Words inspire me. I am endlessly fascinated by the power of words, and at the same time frustrated by our too frequent mis-treatment of the delicate and dangerous tool called language. Today, though, I am simply tired of hearing (and reading!) the same old tired words, nearly dead from overuse.
Take ‘passion’ for instance. Nearly everyone announces that they have one. First Ladies claim a ‘passion’ the minute their Presidential husbands take command of the nation’s helm; high school seniors scramble to find their ‘passion’ before they compose their college entrance applications; Facebookers post articles and update their passionate status regularly, and Pinterest boards? Well. The more pins devoted to an interest, the more devoted the ‘passion,’ right?
How vital to our personhood can passion be? Since nearly everyone is busy claiming ownership of a unique and deeply held interest, I conclude these wildly variable proclamations are crucial indeed. You can find ‘a passion for shoes,’ ‘my passion for women,’ ‘LOLPassion,’ ‘passion for fashion,’ ‘passion for drag racing’ ‘passion for lingerie,’ and ‘passion for interior design’ out there, along with endless variations on sexual intimacy (and its requisite accompanying passion.) I merely scratch the surface. Apparently, arts and crafts stir up a good deal of ‘passion.’ Pittsburgh, PA has a women’s football team called Passion. “Passion Pit” identifies a musical group. Perhaps you have a jewelry passion, or a passion for India, elegance, or Audis. Maybe bikers comprise your passion. Lots of nightclubs bear the name. Restaurants too. And let’s not forget that great turn of the 21st century NBC daytime drama, “Passions.” I mean, need I say more?
My words overflow with snark, don’t they? You’d think I have no passion for passion. Fear not! What I’ve lost is not my own passion; rather, I’ve lost my trust in others’ use of the word.
As an English teacher (the discipline that covers writing, reading, speaking, rhetoric, etymology, critical thinking skills, vocabulary building, drama, the novel, poetry, and nearly everything under the sun about words and their proper effective usage), I once faced the rather daunting task of teaching a semester long course in Etymology with a focus on Greek and Latin roots. Not thrilling, like Shakespearean drama, or inspiring, like Dickensian novels, but useful. Eye-opening, really. Since teaching the course, I cannot look up a word in a dictionary without slowing down long enough to discover the word’s historic development. You know — its etymology. English nerd alert. Guilty as charged.
And guilt serves a dual purpose here. I know something about passion, because I’ve read the dictionary. But I know something about THE Passion too. My guilt plays a starring role.
If you look up passion in your very own dictionary, you’ll discover its Latin beginnings as a word that means suffering. You’ll also find that the very first full definition is devoted to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross of Calvary. Also listed to help us understand the word: intense, ardent, driving, overmastering conviction, and again, suffering. How can we link this powerfully emotive word to arts & crafts, shoes, and interior design?
Certainly, many of us pursue worthy passions — stopping human trafficking comes to mind, as does aiding the hungry, healing the sick and wounded, giving those who have no voice an awareness of their value and worth. Please understand. I know that countless thousands of us are passionate about fathering the fatherless, helping the helpless, loving the unlovely. These passions echo Christ’s own. He suffered. We call it His Passion. The key to understanding that word, it turns out, is nestled, as it always is, in the Word. Christ. Whose Passion rescues guilty, hurting people, and “saves a wretch, like me.”
Passion: An intense, ardent, overmastering conviction, marked by suffering. Vital to our personhood indeed. I can trust that.