The phone rang the other day. "Hi guys!" the caller started. "We are on our way but have to get pulled out of the ditch first" the voice said in as a good humor as one could muster in that situation. It turns out that the gravel road from their house to the highway was glare ice. They slowly approached the corner, he turned the steering wheel in their pick-up truck but it kept going on its original trajectory and as if in slow motion, they came to rest in the roadside ditch!
Most of us of driving age understand the object to driving successfully is to drive in such a way as to avoid the ditches. Life is very similar in a sense but many of us live life careening from one ditch to another. Consider politics, left wing or right wing, in church - conservative or liberal and the list goes on. Both ditches call out to us with their often compelling message drawing us one way or the other, often villainizing the other ditch. Healthy life and especially healthy faith aren't found in the ditches but on the road between them.
Another example might be the issue of passion (emotion) or reason. There are those on either pole, as the reason, people say passion is dangerous, flaky and often nonsensical and the passion camp fires back with stifling, religious, safe, shallow and so forth. If we take the time to evaluate the heart of what each is saying we can quickly see there is merit in both positions but neither on their own reflect the realities of life or faith. Hence comes the need to learn balance, or the both and. To learn how to live a life which is full of life including both passion and informed by reason. This can be a difficult thing to learn as life can be like that country road - glare ice. Living balanced is more of an art as it involves creativity, adapting, navigating the in-between places, innovation, courage and a good measure of maturing wisdom.
Reason and passion are often seen as a paradox, and being influenced by Greek thought we don't do well with paradox. This forces us to embrace one at the expense of the other. I am discovering in most things which seem paradoxical, it is not either - or, rather it is "both / and". I think the healthy perspective is both reason and passion. Whichever way you are inclined, whether you have a propensity toward passion or reason it is important we seek to learn the art of balance - to learn "to rest in reason and move in passion."
Living passion-filled lives make life rich and full. Reason can season it to make it so much deeper. Reason can help us direct our passions in ways which are healthy and consistent with the values which underlie our passion. For example, we may feel passionate about a person or situation which makes us angry. Reason keeps the passion from lashing out. We may have an attraction to a co-worker but reason will remind us of our spouse and children at home.
Reason can help us discern where and how to be passionate in ways which are sustainable and appropriate in the context of the setting. It is easy to get so focused on a project or a cause, and without reason, we may burn the candles at both ends and burnout. If you burn out you're no help for your cause, for yourself or most anything else for that matter. It helps us to not neglect other important aspects of our lives. We have many things in our lives which are important and add to the richness of it, reason reminds of this.
Reason can also help us discern extremism - 'ooooh scary' but unbridled passion can lead us to a place where we become so idealistic we are no longer relevant or credible. You may disagree strongly with abortion and sadly some have let their passion lead them to kill doctors who perform abortions. This extremism will do little for your cause and will scare people not inspire them to stand for change. Often we as Christians so desperately want our friends and family to see and understand why we believe what we do. Sometimes in our passion to see them come to faith we end up pushing them further away. Reason helps us realize manipulation, threats, and rants are no way to see our family members come to faith. Reason can help us articulate our passion in a way which is coherent, genuine and engaging and reduce the risk of being really obnoxious.
Reason can also inform our faith. Reason allows us to ask honest questions and seeks honest answers. It is a part of healthy faith to question, to wonder. Unfortunately, for many in western Christianity salvation has as more to do with believing the right things than faith in Christ. When one considers this, it looks a lot like works righteousness - ie: we are saved because we believe the right things. Questioning, seeking is a natural, healthy part of the spiritual journey because it's honest. When we see things which are seemingly unjust or we experience something which seems to collide with our faith how do we respond? Are we honest enough in our passion and reason to ask the questions knowing we are safe inside of Christ?
We need not be afraid of either our passions or reason - they are parts of what we as human beings were created to be. To reject one or the other is in a very real way denying who we are. The health is found in the both /and. Befriending both our passions and our reason brings about a deeper sense of wholeness and equilibrium. Instead of dividing us, holding together our passions and our reason make us more human. It ends the internal conflict. In a very authentic way, healthy passion and healthy reason are fundamentally necessary for the health of the other.
Kahil Gibran, a Lebanese immigrant to the United States, was an insightful artist and poet and this particular piece is worth reflecting upon. In this excerpt from the Prophet, he is wrestling with the paradox between reason and passion.
On Reason and Passion by Kahlil Gibran
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.
I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.
Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows -- then let your heart say in silence, "God rests in reason."
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky -- then let your heart say in awe, "God moves in passion."
And since you are a breath in God's sphere, and a leaf in God's forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
- What speaks to you from Gibran's poem?
- Do you naturally lean towards passion or reason?
- How are you wrestling with balance in this area?