This made sense—finally—of much of my life up till now: fears I long collaborated with, love I sought to give and receive but so rarely found, and how to exchange the one for the other.
I've always been a passionate person. I feel things deeply, attach myself to people at a heart level, and welcome into myself everything that seems beautiful and true and full of life. I have always longed to find something, anything, that I could pour my heart into, pour my energy into, pour all this intense emotion into.
I have always loved people. I'm not a romantic (at least, I wasn't), but I loved my family, I adored my friends, and I looked forward to someday having a boyfriend and then husband. However, my teen years convinced me that no one wanted to understand or even listen to me. My college years convinced me that passion for people was often met by apathy; that it was mostly a waste of time. And even that conclusion assumed that others are at least capable of loving with the passion I wanted to express and receive--the closeness of true friendship, like family.
So I tried pour my passion into God, and into people by way of God. I tried not to get so close to people that losing them or never feeling that I was special to them would matter, but not stay so far away that I couldn't care for them as I felt I ought to.
I tried to pour it into my writing. I'd convinced myself as a child that I didn't have any special talents, so when I found I did, it was startling. But writing, while a place of giftedness and confidence and life for me, is not quite big enough to hold everything that is in my heart.
Nothing I tried really worked. And only now, at 31, can I see what happened in my heart and spirit.
That passion never went away. I simply didn't express it to anyone but myself, and occasionally a good friend.
It's a rushing river that kept pouring through and out of my heart, but it didn't have anywhere to go. It's no longer a regular riverbed: it's now a canyon, deeper than you can guess without measuring directly. The water runs so fast it would whip you off your feet and away as quick as thought, but you'd never know it from the surface. It looks peaceful and clear and cold: the proverbial still waters running deep.
I know a lot of this had to do with fear, and I've realized that this fear of passion—as I've seen it in myself and in others—comes in two types: fear of being out of control, and fear of being unwanted.
Self-control is a virtue much prized by those who grew up in the Christian church. Keeping oneself away from sin, from harming others by our demands or desires or actions, is valued more than even active good works. We fear passion because it smacks of losing control: of exploding in anger, striking or cursing or breaking things; of unbridled lust, treating people as objects or taking advantage of their physical desires; of losing control of our tongues, gossiping and slandering and putting people down.
“Passion” also conjures up ideas of following our own desires rather than the will of God (whatever that may be). If we assume that we are inherently tainted or wicked, then the thought of listening to what our hearts tell us, much less what our bodies tell us, is kind of terrifying.
As a side note: there's an unconscious bias in a lot of religious communities against the physical world, as opposed to the spiritual. So passion, which involves emotion and often some form of physical connection or desire (not necessarily sexual), is seen as inherently and unconsciously dangerous, or is rejected in favor of “unworldly” pursuits such as prayer.
We may also go in the other direction, and fear to display how passionate we are because we know how easily we can be crushed. If we dare to open our hearts, to invest them in projects, in works of art or purpose, to surrender them to friends or lovers, we risk having the most intimate parts of our selves ignored, rejected, or misunderstood.
Neither of these fears are necessarily true. Sometimes they are downright irrational.
Passion brings with it energy and creativity. The more you are invested in something, the harder you tend to work to make something worthwhile out of it—and that goes for relationships as well as a book or a painting. Opening up to one's passions shows one how to take what one has and create new things from that. As an artist, it's indispensable; as a human being, it's freeing on the deepest level.
Furthermore, passion is not by nature self-focused. Fear is much more turned in on the self. When one is acting out of passion, one tends to forget oneself in one's concentration on the project or object or person that one is passionate about. It helps you turn towards others; it helps you find a way to stop obsessing over your own heart and spirit.
The apostle John wrote, in his first letter, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because [God] first loved us. If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Acting out of passion is a lot like acting in love.
When people talk about conquering fear, they often talk about courage and peace. Courage is the ability to act in spite of fear. Peace is the absence of fear—the result of learning to live without it. Both are good, and courage is certainly the most necessary of all virtues. But the opposite of fear, the thing that can cancel it out, is passion.
When one pursues something, the opposite thing is usually displaced. Pursue fear, and passion fades or is hidden away. Pursue passion... and fear must give way before it.