Fridays with Damaris: Another Look – Filled with Passionate Intensity

Intense. Photo by Anna Hesser

Filled with Passionate Intensity
By Damaris Zehner

Does anyone else cringe when they hear the over-used word “passion”? “What’s your passion?” —  “I have a passion for — something.” — “I’m so passionate about that.”

I don’t think these people know what they’re really saying.

Bear with me here. I’m launching into a history of the word from its origins to its modern usage. I have a purpose in doing so, one that relates to a proper understanding of the Christian life.

The word passion comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer.” There are two meanings combined in both the Latin and the English. One is simply to endure, or to be the recipient of action, to be passive. The other is to experience pain.

The first meaning of passion in the Oxford English Dictionary, the multi-volume resource of word usage throughout the history of English, is generally capitalized.

  • It means Jesus’ suffering before and during the crucifixion.
  • It may by extension mean the Gospel narratives referring to his suffering.
  • Or it may even be a piece of music on the same topic, such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
  • Next, it can mean the suffering of any martyr, or the suffering brought on by any affliction or disease.

These are not what modern evangelicals mean when they refer to their passion for orphans, or teaching Bible studies, or scrapbooking for the Lord.

The second category of meaning in the OED is “the fact of being acted upon by external agency, being passive, being subject to external force.” Do the people who boast of their strong feelings for a particular calling mean to imply that they are passive and are possessed or propelled by some outside force? What outside force would that be?

The dictionary moves to the more familiar usages: “an affection of the mind; a feeling by which the mind is powerfully moved or acted upon.” It goes on to “an abandonment to emotions,” “angry or amorous feelings” and “sexual desire.”

Finally it arrives at the meaning we commonly hear in evangelical circles: “an eager outreaching of the mind toward something; an overmastering zeal or enthusiasm;” or as a noun, “an aim or object pursued with zeal.”

Several things are common to all these definitions.

  • First is the strength of feeling involved, whether it is presumed to be a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling.
  • Second is the “passivity” of the person experiencing the feeling. We speak of being moved as a synonym for feeling passionate, and it is a good synonym. The OED uses the words “acted upon,” “abandonment” and “overmastering” in its definitions of passion, also implying a loss of control or a loss of self.

What do people think they’re really saying when they claim to be passionate about something? Are they implying that the strength of their feelings determines the value of the object or pursuit? Or do they mean that the strength of their feelings witnesses to the fineness and devotion of their own characters?

I think they’re often saying both.

Certainly people who have a passion think well of themselves for having it. Linguistically they are comparing their interest in their current spiritual hobby with the suffering of Jesus and the deaths of the martyrs. But was passion the foundation for the obedience of the martyrs or the total self-emptying of Christ? We know that in human relationships passion is usually the opposite of committed longevity. No, the passion of the martyrs or Jesus means not the fervor with which they faced suffering but the suffering that came about because of their faithfulness.

To me the proclaiming of a passion sounds like boasting. I don’t know that I’m right to think so in every case. Many people who declare they are passionate about something are just using the accepted phrase without considering what they’re saying. But some people who “have a passion” are definitely trying to trump others who are humbly obeying God’s word and finding God’s work.

Boasting of passion, however, is a dangerous boast. As I mentioned above, one aspect of “passion” is being acted upon by an external agent. These boasters may not think so, but the’re saying that they are under compulsion from some source, that they are being moved, or driven, to feel as they do. Let’s remember that strong feelings and external compulsions are not solely the attribute of the good. The poet Yeats reminds us that “the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”

You may be thinking that I am blowing this out of proportion. The huge majority of people who talk about their passion don’t mean any of the things I’m saying, nor do they know or care about the etymology of the word. They just mean that they care a lot about something.

But even that is tricky. I find very often that the things I care most about, that I’m most passionate about, are not the things that God cares most about. Some of my most passionate prayers have been answered with a resounding “No!” Saint Paul found the same thing. He prayed three times, he said, to have his affliction removed from him — that would qualify as passionate. God told him no, that God’s purposes will be accomplished in his own way, that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” Not Paul’s passion but God’s will determined what was right and important.

To the Church Fathers, passion, or zeal, was always bad. Passions were uncontrollable forces that you suffered. If they weren’t sins themselves they were at least temptations to sins. The passionate man never dwelt in God’s peace. He was like the infant described by Saint Paul in Ephesians 4:14, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”

Saint Isaac of Syria, one of my favorites among the Fathers, says this:

A zealous [or passionate] person never achieves peace of mind. And he who is deprived of peace is deprived of joy.

