"Crown of Thorns Cactus"
- in my meditation garden -
According to the Christian calendar, “Holy Week” begins this coming Sunday. This is the most sacred time of the year during which the events of Christ’s final week on earth are remembered and the story of the Passion of Christ is told and retold – the story of the pain, suffering and cruel crucifixion of Jesus.
As Holy Week approaches, 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 most spiritual lexicons. In fact, the word passion often carries a rather anti-spiritual connotation and most wisdom traditions are somewhat reticent about teaching the virtues of being “passionate.”
Many traditions promote the virtue of “detachment” on a spiritual path – wisely 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. On the other hand, to be detachment does not mean to be indifferent. When you are indifferent or apathetic you just “don’t care” about anything or anyone. Indifference and apathy are major roadblocks on a spiritual path.
The psychologist, Rollo May, once wisely observed:
Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.
As I think about it, “passion” is actually an important spiritual discipline because passion is an antidote to apathy. When we are passionate we are deeply involved with all life has to offer us. When we are passionate we are committed, we embrace our lives as fully as possible. A spirituality without passion is dull and lifeless.
When I get up in the morning and sit in my garden watching in wonder as the sun rises over the eastern mountains, listening to the breezes in the palm trees, inhaling the fragrance of the spring 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 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 cultivate and practice the spiritual discipline of passion.
As a Christian, in the days to come I will be remembering the Passion of Christ; but when I do so, I will not just reflect on the final week of Christ’s suffering and death, I will also celebrate how passionately Jesus embraced his entire life.
When I hear the stories of Jesus I see someone who basked in the glow of the cosmic stars at night and took delight in the splendor of flowers growing wild in the field. The stories of Jesus are filled with passion, stories of the times when he laughed with children, when he tenderly welcomed outcasts and boldly stood up against those who would oppress the poor and weak. Jesus entire life was a life of passion, ultimately leading to his cruel death on a cross as he sacrificed himself for the sake of compassion. Then, in the end, even death could not crush this unbridled Love and even a tomb could not restrain the passion of Christ .
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 discipline on the spiritual journey.