My Photo
Location: California, United States

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The word is passionate

This week of Creighton University's Spiritual Exercises online retreat is interesting - Jesus Confronts Religious Leaders. The readings we're given are of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Matthew 21:12-17), and Jesus telling off the Pharisees and Scribes (Matthew 23:1-39). Larry Gillick SJ writes ...

Ignatius moves us to contemplate the freedom that Jesus possesses stemming from his having heard and having believed who he is in the eyes of his heavenly Father. He knows who he is and he knows too the holiness of the ancient traditions and practices that his teachings build on, yet challenge. We are watching and listening to a person of fidelity both to himself and to his conflicts.

He is free to hear the arguments against him and his ways. He desires the engagements with his opponents as he was eager to engage the sick and needy around him. Fidelity is not being stubborn. Jesus fearlessly stays open to the dialogue and even to the threats. Rather, the word is passionate. For Ignatius, the word passionate means a fiery openness to whatever is offered. We consider this man of passion, of intense, open-hearted, open-handed availability for him to be reverenced as well as offended.

When I first became a Christian, my idea of Jesus was scandalized by the examples of his volatility. I'd always thought of him as almost emotionless, impassible, above the fray. A Jesuit I used to know told me my Jesus was plastic because I never let him get angry; he said that anger meant emotional engagement. But I grew up in a family where anger didn't equal anything remotely positive, so I still feel conflicted about a passionate Jesus - I find him both attractive and disturbing.

If you begin watching this video clip from the movie Jesus at 4:05, you'll see Jesus (Jeremy Sisto) coming to the temple, seeing the moneychangers, and seriously losing his aplomb ......


Anonymous Paul Martin said...

It seems to me that people who have gone a way with spiritual matters find a decrease in the predisposition to get angry. In my experience, far more often than not, anger comes from a threatened place rather than a positive one.

I don't think the goal is to never get mad under any circumstances - but rarely. Theologically it would be tough if the gospels had presented Jesus as a hothead!

7:55 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Paul,

Are you back to blogging?

I guess That's one of the things I do like about Ignatian spirituality ... it isn't about holiness = emotional dampening :)

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Paul Martin said...

Not really...

Have you run into any actual forms of spirituality as emotional dampening? I do understand how that unfortunate word "detachment" has that connotation, but in my own movement in that direction, which started with a spontaneous mystical experience soon followed up by learning the centering prayer at St. Joseph's Abbey, the only aspects of my emotional life that I gradually grew more distant from were my worst.

I wish I were completely "detached" from those, but I don't think that will ever happen and I'm just glad to have gone as far from them as I have...

4:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I think we've argued about this at regular intervals - I hate detachment :)

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Paul Martin said...

But what I'm wondering is if it's really just the word "detachment" that you don't like. In what I've experienced, read and seen, I haven't come across spritual growth as detachment in the sense of a drying up or withering of emotional life. If that ever happens, it would have to belong with the risks or warnings it seems to me I recall as sometimes presented in discussions of spiritual growth.

It's been a long time since I've done any reading, but something like "spiritual pride" comes to mind as one example. "Emotional constipation," if that happens, would belong on that list too! Maybe there would even be a connection between the two. I could imagine someone thinking of themselves as greatly advanced in spiritual matters and becoming more aloof and conceited because of that.

8:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I guess what bothers me is the idea that people should't have "negaive" feelings in response to negative events - grief, anger, etc. I think it's normal to feel awful about awful stuff and the people who don't feel awful about awful stuff seem to me to be either distancing themslves from their feelings for protection or are people who have low affect - no feelings.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Paul Martin said...

Wouldn't an important distinction be between "wallowing" and "non-wallowing" so to speak?

If someone stopped feeling anguish, anger etc. in response to destructive or tragic events, something would be really wrong. It seems to me that you could say negative emotions often serve to inform us of the negativity of events. As such, they're an aspect of being a living, breathing, morally responsive person.

But my impression is that it's more common to see people having difficulties that involve "wallowing" or "getting stuck" or hanging on tight to negative emotions so that they become depressed, chronically anxious, resentful, etc. They make themselves miserable by dwelling on or frequently rehashing negative events and their reactions to them. Doing that kind of thing, at least for me – which I did for several years – actually dampened down my overall emotional life.

At the start I experienced joy less often – was less responsive to the good things in life – and I felt a lot of sadness. But as time went by I became numb – a matter of “losing all your highs and lows” as the song says. (“Desperado,” The Eagles). So for me, I guess the closest I came to “detachment” in an unhealthy sense of the word was at the nadir of my depression. I’d reached a point where it felt like I pretty much just didn’t care anymore.

Meditation and mindfulness practices promoting spiritual “detachment" - much as I dislike that word too – played a big role in getting me to stop my personal versions of “wallowing.” Far from making me less passionate, this enriched my emotional life. Less wallowing meant more appreciation of the things right in front of me in my day-to-day life.

The thing I personally dislike that I do see out there as a real trend in both Christianity and alternative belief systems is “positivity” in the sense of being dishonest and in denial about life’s difficulties. The basic idea is that if you think positive, nothing bad can happen to you. And everyone to whom bad things happen – well that’s because they’re not thinking positive. This is such a gross superstition and blatant psychological defense mechanism and one so massively refuted by reality that although I can understand the motivation behind it, it still floors me that anyone can manage to think that way.

7:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

This is hard to argue about :)

No one is ever accusd of wallowing in joy or getting stuck in happiness. What I don't like is the connection some make between what are seen as "negative" emotions like anger or sadness, and spiritual or emotional immaturity.

You seem to say that in your first comment ... "It seems to me that people who have gone a way with spiritual matters find a decrease in the predisposition to get angry. In my experience, far more often than not, anger comes from a threatened place rather than a positive one."

I guess I'm saying that there aren't "good" and "bad" emotions.

5:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, I should say that I know happy emotions help the immune system and angry ones maybe kill off our arteries, and I guess Ignatius and Paul would say a sigh of the holy spirit is tranquility and joy :) but I mean there aren't good and bad emotions in the intrinsic sense.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Paul Martin said...

It’s especially hard to argue about since you haven’t convinced me that we disagree!

I don't think grief and anger are inherently bad either. What can be problematic is how they factor into a person’s overall emotional life. So, say, if instead of turning over the occassional table Jesus had come off as just a guy with a chip on his shoulder, I don't think we'd ever have heard of him. Or if he’d shouted obscenities from the cross, then that wouldn’t have been good either…

7:54 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home