Friday, January 15, 2010

meditation on passion

passion flower

passion perfume

passion fruit

What do these three things have in common? Passion.


It doesn't even look like a word when stared at for a while. It sounds funny when said repeatedly.


Some of you have heard me speak on this word. I think it just might be my favorite words and one of the most misused words in our beautiful language.

Take a sip of strong coffee. Strap yourself in.

Passion comes from the Latin word patior. This verb comes from a rather small group of verbs called "deponent" verbs. A deponent verb is passive in form, active in meaning. You probably remember that your writing teachers prefered active verbs to passive verbs in your papers.

Active verbs indicate that the subject is driving the action in the sentence - Susie bit the dog.

Passive verbs indicate that the subject is being acted upon - Susie was bitten by the dog.

So patior is passive in form but active in meaning. Messes with your mind a bit when translating and if the translator is not careful, strange things happen!! But the fact that it is in this special class of verbs adds greatly to its beauty. Hang on a bit more and I'll show you.

The first 10 definitions of "passion" in the dictionary are as follows:
1. any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
2. strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.
3. strong sexual desire; lust.
4. an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire.
5. a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire.
6. a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music.
7. the object of such a fondness or desire: Accuracy became a passion with him.
8. an outburst of strong emotion or feeling: He suddenly broke into a passion of bitter words.
9. violent anger.
10. the state of being acted upon or affected by something external, esp. something alien to one's nature or one's customary behavior

Do you notice that most, if not all, have to do with feelings, emotions, desire?

The Latin word patior, pati, passus means suffer, endure, allow, acquiesce, submit, permit. These words, in a very lovely way, reflect the passive/active aspects of this deponent verb. Suffering, enduring, allowing, acquiescing, submitting look passive but require a very active work in the heart. On the surface, there is not a lot of action going on when we think of someone suffering or enduring. But inside, there is struggling, questioning, searching, wrestling....

From this word, we derive "patient", "passive", "passion". In the first two are clearly imbedded the yin/yang nature of the deponent verb form as well as the meaning inherent in the Latin word itself. Being patient often requires an amount of suffering, enduring, permitting....closely related to the word passive - giving no response, enduring the circumstances..... It is clear to see that we cannot hurry up and be patient. It will involve discomfort at the very least, and perhaps even pain but most definitely enduring (which in itself in an interesting word; en = in, into; dura = hard).

However, the sense of the Latin word patior does not carry over into the English word "passion" as we commonly use it today. Not until definitions 11 and 12 are read (and who reads that far these days!!) do we get a sense of the word's origin.

11.(often initial capital letter) Theology.
a. the sufferings of Christ on the cross or His sufferings subsequent to the Last Supper.
b. the narrative of Christ's sufferings as recorded in the Gospels.
12. Archaic. the sufferings of a martyr.

At last, we arrive at the idea of suffering, enduring, submitting.....

"Why is she going on and on about the word passion", my dear reader is asking at this point!! "Enough, already!!", you may say. But I reply, "Endure! Be patient!!"

Do you read bios of authors? Articles in your college/university quarterlies? Bios of speakers, those in ministry? These are consecutive bios from one church's ministry leaders' page:

Passion for Ministry: There is nothing more thrilling than to see God transform hearts and lives!

Passion for Ministry: Sharing the Good News about Jesus to individuals who recognize their need.

Passion for Ministry: I have a passion to see God's children grow and mature in their walk with Jesus.

Passion for Ministry: Working with other men sharing biblical truths.

Passion for Ministry: Helping men develop a clear understanding of what God calls us to do as men and how we are to go about doing it. Tony also has a passion for missions in Cuba.

Passion for Ministry: One-on-one discipleship, leading bible studies for men and prayer.

Passion for Ministry:To see people grow in Christ and have the joy of knowing what and how real life should be lived as one born of God.

That's a lot of passion gushing all over the place. However, is it a lot of suffering, enduring, submitting....?

My point is this; if we are going to call it "The Passion of Christ", let's not also say we have a "passion for ministry", a "passion for baseball", a "passion to play piano". Let's not cheapen a rich, deep, beautiful word. Let's allow passion to express something for which you are willing to suffer, endure, bear, allow.

Words are tools. Use this one carefully and well.

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