If, as is said, peace of mind is perfect health, and zeal [passion] is opposed to peace, then a person stirred by zeal is ill with a grievous sickness.

Zeal is not reckoned among mankind as a form of wisdom; rather it is one of the sicknesses of the soul, arising from narrow-mindedness and deep ignorance.

The beginning of divine wisdom is the serenity acquired from generosity of soul and forbearance with human infirmities.

• Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, A.M. Allchin, ed., Templegate Publishers, Springfield, IL 1990.

Passion and soul-sickness on the one hand? Divine wisdom and serenity on the other?

I’ll choose Door Number Two.

• • •

Photo by Anna Hesser at Flickr. Creative Commons License

65 thoughts on “Fridays with Damaris: Another Look – Filled with Passionate Intensity

  1. As far as I can tell, no person was being criticized. We were discussing a hypothetical person with a “passion for the homeless” as a way to explore the question of powerful and motivating energies that are not necessarily directed toward an evil end. And there’s no reason not to pursue the good and do all you can possibly manage. If we have no motivation, drive, or energy to act, for good or ill, we will often fall into inaction. That has many names as well and is no less problematic. The ‘passion for the homeless” person provides a simple thought experiment to explore the risks of pursuing passionate goals, even good ones.

    And I don’t think anyone can deny the risks are very real. How often have we seen, just in our lives, someone like our hypothetical person who wants to help the homeless. That person discovers they are good at motivating others to join in and develops and executes excellent plans. The successful and beneficial work draws attention and the person discovers they are not only good at making and executing plans, encouraging volunteers, but also at presenting a public face for the work and soliciting larger and larger donations from individuals and philanthropic foundations. And the person’s work of “helping the homeless” grows into something truly large with thousands of volunteers and a multi-million dollar budget.

    And somewhere along the way, the person sees what they have done by following their passion. And pride quietly grows. That’s nothing new in human experience. It’s exactly what St. Maximos noted. And from that things begin to become twisted. Perhaps the person grows to feel entitled to benefit from their work. Perhaps they begin to feel entitled to “respect” for what they have accomplished and those who fail to offer it appropriately are treated poorly. Perhaps they begin to view people first through the way they can manipulate their emotions to get them to volunteer or donate, but over time begin to view them more as objects or tools than as fully human beings created in the image of God. And once you view people, any people, more as objects a whole host of other passions can creep into play.

    All that happens quietly, in the background, until the day it erupts in public scandal of one sort or another. How often do we see that played out, over and over again. Yes, I’m sure some small fraction of those people were always con artists in it for personal benefit. But con artists tend to have a hard time fooling people over the long haul. Sincerity always plays better. I’m sure most of those people were sincere when they began. They truly ‘had a passion’ for what they were trying to do. That passion will not save you.

    In my own life, I see how easily even the small things, done with the best and most sincere of intentions, can go awry. The Christian prescription has been to pray the prayers, even when you’re not sure you mean them or perhaps especially then. Give from what you have. Confess your sins, as best you understand them. And take in God in communion. We pray, with the publican, that we are the worst of sinners to try to remind ourselves of its truth even though we rarely truly believe it. But we all share in the responsibility for the brokenness of the world and we all contribute to it. We often never even see the full impact of the ripples of our ‘sin’. The best among us have always seen that truth and, like Paul, recognized themselves as standing with the publican, the worst of sinners.

    So yes, letting any passion rule you is likely to go wrong over the long course of time, however nobly things begin. Certainly take that energy. Use it. Employ it for good to the best of your ability. But never lose sight of the danger in which those strong driving forces place you. The energies are not bad or evil. They are natural and they motivate us to act. But they are also easily misdirected and can become consuming in harmful ways. And when that happens they truly become passions in the traditional sense of things we suffer.


  2. But criticizing people doing good things about the particulars of their motives: what could be more Christian?

    It is gazing at other people’s navels.


  3. > Kyle’s Mom.

    Dunno. I am thinking of an real instance I had to sit through. Argh.

    When it happens in reality it is not funny at all.


  4. I enjoy Richard Beck’s thoughts and like this one, his is one of the blogs I follow in my reader. I was behind a bit and hadn’t read the post. I especially appreciated this thought.

    “”My concern here is the feeling/action divorce which allows many Christians to feel loved but who aren’t very loving.”

    And he’s also right that for too many people the whole of Christianity seems to exist entirely in their head. Everything about what they believe is invisible.

