the word of deep meaning tied inextricably to our nature as human beings. Let me explain.
Passion comes from the Latin “passio” and is closely related to the Greek pathos. As defined by the all powerful Inter-web, passio means:
an intense suffering endured with self-control and tolerance." (wordnik.com)
Yes, that’s right. Passion means intense endured suffering! Does that seem like something teachers are teaching kids these days? Be serious. Do you think education “experts” and their counterparts at so many insipid education conferences are designing curriculums meant to create “intense suffering endured with self control...”?
So what can we make of this? I think what is going on is a basic confusion about happiness and goodness. Happiness is a hot topic these days. Parents all desire it for their kids. In the ancient past however, goodness was the goal. Goodness was tied to the idea of pleasing the creator. Heaven was peaceful, and it was there you found the good. To be of the good meant you needed to be like the good. You needed to acquire goodness in order to enter "goodness". Ironically though, goodness was always acquired through some sort of ascetic activity. (Think of monks of all stripes: What are they doing up there on that mountain anyway?) For the ancients being good had something to do with suffering, of giving up your desires, of shedding the old man. In the old world passion was meant to be endured because passion (intense suffering, endured) had everything to do with putting off the bad and putting on the good. God, being love, became the goal. Love, when done correctly, involved the suffering. In fact, it was exactly this suffering that was the mark of true love.
And I don't think reality has changed- even if our willingness to accept it has.
People who love suffer for that which they love. I mean this is marriage, right? Childbirth, how about that as an image of love and suffering? Or think of a teenager who can’t get enough of the video game he craves. There he is, down in the basement, banging away on his PS4 controller, refusing dinner, refusing a good night’s sleep, refusing friendships. And forget about girls. They hate him. There he sits, suffering the deprivation of all the things in life that could make his life, well, normal. Why is he doing this? He’d tell you it is love. And in some ways it is.
And then there are the Paris attacks. You don’t think the attackers were passionate? Of course they were, it is indisputable. They were willing to endure death for something they loved. People who have passion, it turns out, are the most dangerous people on earth. Think about that next time a teacher asks his students to generically, "have passion."
People who have passion are the most beautiful people on earth when their passion is directed toward the good. Good here can easily be translated as “God”. And that’s what I want to do. I want to say that when passion, the willingness to endure suffering, is directed toward God then it is the most beautiful thing on earth. In fact, this type of passion isn’t earthly at all. When we witness this type of passio we participate in heaven. The divine opens up before our very eyes.
For many Christians that is precisely what the Passion of Christ is about. Christ loved. Christ suffered.
And that is what life is about for all of us. All of us are made to become divine through the act of suffering for that which is beautiful, hopeful, truthful. Good. It is how we become human, which is another way of saying it is how we become divine. We are theanthropos (god-man), in part, because we are able to suffer for what is good. But we must suffer.
And here’s the ironic part. Often, as we go through the fire of suffering and love, we don’t even notice the pain. In fact, most of us don’t think of it as suffering at all.