Sam Radford

June 22, 2022

Passion is… bad?

I love it when something I believe gets throughly challenged by something I read.

Today’s daily meditation
from the Centre for Action and Contemplation does exactly that. 

Cynthia Bourgeault, the author of the post, writes about the difference between our modern understanding of emotions and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Two paragraphs in particular stood out to me:

Far from revealing the heart, Wisdom teaches that the emotions are in fact the primary culprits that obscure and confuse it. The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where they’re coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today…

In contrast to our contemporary usage, which tends to see passion as a good thing, indicating that one is fully alive and engaged, the Desert tradition saw passion as a diminishment of being. It meant falling into passivity, into a state of being acted upon (which is what the Latin passio actually means), rather than clear and conscious engagement. Instead of enlivening the heart, according to one Desert Father, the real damage inflicted by the passions is that “they divide our heart into two.”…

I don’t even know what to make of this! Clearly, the same word is being used in very different ways. And this isn’t to suggest that one is right and the other is wrong. It is, however, always helpful to reflect on how words have different meanings and what we might be able to learn from pondering an alternative meaning to a word we’re familiar with.

—Sam

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