    And for some reason, I’m drawn back to one of the texts I used from St. Maximos. And I think in particular of ‘joy’ which Richard Beck describes as one of the emotions important within Christianity. And I then think of Paul when he said “I count it all joy” when listing true suffering. As St. Maximos writes, sufferings drive out pleasure but our capacity for pleasure remains. And we can reach a place where we receive that pleasure from God. I think maybe Christian joy is more a gift from God in our suffering more than our momentary and passing feeling of happiness. I’m certainly not Paul, but I know the energy of emotion well, though for me it tends to be poorly differentiated, hard to untangle or identify, and potentially overwhelming if I don’t keep it at bay. But for the most part that energy wells up from body, my senses, and my thoughts. It’s not something I receive. When someone, such as my daughter, expresses an honest and specific appreciation and love for me, I receive that and respond in kind. And the pleasure and joy I receive in such moments is perhaps more similar to the way we see emotion described in a Christian context.

    After all, we worship a God who exists as three persons in a perfect communion and a single essence, eternally giving and receiving in a perpetual dance of love. And it’s a communion we are eternally invited to join. Christian worship is based on consuming God. There are few acts as visceral. We do not have an invisible faith in and invisible God. We are not disembodied minds. To worship our God, we are told to take and eat his body, take and drink his blood. Our bodies are baptized with water (and traditionally anointed with oil, though that’s less common) to join us to Christ. We cannot be separated as human beings from our bodies. Our mind, with all those thoughts and feelings, exists in and through our physical brains. If our brains are changed, we can literally become a different person in all the ways that define who we are. We experience the world in and through our bodies. And Christian worship is intrinsically bodily.

    Not sure I had ever connected the dots in quite that way before. As with anything I write or say, especially when I’m not quoting someone who understands such things much better than me, I’m sure there are issues with some of the connections. But it seems more right than not, at least at the moment.


  5. All this has my 20watt frontal lobes throbbing. But I’m left thinking faithfulness and perseverance, no matter what the accompanying feeling, should get better pub.
    . I’m also left more at ease with myself when I’m not ” totally stoked” about ( fill in the blank….)


  6. In the process of looking up “misericordiae” I also googled images for that word. Cool.

    One image contained the words, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Fits with a comment I made earlier about Henri Nouwen’s spiritual journey, documented in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” that he ultimately concludes that as heirs we will eventually be called to become “the Father” of the story.


  7. I’m reminded of something Fr. Thomas Hopko would say. “You can’t know God, but you have to know him to know that.” I think that captures my ongoing experience.


  8. Thank you for this!
    I liked your phrase ” Emotion is the energy behind thought. ” especially.

    I do believe in the inter-connection of feelings and thoughts in our human experience.
    My best friend’s mother was a pyschiatrist and she said that the area in the brain that processed emotions was adjacent to the area that processed music. So, for a time, a severely impaired aged person who is extremely withdrawn is able to come out of it and sing and even talk for a while when he is given a chance to hear his favorite music again:

    sometimes we ‘compartmentalize’ in order to survive, to ‘get through the day’ and cope, but it can be overdone and then I think we end up ‘down’ and ‘depressed’ when feelings are suppressed


  9. Robert, great comment!

    you might relate to this:
    “”The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”
    (Blaise Pascal)


  10. I suppose I should have noted I was quoting from “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius the Great, so it’s from one of the greatest defenses against Christian heresy. The NT always describes our divinization in terms of becoming like Christ, in whom God’s nature is joined with ours. But those who have seen the Son have seen the Father. One in essence, three in persons. Every activity and every attribute is thus either uniquely attributable to one person or is common to all three. The Spirit proceeds. The Son is begotten. But where one acts, they all act. They are together love, ever-yielding to each other in love and perfect harmony. When Jesus sits at the well with the Samaritan woman, God sits with her. When Christ calms the waters or feeds the multitudes, God is doing it. When Jesus is betrayed, beaten, mocked, and killed he experiences it fully as human being but also as God. God is there. And when Jesus the man descends into the depths of Hades, where death had been the prison for every human being, Life itself — God — was present and could not be contained.

    With that said, the focus of the parable, given its audience, really seems to be the elder son more than the younger. Or so it’s often seemed to me. But Jesus seems to place himself as the Father in that parable. He’s welcoming the lost prodigal and the elder son is grousing about it. I’m not familiar the book you referenced, so can’t really comment on his take. But becoming like the Father in the parable would be the equivalent of becoming “Christ-like” which would be the how man might become God.

