passion

this holy week, my heart and mind has been on passion.

in Wisdom Jesus cynthia bourgeault writes of how Jesus’ sacramental life offers guidance in the journey of transformation. the Passion is one of these sacraments, including his suffering: the betrayal, arrest, persecution, and crucifixion.

so, i’ve been sitting with the sacrament of passion, wondering how it shows up in my life and what it has to teach me about liberation.

there’s been some reckoning with the term passion, noticing how far our common usage is from its original meaning of suffering. today, it’s mostly used to refer to as pleasure or excitement, with little to no reference to suffering or sacrifice.

this shift has left me wondering about what is missed when the role of suffering is excluded from transformation? in other words, what does suffering have to do with the way of love?

this was all stirring in me as i prepared for a facilitation on tuesday so i first turned to Jesus’ Farewell Discourses for inspiration. here, in John 13-17, he gathered the disciples for final instruction before his passion. he prepared them for what was coming. they didn’t really get it, which i find to be reassuring and revealing.

confusion is real in this journey. and why we need guides along the way…but that’s a post for another day.

anyway, there are three of these final instructions that i find are particularly helpful in understanding passion: Jesus the True Vine (John 15:1-17); The World’s Hatred (John 15: 18-John 16); and Sorrow Will Turn to Joy (John 16:16-24) (NSRV translation).

from Jesus the True Vine: “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:2). and “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11).

from The World’s Hatred: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the word would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world–therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18). “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You are also to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15: 26-27).

and from Sorrow Will Turn Into Joy: “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.” (John 16: 20-22).

my translation: life shows us from the very beginning of the reality of growing pains. and, we still forget. grief empties us and allows the spaciousness for new.

in his final guidance to his disciples, Jesus teaches that as we grow into the truth of who we are, we will naturally bump against socio-cultural conditioning; we’ll no longer fit into the boxes we’ve learned to fit into; we’ll outgrow relationships and jobs and positions and roles and beliefs. this growth will bring anger, grief, fear, and hatred. both internally (thanks, ego) and externally. and jesus tells us: it’s okay. this is why i’ve walked this path as i have…to show you the way. and then he goes on to say that he’s sending the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Truth) to them/us so that they/we might also be compelled to tell the truth; they/we have witnessed the way so they/we are now responsible for that knowing/witness.

our connection with the Divine en-courages truth to Self, which brings forth both pain and joy. as we stand in the humble truth of who we are, our hearts are shattered and enflamed. this world–our human conditions–allows for this passion and through that passion, our liberation. it is our choice. and many will choose otherwise.

the implications of our choice ripple from the individual to the family to the community to the nation; they cross generations from the beginning of time to time eternal. if we do not move through the suffering and allow it to transform us, then we will be stuck in that suffering; it will possess us and will spill out from us onto others.

James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree points to the very real tragedy that results. he equates the lynching tree with the cross and lays out the absolute Christian silence on the history of lynching in this nation. for him, the silence is evidence of the radical teachings of Jesus: even among those who proclaim to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, there has still been a willful denial to live these teachings to the degree that these same “Christians” re-enact the crucifixion of their own God.

he writes:

“The lynched black victim experienced the same fate as the crucified Christ and thus became the most potent symbol for understanding the true meaning of the salvation achieved through “God on the cross.” Nietsche was right: Christianity is a religion of slaves. God became a slave in Jesus and thereby liberated slaves from being determined by their social condition… 

The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst. Faith that emerged out of the scandal of the cross is not a faith of intellectuals or elite of any sort. This is the faith of abused and scandalized people–the losers and the down and out. It was this faith that gave blacks the strength and courage to hope, “to keep on keeping on,” struggling against the odds, with what Paul Tillich called, “The courage to be.” …”

if we could get that freedom is not found by being a winner! or by fitting in or making nice. it’s not found in making others’ comfortable or by having all the answers. it is found when we listen to and act in our own truth.

i’m reminded of jesus in the garden of gethsamene. he’s talked the talk to the disciples and now it’s time for him to walk the walk. according to luke, he actually sweats blood as he reckons with the reality of his own teachings. meanwhile, the disciples are asleep. (revealing metaphor, no?!). ultimately, he surrenders to the truth and makes what i call the “choiceless choice”; his suffering subsides and peace comes in.

passion: to say yes to the fire within us and in doing so, allow all that comes from it’s burning, faithful to that burn. drawing close to its warmth.

grateful for all the firekeepers on this very Good Friday. for en-couraging my fire and for lighting our world. let us be the light in the darkness.

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