Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Passion: It Hurts So Good

I made it to the Tacoma Catholic Worker. And for the past three weeks have tried to keep busy amidst the community's attempt to restructure and redefine itself. I've found good, thankless work in the organic garden just outside the main house (there are 8 houses used by the Tacoma CW). I wake up at a decent, yet not lazy, hour to start weeding which is most of my labor. I spent a substatial amount of time harvesting the Asian pears, blackberries, tomatoes, miscellaneous squash, non-Asian pears, lettuce, beets and an occasional ear of corn. After I drained the garden of its yield, I helped to can the produce. And yesterday, I finally finished the blackberry jam project. But if I'm not in the garden, I sit back and witness community dynamics, have conversations with fascinating people (the Jesuit Volunteers are next door), search for a piano to play, and look forward to a year of discovering the lifestyle that fits me best.

A friend of mine is currently in a similar time of discovery, although half way across the country and without an organic garden. We met in Los Angeles, and he has since been a source of strength for me, possessing the unique ability to simultaneously calm and enlighten me. Our spiritual journeys have also been quite parallel, although his dedication to his own path seems much more solid than my temporal excitement.

Recently we talked of causes we believe are just. Essentially, we were asking: What do we do with our passion? Do we feed our passion to boredom to create a lively experience, or do we find what we need and cultivate our calling? We didn't have any decent answers.

Ironically enough, it seems the challenge is passion--reining it in, directing it. "Ambivelent" is not a word often used to describe a Catholic Worker. Yet sometimes our conviction as Catholic Workers is so strong that it drives others away, alienates us from dialogue, paints an untrue picture of our work, or distracts us from the journey toward Christ. In other situations, we feel the burning in our bellies and refuse to act for fear of disapproval. One of the many struggles I have lies within the risk of meeting the needs of my self and spirit without being dictated by the societal understanding of what is acceptable. My friend's response to that revelation: "Welcome to following the Gospel."

In Greek (pema) and Latin (pati), passion literally means suffering. Hence, we call the series of events leading to Jesus' death The Passion of Christ. This is slightly reassuring, only in the sense that my struggles with my chosen path now seem to have Greek and Latin meaning. It makes me wonder if the Buddhists really have got it down: Life means suffering (one of the Four Noble Truths). And the Noble Eightfold Path leads one out of suffering and to Nirvana. It transforms suffering into a higher level of existence, ultimate wisdom. Similarly, Jesus' death brought forgiveness and eternal life, and our following Jesus can lead us from the suffering of mortal life to immortal grace and love.

As I continue to learn, the journey seems to be within the challenge, passion and confusion. My dear friend and I are stuck on a path with blind turns, but we maintain faith that each step and the destination are grace. In the meantime, what do we do with our love, hopes and desires blooming from our passion?

"Maybe we just have to demand more from the world and, in turn, ourselves," I reached for wisdom.

"Maybe not more," he replied, "but just something different."