    A lot of Christian thought has held that the Son would have had to become human whether or not humanity had subjected itself to death. Man had no path in his own power to true communion with God. God becoming one of us was always the only way we could ever become one with God while maintaining our distinct personhood. Christ had to die to rescue us from death. He lived to bring us into the fullness of communion with God.


  11. Oh, we will always act. Or choose not to act, which is itself a form of action. And we have the prayers and other disciplines to ground us. I find the Jesus Prayer very helpful myself, as have a great many Christians through the ages. Over time, if we persist, God will reveal our motives to us and they will likely also change over time.

    At the same time, the caution should always remain. Just the past Sunday, I heard someone say, “I have a passion for [x thing]. And God does too.” And he proceeded to explain the thing for which he (and God) had this great passion. And it’s not that it’s a bad thing. But I could only think, how does he *know* God has the same passion he does? I would be very concerned if I found myself projecting my interests or activity, however passionately I felt them, onto God.

    I would never claim to know God well. I’m overcome by the beauty of the Incarnation and by the overwhelming love it expresses, but I know how little I know. And the more I learn, the more clearly I see how little I know God. But I do know that every time I come to know or understand God a little more, God surprises me. When God thinks and believes exactly like me and shares my passions, I have a feeling I know that God all too well.


  12. Part of the problem is that the way we divide things into thoughts and feelings bears very little relationship to the way they were considered as the Christian texts and subsequent ancient writers considered them. Our cogitative thoughts, our feelings, and our imagination were all for the most considered part of the active mind. I don’t know Greek beyond the tiny bits I’ve picked up here and there, so I’m sure I’ll butcher it, but I believe one term for that was dianoia. And I think they were more right than our modern popular impression. Thoughts generate emotions. Emotions generate thoughts. Both spring forth together from memory or imagination. There’s really no way to separate them. Memory is highly malleable and shaped and reformed by thought and emotion. We store them and create them. Emotion is the energy behind thought. Thought is our attempt to unravel and understand emotion. Nothing we do or experience is “pure emotion” and nothing we think is any sort of “pure thought”. Our active mind thinks.

    And that is discussed, but the word we find more often, especially in the NT texts, is nous. It’s sometimes translated mind. Sometimes understanding. Sometimes heart. Probably other ways too. It’s not referring to anything that’s part of our dianoia. It’s the part of our mind that experiences, that receives, that understands, It’s the part of us that *knows* each other (to the extent we ever do), and it’s the part of our being through which we know God. “Be still and know that I am God.” Christianity in the ancient world especially has never been opposed to rational thought. It’s surviving writings and insights remain among the most profound. And they always used and built on the best knowledge of the world that was available to them at the time. A Christianity that tries to deny reality is hardly Christian at all. But it’s not through our emotions, our chaotic thoughts, our most rational thoughts, or even our imagination and our creativity that we truly ever know God. It’s through our nous, but our nous is often overpowered by logismoi which become entrenched passions.

    Or at least that’s how I’ve understood the things I’ve absorbed.


  13. But “a passion for helping the homeless” if truly a driving passion rather than a submission in humility to God, could come from any of a number of undetermined motivating forces. And if flowing from self-love would ultimately lead to pride.

    And second-guessing your REAL motives like that could lead to navel-gazing sin-sniffing. i.e. Total Analysis Paralysis.


  14. –> “‘God became man so that man might become God’ works because Christ is the one true human being as he is also one in essence with God. He fulfills all that it means to be human and joins all that humanness entails with God. As we turn from Christ and are ruled by the passions, we become less human.”

    I like Henri Nouwen’s take on this in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” As he moves through his spiritual journey as compared to the three figures in Jesus’ parable and Rembrandt’s depiction of it, he realizes that we are heirs so that we might eventually become like the Father. (I like that take on it; rather than becoming like God, we become like the Father. It’s much less “divine” and heretical…lol…and much more relatable to me as a human being.)

    I wonder, then, if the parable shows what you say: being ruled by passions might make us less human, thus less capable of being heirs and thus less capable of being like the Father, who so clearly loves his two sons.


  15. Just had a semi A-ha epiphany…

    Thinking of the difference or nuance between “passion” and “compassion,” the latter of which Jesus Christ, while here on Earth, seemed to show 24/7, 365 days a year…

    Could it be that “passion” is related to the ultimate well-being of self while “compassion” (strong feelings toward helping those in need) is a related to the well-being of others? If one wants to argue how passionate or not Jesus about anything, you certainly can’t argue that he wasn’t COMPASSIONATE!


