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Purity and Passion

Monday, November 13, 2017

God as Us: Week 2

Purity and Passion
Monday, November 13, 2017

I want to say a little about purity and about passion. What I mean by purity is singleness of heart, when the head and the heart are working together in a way that allows you to see wholeness, to see from your True Self.

Purity also has to do with appropriate boundaries, protecting the sacred character of intimacy on both sides of a relationship. You have to know the rules and know what they’re trying to protect before you too quickly throw them out. I don’t mean to sound like a prudish old priest, but I’ve worked with young people who have already had so much casual sex that I wonder if it will ever have the power to lead them to the great feast, the great romance, the great union. Sex is all too often an experience of disunion, failure, or entertainment rather than enlightenment.

If the world does not understand purity and its necessity, it seems to me the church has not understood passion and its necessity. Christianity has mostly mistrusted passion and the abandonment, excitement, joy, freedom, playfulness, and enthusiasm that human love can inspire.

Passion is an energy, a drive from within. The French call it elan vital, a creative force. It’s a thirst for union, a thirst for myself, for more of true life. As such, passion surprisingly carries with it some inevitable dissatisfaction. It never lasts and is never enough once you feed on it. Passion constantly creates within you a hole that longs to be filled. In the Christian tradition we call such implanted longing the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit keeps yearning in us for union with more—with ourselves and thus with God. Drawing from her deep experiences in prayer, St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) shared with conviction, “My own me is God! My own me is God!” [1] Passion is a “leading-string of love” drawing us into God (see Hosea 11:3-4).

We must realize that human love (eros) and divine love (agape) are on a continuum; human love and passion prepare us for and lead us to divine love. As Cynthia Bourgeault explains:

The great secret of erotic love—which all true lovers instinctively know and which I believe Jesus also knew—is that agape is in essence transfigured desire. There are not two loves, one agape-based and the other eros-based. Rather, agape is what emerges from the refiner’s fire when that surging desire to cling, possess, consume the object of one’s adoring is subjected to the discipline of kenosis, self-giving love. . . . [K]enosis is an exercise in the pure generosity of standing in the other’s place, discovering what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself—not as much as one’s self, as egoic consciousness always appends, but as the intimate expression of one’s own being. [2]

“My life is not about me. I am about Life,” the mystic comes to believe! Or as Paul put it, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Gateway to Silence:
We are temples of God.

[1] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Original text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.” Reference from Donald C. Nugent, “The Annihilation of St. Catherine of Genoa,” Mystics Quarterly 10(4), December 1984, 182-188.
[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 121.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, God as Us! The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine, disc 5 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Shy Boy, Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.
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