A fire burning

‘Passion’ is a word that bridges the two extremes of agony and ecstasy. We say someone has a passion for cooking, tennis or country music. They are drawn to these pursuits, which give them satisfaction and happiness. Further, we describe as ‘passionate’ feelings and expressions of love for another person. So it is a word that draws us out of ourselves towards something else or another person; hence the word ‘ecstasy.’

But the word also conveys the agony of mental or physical suffering in an intense way. This is its primary meaning and we all know people who have either gone through painful illness or watched another do so. We also witness the passion of a whole nation, as with Syria where 100,000 have died and more than a million are displaced. The suffering of women and children is truly a passion.

So the word has these two seemingly opposite meanings – but in fact we know the one implies the other. A tennis star has to go through a gruelling routine of training to accomplish her goal. A cook has to burn some cakes before he gets it right. And Jeremiah has to go through fire if he is to be true to his calling. He uses the words of a passionate relationship to describe his mission; “You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced.”

Yet his mission is painful, “I am a laughing stock and everybody’s butt. The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision all the day long. I used to say I will not speak in his name anymore.” But then comes the passion to go on; “There seemed like a fire burning in my heart and the effort to restrain it wearied me.” Such is the story of a man living on the edges of experience, living the agony and ecstasy of his mission. Not so Peter, he wanted none of it. Jesus prepared his followers for his inevitable harrowing death. This was to be his passion, not only in the sense of his physical and mental suffering, but far more in the sense of his longing, born of love, to “break into the fortress of the evil one and steal his goods” (Lk.11:22). He longed to go through with this battle for our sake. But Peter thought it was madness and said so. He drew a spontaneous and devastating response from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan!” You can feel the anger and intensity of the rebuke.

Passion is at the heart of what it is to be human. Every parent or teacher knows that the greatest gift they can give is to open up vistas for the young that they may discover where their passion lies and so through their agony come to their ecstasy.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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