  16. It is most unfortunate that human emotions, at least in Christian circles, have had a bum rap. They are God-given, wonderful, and like reason, sometimes dangerous. It is the way that God made us (plus altered by the fall). When you devoid the human experience of emotions, other things (emotions with other labels) seeps in to fill the void. Mysticism is a current trend. I can’t say I was standing on the mountain and saw the sunset, thought of my (now deceased) dad and cried from grief and beauty. No, that would make you sound unspiritual, like the beasts. You must dress up the emotion as “I was standing on the mountain and God spoke to me in an audible and profound voice that left me shaken with grief and glory. I actually saw God’s face briefly between the sunbeams.” That later version would get a lot of amens in a sermon . . . but not the first version. But God lives in reality and the more we live in reality, the closer we can be to God.


  17. Hmm. I really should have stayed closer to Paul’s language in the last sentence I think. It’s bugging me enough to comment and correct it. I should have just written:

    And on the 8th day, new creation.

    We live in the 8th day, or at least we have the potential to live in the 8th day and in some regards it is universal. For instance, it is no longer the nature of man to die. But applying verbs like ‘began’ to God and the way he accomplishes things is … problematic.


  18. Perhaps that’s a point of disconnect for many? “God became man so that man might become God” works because Christ is the one true human being as he is also one in essence with God. He fulfills all that it means to be human and joins all that humanness entails with God. As we turn from Christ and are ruled by the passions, we become less human. As we turn toward Christ and allow him to reshape us in his image, we begin to become true human beings. It’s the Incarnation that lies at the heart and soul of Christianity. It was even only through truly becoming one of us that God was able to free us from the ruling power of death. When he defeated death because God is life, it was as the truly and fully human Christ.


  19. Yes indeed. Thanks for the clarification. I was using ‘natural state’ in an attempt to describe what we all experience by default. I’m not particularly fond of the concept of a ‘sin nature’ and would simply note that our perceptions and experience of reality are disordered and our actions flowing from them tend to be disordered as well. Our receptive nature is interacting with the world we experience from the moment of our birth, so I would say it’s impossible to disentangle cause from effect. It’s all intertwined and jumbled. Mostly we are weak, limited, and immature and so much evil flows from that, but we also experience many forces and pressures and suffering that do not clearly flow from evil, per se. And yes, ultimately that entire state of being is unnatural in the sense that it is less than human and is precisely why God became human and joined his nature to ours. And on the 6th day of creation in the Gospel of John, God says “It is finished.” He has completed the task of shaping and forming a human being that he began on the 6th day in the poetic first account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. On the 7th day God rested in Sheol. And on the 8th day, new creation began.


  20. But “a passion for helping the homeless” if truly a driving passion rather than a submission in humility to God, could come from any of a number of undetermined motivating forces. And if flowing from self-love would ultimately lead to pride. It’s best to understand why you are devoting your life in service to the homeless (if indeed you are and don’t merely feel strongly about the topic) rather than allowing yourself to be motivated and driven by whatever forces fuel that passion. That’s how I understand Damaris’ point.

    By way of illustration, I’m not sure it can be said that Mother Teresa ‘had a passion’ for the sick in Calcutta. I haven’t read the book, but I think that’s especially true from what I’ve heard about her descriptions in her own words. She submitted to the commandment and vocation she received from God. Much the same can be said about St. Anthony the Great and many others. Even in its most “positive” interpretation in english, I would say being driven or motivated by a passion is risky at best.


  21. Hi Scott!

    One small thing – only mention it because you understand, and to point out the example of something I’ve tried to bring to discussions here.

    “Our ‘natural state’ is really one where we are tossed about and ruled by external forces and inner drives.” Well, yes, if you use “natural state” in the sense of “common to what we all experience”, especially as informed by the notion of people having a “sin nature”. But St Maximos is particularly nuanced about the difference between what we truly are made up of – our nature – and that which is UNnatural: being tossed about and ruled by external forces and inner drives.

    Love that you brought The Four Centuries to the conversation; it’s probably the easiest “way in” to St Maximos. I love him, even if I can’t understand a lot of what he’s getting at – I only know that my innards testify to his truth 🙂

    Nice to see you. I hope you are able to write more, here or on your blog.



