We are well into February here in this old house. The weather is cold, the roads icy, the promise of spring still a long ways off. A bright bit is coming at the end of the week with Valentine’s Day. In light of all the red and hearts around, I have been thinking about “passion.” The Desert Fathers and Mothers talked a lot about passion and the desired goal of becoming dispassionate. To understand that more fully, I looked up the definition of passion in the Webster dictionary:
A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart. Dorotheos
When they talk about becoming dispassionate, the Desert Fathers and Mothers meant the ability to rise above extremes in feelings. They encouraged moderation in emotions because it keeps us less entangled in transitory issues and more focused on eternal ones. As I was thinking about all of this, I wondered about the difference between “taming the passions,” as the Desert Fathers and Mothers counseled vs. suppressing them. Today, when one talks about becoming the passions, it is often in the context of them being suppressed and how bad that is, especially on the physical body. We now know that as stress builds, our arteries inflame and other parts of our physical bodies take the brunt of unresolved emotional issues. Many illnesses get their start as unmitigated, continually stress over a long period of time. How many of us get sick at the end of long semester at school, for example?
I know that many times when I eat or shop to help me “feel better,” it is because I am not dealing with a “passion,” a compelling emotion, honestly or straight-forwardly. Rather, I am wanting the cookie or a new pair of earrings to make the strong feeling, usually negative, go away. Of course, that doesn’t work. I gain weight and lose money, and am still left with the unresolved feeling. Plus, I now feel guilty from the calories and cash outlay. It would be like finding the roof leaking in this old house but rather than fixing the leak, re-painting the water-stained walls, hoping that that will take care of the problem. It seems so obvious in my house example. Why isn’t it more obvious in my soul and heart?
This old house has had a lot of repairs to it over the decades. There have been times when repair needs were ignored or shortcuts in construction were taken. We got to pay the cost of fixing the damage done years later by those earlier decisions. By then, the damage was extensive and hard to get to.
And so it is with us. When we seek to push passions underground with food, entertainment, shopping, drinking, exercise or [fill in the blank], they don’t go away. They simply work like dry rot in an old house. Eventually the “walls” will crumble and it will be much harder to fix.
So in these dark days of February, when spring seems to be so long in coming and as we approach Valentine’s Day, love yourself first. Give yourself the gift of honesty. If you are angry, admit it. It is not a sin to be honest! If you are grieving or frightened, it is OK. That means you are human. If you are really excited, express it! Who cares if someone thinks you are being too boisterous? Our emotions are a gift from God and should be treated with honesty and gratitude, even as we know that not all should be acted on in raw form. Happy ♥ Day! Do something to take care of yours this week.