Fresh Focus for May 2017

Passion and Joy

Some years ago, whilst serving as a Diocesan Director of Ordinands in another diocese, the Selection Criteria for ordination enquirers were being reviewed and DDO’s were sent a draft copy of the proposed criteria for comment. I was delighted to see that ‘passion and joy’ were to be qualities that, it was proposed, would be discerned in enquirers. However, when the final version of the criteria arrived, they were nowhere to be seen! Shortly afterwards, at a DDO conference, I enquired whatever happened to passion and joy? The response was that whilst they are qualities that are desirable to be seen in ordination enquirers, it had proved difficult to decide how to assess them!

It led me to subsequently think that hitherto I had no problem discerning these qualities in people and, in fact, would be very concerned, as a DDO, if they appeared absent or in short supply in an enquirer. In an interview situation, passion is a pre-requisite. It is often that conviction and ‘spark’ that leaves the deepest impression. Yet, within our British culture, we can be suspicious where such qualities seem intense or emanate in over-enthusiasm. Yet surely passion must be at the heart of any Christian’s vocation. In fact, passion is at the heart of who God has made us.

In their reflections on walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the disciples said ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ Surely this is giving us some indication of the way that the Holy Spirit plants passion inside us. All that we seek to be and do as Christians, our ministry, doesn’t make sense without passion. A great 19th century German philosopher, Hegel said: “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion”.

In this respect, passion seems deeper than enthusiasm, which is always dependent on how we feel. As Christians we talk about the passion of Christ, which describes his journey to the cross and refers to the suffering involved. Here, we see that Jesus’ passion is ultimately ‘cruciform’ in shape. When Jesus predicted his passion, he did not only refer to the great suffering involved, but he also said he would be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed” (Mark 8.31). He understood the worst, yet his passion was undiminished. It is here that we see the link between passion and vision. Vision needs passion and passion needs vision. Frederick Buechner said ““The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For me, that ‘deep gladness’ is the combination of passion and joy.

Joy is similar to passion in that it is also a deep quality; not characterised by happiness, but more of a disposition, an attitude and approach to life. It’s amazing that such a high proportion of the biblical references to joy arise out of a context of suffering, the best example being the number of times joy is mentioned in the Easter biblical narratives. St. Paul writes a lot about joy and rejoicing, especially in Philippians. He urges the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord (3/1), rejoice in the Lord always (4/4) and again to rejoice (4/4). And then (4/10) he rejoices at their concern for him – and all that from the context of prison awaiting almost certain death.

Another reason why I like Buechner’s quote is that his notion of ‘deep gladness’ gives direction to our individual ministries and the mission of the church. They are dependent on it and on any vision that we have or respond to. Perhaps it isn’t about how we assess them rather than ensuring that for all involved in ministry and leadership, they are embedded deep within us.

Terry Joyce