  22. Wow! Thank you, DANA

    I recently was reading on an SBC blog and a person commented along very similar lines …… that feelings were inferior to a rational approach to the Christian faith. . . . . . and all I could think of at the time was ‘I wonder if this person realizes that ‘joy’ is one of the key signs of the Presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. 🙂


  23. Christiane,

    not sure if it originated with them, but Bill Bright/Campus Crusade published a little booklet (size and shape of a Chick Tract but no hellfire involved) on “The Four Spiritual Laws” back around 1970, maybe earlier; it still exists and is on line. At the end of it, after one presumably had prayed a “sinner’s prayer”, there was a drawing of a train: the engine was Fact, which pulled a coal car labeled Faith, and a caboose labeled Feeling. The point was that Feeling can’t make the train go, and we shouldn’t try to live a Christian life directed by our feelings.

    If this was not the origin of this teaching, it certainly steadily fueled it back in the day.



  24. I love St. Isaac the Syrian. I also deeply appreciate St. Maximos the Confessor, though he’s an even more challenging lift than St. Isaac. He speaks a lot about the passions. As an illustration, I’ll share the 15th text from the fourth century of his Four Hundred Texts on Love.

    “15. A soul’s motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love, and when its power of intelligence, through prayer and spiritual contemplation, advances towards God.”

    Without self-control, we are ruled by the passions flowing from our disordered nous. As Damaris notes, it’s not really that any given passion is inherently bad or wrong. Hunger, for example, is simply our body’s natural signal that it needs nourishment. The danger arises when the desire rules us. Our “natural state” is really one where we are tossed about and ruled by external forces and inner drives.

    This text comes from the third century of the four hundred texts

    “57. The origin of all the passions is self-love; their consummation is pride. Self-love is a mindless love for the body. He who cuts this off cuts off at the same time all the passions that come from it.”

    However, that does not mean as Christians we are seeking the same sort of dispassion pursued, for example, in Buddhism. From the fourth century.

    “36. Sufferings freely embraced and those that come unsought drive out pleasure and allay its impetus. But they do not destroy the capacity for pleasure which resides in human nature like a natural law. For the cultivation of virtue produces dispassion in one’s will but not in one’s nature. But when dispassion has been attained in one’s will the grace of divine pleasure becomes active in the intellect.”

    If I recall correctly, I believe ‘intellect’ above is nous. Unfortunately, we don’t have a single word or easy way to translate nous into English. It’s not talking about rational thought. It’s more the receptive mind, the part of our being through which we experience everything, including God.

    Anyway, that’s just a tiny bit trying to illustrate a bit more of the depth of the writings available on this topic that the post touched upon. Even when it’s intended in a positive way, we don’t think enough about what it means to be ‘passionate’ about anything.

    And perhaps, as an autistic person, I’m a bit more acutely aware of what it means to manage on an ongoing basis deep and compelling interests, to keep them at bay when I must focus elsewhere and accomplish something else. And I know how it feels when I allow times for immersion in them. It’s not that my experience is anything foreign to the broader human experience. The metaphorical knob in my mind’s wiring is simply turned way up. That may explain part of the reason why I’ve always found the exploration of the passions and ordering of the soul such a compelling subject. I am, perhaps, also a bit ‘passionate’ about understanding such things.


  25. Slacktivism = TALK IS CHEAP.
    Even if that talk is done by Twitter fingers instead of vocal cords and gets amened by thousands of thousands of social media “friends”.

    In Christianese, “Be Warm and Well Fed; I’ll Pray For You.”

    My reaction?
    “You have a saying: [fill in the blank].
    We also have a saying: PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!”
    — Babylon-5


  26. Passion People are notably ignorant; they have little substantive to say. Thier fierce and deep concern is unmoored from the desire for knowledge. They **CARE**! And their caring must be acknowledged, their caring must be announced at length and loudly in a room full of other people; that announcement is certainly worth all of everyone else’s valuable time. If you are not moved by their deep concern it certainly must be indicative of a moral failing, a brutal callousness.

    i.e. Kyle’s Mom?
    Activist full of Righteous Moral Fury with all the rest of us as expendable extras in the continuing Drama-Rama of My Righteousness?

    Passion: “MY PASSION IS FOR THE CHILDREN OF THIS COMMUNITY! WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT THE CHILDREN?? THIS IS ABOUT THE CHILDREN! . . .. ” – and 11 minutes are lost to the s-l-o-w inexorable flow of time.

    Kyle’s Mom.
    Or Church Lady dancing her Superiority Dance after counting coup.


