There are certain words that education experts implore one not to use when applying for university. Passion is one of them. It falls gracefully into the category of clichéd phrases so overused and under-meant that they have come to signify nothing else but a generic desire for an undefined something. The language of romance has fused it into a symbiotic relationship with the semantic field of carnality, sensuality, desire, temptation, an abandon to the physical senses which burns us up in side. I burn with a passion for you, spoken in a deep throbbing voice, has become the modern Lothario’s key to any woman’s locked bedroom. Yet the appropriation and re-appropriation of the word passion for a variety of uses suggests to me, that, bound up in the very root of the word, there still remains something pertinent, profound and compelling. The idea of a passion, being passionate, evokes a sincere and powerful feeling within us, even if it is received by staid ears.
Derived from the Ancient Greek pashko passion in fact, means to suffer. It is an intense and compelling emotion that over time has come to connote positivity. Yet its evocative nature is so because at its heart it is a description, a typographical signifier, of the act of suffering, and suffering is the clearest evocation of the humanity of man.
And here we are 97 days into this blog and approaching one of the most profound and renowned acts of passion known in human history. The passion of the Christ. The reminder that God who so loved the world, so loved his creation that his heart broke in distress at our brokeness that he incarnated himself into human form to suffer for us. To be a public expression of passion which would culminate in a public execution and resurrection.
These are words that I have had infused into my very brain from a young age. If my heart was a piece of WHSmith’s paper, it would be torn by the number of times I have, in absorbing this information, had it ‘written’ on my heart. I know these words, I know these ideas and I confess myself to be a believer. Yet what does it mean to suffer, to have someone die for me. Though in rhetoric I profess to believe and to understand, I have neither physically felt the romantic passion that lures me into fantasy daydreams, nor have I experienced the rapturous passion of affective piety. I suppose I am also a passionless girl, having never suffered, never really suffered enough to evoke intense emotion in someone else.
Today, however, I stood in the temperamental weather that characterises British springtime, In Trafalgar Sq, Central London, in a hole-ridden jumper, green tights and an avant-garde fro-hawk (afro mohawk made using a variety of Boots clips) and watched the passion of Jesus Christ re-enacted before my eyes, emblazoned on large screens to a crowd of thousands. I watched as ‘Jesus’ rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosannah on a real donkey. I saw his kind eyes, his righteous anger in the money-changing Temple, I heard his cry in the garden of Gethsemane as he begged, in a raw voice for this Cup, this future to be taken from him. And the peaceful resignation of obedience which is to be a model to the way I live my life as a Christian, humbly accepting to the Father’s will, trusting in His goodness and righteousness. I heard the sound of the whip crack on his body, and then I watched as it was broken before me, before all of Central London to see, as they hung him from a cross and stabbed his side.
I knew all along it was an enactment. These were actors and actress reliving and re-telling the gospel story. I knew that the shredded, torn, battered and bruised skin that drew gasps from the multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-generational crowd was artistically applied prosthetic makeup. The blood that drenched his skin, streaked the sides of his limbs and tainted the fingertips of members of the audience who helped pick him up when he struggled under the weight of the real-life cross, was make-up, paint, in essence, fake. Yet in that moment, captured on television screens which so easily hold us captive with murder-mysteries, banality and the dark reminder of the news, I couldn’t maintain eye contact. I struggled to allow the truth that what this actor was enacting someone really did for me. Not because I don’t believe it isn’t real. But because I didn’t want to acknowledge that amount of suffering, a passion I could not comprehend.
Yet it ended with hope. The resurrected body, the love in the eyes and the final message that boomed from loud speakers, imploring us, the crowd of people from all walks of life, to be a light in this world. To love our neighbours, stand for peace, be bold, have faith, be and do love. To go out and be the good news in this world that is crying out for it. And at the end the Bishop of London came, giving a blessing, and calling for us, in whatever our mother tongue was, to say together, the Lord’s prayer.
For one of the few times in my life, this Easter, thanks to Ma, I shall be sitting down to delicately peel back thin layers of gold painted foil, revealing beneath, the fragile construction of a chocolate Lindt bunny. And I won’t be alone. Must of us will be delving into chocolate which, though we eat it regularly throughout the year, we suddenly feel a desperate need to eat more. Some of us will have eaten fish today, Good Friday, most probably won’t know why. A number will delve into lamb on Sunday, again most likely unsure why.
Even though I will and have partaken in all these cultural rituals to mark this Christian festival that, in terms of the annual calendar, was superimposed on a Pagan festival of new life and re-birth, there was something i experienced today watching that monumental act of sacrificial suffering. That concept of the utmost love played out with a sincere integrity. That someone could love me, love you, love the potential of this world so much, that they would sacrifice their life, and in that sacrifice proclaim to all the world, that Death, our greatest fear, has no power. Death which pushes so may people away from religion, Death which brings fear into the hearts of the young and old, Death that drives people to a superficial madness as they try to escape its clutches, Death, which breeds hate, destruction, anger, war, violence, Death which we feel is the final voice of doom in this ‘cursed’ world. It has no power. Love. That same word, like passion, which students are told to flee from, the way Paul tells us to flee from temptation. Love which has also been bastardised, over familiarised and commercialised. That other almost unidentifiable word, has conquered it. Love which didn’t ask for anything in return. Love that reinforces our sense of worth. Even those that have been condemned by the world, called promiscuous, damned, abominations in the eyes of God, outcasts, rejects, adulterous, murderous, the least of the least, yeah, that Love, died for us.
How can I comprehend that kind of passion? That passion which supersedes any mac-daddy’s romantic ‘gassing’, ‘breezing,’ sweet-nothings?
Only with the utmost nonplussed sense of awe, gratitude and confusion. But a happy, perplexed and grateful confusion all the same.
Greater love has no man than this – that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
I don’t know who you are, but he did it for you, as much as he did it for anyone who professes to believe. And he said, in all this darkness, you are loved and there is hope, there is new life.
That’s my reason for the season. God Bless.