  27. Caritas passio est

    Someone has said
    ‘to love is to suffer’
    ‘Ah’, all the lovers in the world reply,
    ‘that is true, we agree.
    Love is passion-
    It is agony and ecstasy
    It is knowing all and knowing nothing
    It is rage and delight
    Love, of all things, is living’

    Someone has said
    ‘to love is to suffer’
    And Someone else replies:
    ‘it is true, I agree.
    Love is passion-
    It is pain and staying
    It is being all and being nothing
    Love suffers rage and blackest night
    Too love, to truly love someone
    Is to die.


  28. Hi CHRIS,
    you wrote ‘I was taught in Evangelicalism that feelings had NO role in our journey. They came and went and whether positive or negative had no lasting impact and so should be dismissed. ‘

    and I thought ‘well, there goes any hope of the part of Christian formation where people listen to their consciences when the intervention of the Holy Spirit makes them ‘feel’ uncomfortable.

    How did evangelicalism separate out ‘feelings’ from ‘thoughts’ as dichotomy? What was the original teaching and who was the culprit(s)?


  29. And both of these are using the old (and dare I say correct?) meaning of the word and suffering.


  30. Interesting, Chris. My experience with evangelicalism was very anti-intellectual and pro-feeling, although the feeling disguised itself as finding a leading from God, etc. True, the sermons were scholarly in some cases, but the goal was to make you feel more Christian as well as know more about the Bible.


  31. Iain: I agree with your analysis, but in some areas at least, “passion” is an issue in the UK. Here’s the word of a linguistic soulmate of mine . . .


  32. Maybe… but Enthusiasts almost always have an encyclopedic knowledge of the focus of their Enthusiasm. They are “drinking from the fire hose” and loving it; and next to you at the bar they will sequel with geeker joy at the chance to unload it all on you. At least their joy is agreeable, even if you lack equal enthusiasm in the topic.

    Enthusiasm: “These seven studies […enumerated…] indicates that best way to evaluate classroom performance….”

    Passion People are notably ignorant; they have little substantive to say. Thier fierce and deep concern is unmoored from the desire for knowledge. They **CARE**! And their caring must be acknowledged, their caring must be announced at length and loudly in a room full of other people; that announcement is certainly worth all of everyone else’s valuable time. If you are not moved by their deep concern it certainly must be indicative of a moral failing, a brutal callousness.

    Passion: “MY PASSION IS FOR THE CHILDREN OF THIS COMMUNITY! WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT THE CHILDREN?? THIS IS ABOUT THE CHILDREN! . . .. ” – and 11 minutes are lost to the s-l-o-w inexorable flow of time.


  33. “”” Feelings acknowledged or expressed generally dissolve into an inner equanimity. Feelings denied or repressed tend to become explosive, often inappropriately.”””



  34. Yes Adam. That is the case. Classic blind spot phenomenon. Feelings acknowledged or expressed generally dissolve into an inner equanimity. Feelings denied or repressed tend to become explosive, often inappropriately. I think feelings are a part of our soul that demand conscious acknowledgment and participation in our personal spiritual and psychological economy. If they are denied they revolt and gain a virtual autonomy, a demonic possessive quality I might say at the risk of overstating, where we are now subject to them. I remember in college some girl flipping out on me near some bicycle racks on campus for some unknown reason. A moment later she said she was so sorry and that that was not her. I said I accepted her apology but not her explanation. I said it kindly and with a smile but felt compelled to make the point that it was only me and her there. I knew even at that young age that she had become dissociated from a part of her self that just blew up on me.


  35. Two movies came to mind while reading this, both which use “passion” in their title.

    Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”
    1928’s silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (

    Both films end with the protagonist being executed for, in some sense, heresy, each following a joke of a trial.

    Not sure what to make of that, but I find it curious that the term “passion” was used in both those instances.


  36. I like your paraphrase, and I like your Maya Angelou quote. I’ll be ruminating on those two pieces of insight/wisdom.


  37. From a mystical Christianity perspective (Saint John of the Cross etc.) the modern definition of passion would go against what is expected on the journey towards union with God (to practice instead “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing”). It would be considered the feeding of appetites instead of emptying oneself of those things that would feed vanity. What I am saying is the action for what one has a passion for is good but the acknowledgement of that to others is not.

    Also – there seems to be varying degrees of this word. “I have a passion for spaghetti”is does not have the same commutation as “I have a passion for helping the homeless”. The second is almost like a vocation, something performed that is not for financial benefit but instead because of the giving of oneself.


  38. “””reiterating how “passionate” one is about doing something may be a diversionary tactic to deflect any question as to whether one is actually any good at it.”””



  39. > I was taught in Evangelicalism that feelings had NO role in our journey

    Ironically, the more heavily this meme is stressed, the more impulsive and reactionary the community; in my experience.


  40. > I’m soooo tired of hearing (in evangelical settings) the word ‘passion’ because as said above,

    In defense of Evangelicals this is not a trend of their own making; they’ve inherited it from the over-culture where declarations of passion [as virtue signaling] are nauseatingly common.

    Evangelicals can always make anything worse by adding the special sauce of “Calling” [aka Divinely-Sanctioned-Ego-Trip], but they can’t be blamed for inventing this use of “passion”.


  41. “””Or do they mean that the strength of their feelings witnesses to the fineness and devotion of their own characters?”””

    This; the passion meme must have some correspondence to the new age of slacktivism. The foggy conflation of ‘caring’ and actually doing something [or of often even knowing anything].


  42. Thanks, Damaris.

    I’m soooo tired of hearing (in evangelical settings) the word ‘passion’ because as said above, it’s no a non negotiable as to whether it’s right, or done well, etc,..

    We (global) use words without thinking what they truly mean–and that’s been a crippling effect on so many, on the church…to not define the meaning, we can say anything nebulously and sound spiritual, etc…and no one has the wherewithal to question it,



  43. When Jesus left the disciples on the Emmaus road the thing they reflected on was the intensity of their feeling. I would paraphrase it as , “Didn’t you feel astonishingly alive when he was speaking?”


  44. Slightly off topic but the larger context here is feeling. Passion is always about feeling and has little to do with rationality. I was taught in Evangelicalism that feelings had NO role in our journey. They came and went and whether positive or negative had no lasting impact and so should be dismissed. It was the truth of the Word that brought clarity to all of life’s situations and all focus should be on that. There is certainly a benefit there in learning to dissociate oneself from the vagaries of feeling in a given situation. Some people are subject to and completely dominated by feeling can’t see the forest from the trees. On the other hand there is a terrible downside and crippling effect in taking no note of, losing all connection to, feeling. it must be accounted for as part of the package that has been handed to us.
    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou


  45. Generally, if someone says to me (in a nonreligious context) that they have a “passion for” something (and they are not just exaggerating for effect) what I understand them to mean is that the thing in question has a consuming or controlling grip on their interest, time and energy, that they are particularly dedicated to or obsessed with it.
    I don’t really come across many US-style evangelicals here in the UK (although we do have some slightly decaffeinated English versions) so I can’t speak with much experience, but is seems to me in a religious tradition where emotional experience as evidence of God is emphasised, if someone does find themselves with particularly strong feelings that they would like to engage in a particular ministry, this may be uncritically assumed to be the prompting of God.
    (The nasty cynical side of me also wants to suggest that in a religious tradition that is often perhaps over-focused on internal intent and sincerity in doing something, rather than how well it is actually done, reiterating how “passionate” one is about doing something may be a diversionary tactic to deflect any question as to whether one is actually any good at it.)


  46. +1

    Just goggle “Find your passion” and see the abundance of multi-step self-help opportunities.

    Googling “Find your suffering” – not so much.


  47. In the popular modern mind, the heart has intuitive access to the self, reality and truth that the mind does not; therefore, you should always follow your heart, be true to yourself, and you should be passionate about it.This is one of the ways that the irrationalism of the modern mind exposes itself.


  48. The other property of the heart as popularly imagined is that it has a direct, intuitive grasp of things that bypasses ratiocination. This is also is central to understanding how the words passion and passionate are popularly understood and used, though it is not covered by the dictionary definitions. Once again, the popular saying, “Follow your bliss”, expresses much about the popular understanding of passion, and its connection to the popular understanding of heart.


  49. I’m trying to remember how often I hear the words passion or passionate (or use them). I don’t think it’s very often. But then, I don’t spend a lot of time around evangelicals, and we seem to be discussing the word as used by evangelicals. It seems to me that when people use it in a non-religious context (like someone saying “I have a passion for ice cream”), they usually mean that they “love” something, or have strong positive and affectionate feeling about it. When used in a religious context by evangelicals, it often seems closely connected with the phrase “having a heart for”, referring to some cause or persons for whom the person feeling the passion believes they have a religious mission. In both the religious and non-religious contexts, the mind does not seem to be the central faculty at play, but rather the heart, understood as distinct from the mind. Which means that in their popular usage the words passion and passionate are not covered by the main and primary dictionary definitions as referred to in the post; mind plays no part in the popular usage of these words, but heart envisioned as a kind of volitional faculty is central.

    “Follow your bliss”.


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