Weekly Edgework #95 - May 25, 2006

Passionate Wisdom

Passion without wisdom to give it shape and direction is as empty as wisdom without passion to give it power and purpose. (Frederich Buechner)

It seems to me that persons living with a healthy balance of passion and wisdom are fortunate indeed. Most people who have known me over the years have thought of me as a passionate person. I always scored high on the “passion” line on student evaluation forms while teaching at college. Perhaps that has something to do with my personality or a natural pre-disposition. What is somewhat disconcerting however, now that I think about it, is that there were always fewer persons who drew attention to the wisdom I displayed.

I suppose it might be less bothersome if we could just forget about both passion and wisdom altogether. I meet people regularly for whom this seems to be have happened. They mosey on through life, never getting their passions up about anything in particular nor attempting to integrate the lessons of life into some sort of articulated wisdom. This approach to life seems to involve less stress and so could perhaps be touted as the best remedy for a harried generation. Live and let live! Keep your dander down and your mouth shut. And slide quietly into your grave when your turn comes.

But Buechner envisions a higher plane of living where passion and wisdom kiss each other. In deed, he suggests that it is in a symbiotic relationship of the two that a life emerges characterized by shape, direction, power and purpose. One could well ask which comes first – passion or wisdom – somewhat in the vein that we ask the “chicken and egg” question. But, having observed life for some time now, it seems clear to me that passion usually makes it onto the stage first. Wisdom, if it emerges at all, comes later in life after we have learned the lessons that life teaches us along the way. Too bad in a way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could start off with both like two shots from a double-barreled shotgun?

If the normal order of arrival I have suggested is correct, it is fair to ask whether the second can arrive at all without the presence of the first. That is, can wisdom emerge in the absence of passion. Perhaps – but not likely. After all, it is a passion to know the truth that provides the impetus to process the experiences of life into a realistic worldview. If we allow life to slip by without reflecting on the difficult questions that come with it, it is possible to get old without ever having come close to acquiring wisdom. And such an old person – unacquainted with passion - would not have the where-with-all to give any wisdom he might have procured any power and purpose.

So we are faced with a dilemma – that is if we are at all interested in passion and wisdom. And that is how to harness them to the wagon of life like a team of horses that need to work together to get a wagon load of tourists up the mountain to see the Neu-Schwanstein Castle in Southern Germany. Hey, giddy-up, Passion, we say as we slap the reins on the rump of Wisdom. Move together now! Keep moving! And with enough practice it seems that Wisdom and Passion take up each other’s slack naturally, like two horses of a seasoned team.

Ah yes, but how to get to that point where both passion and wisdom work together in our lives and the lives of those we touch. My first suggestion is to find a way to become passionate about something. Recognize apathy as the sinister demon that it is. Open your heart to life around you. Allow the injustices and inequities you witness to burn a hole in your soul. Walk along side the wounded and broken people in your world. Get mad about something that just should not be. Discover what God is doing in your neck of the woods and get on board. Feel for once a fire burning in your belly. Weep if you must. Let your heart be broken. And take a step toward the high road.

To every man there openeth A way, and ways and a way And the High Soul climbs the High Way, And the Low Soul gropes the Low. And in between on the misty flats The rest drift to and fro, But to every man there openeth A High Way and A Low. And every man decideth The way his soul shall go.

But remember that passion, when not grounded, can blow your fuses and burn your house down. And so it is important, as soon as your journey – driven by passion – has begun, to embark on a quest for wisdom. It will not come in an instant. But don’t wait to begin your journey until you are wise. Your passion may carry you away and even exact a toll of sorts before wisdom has begun to accompany you. But if your quest for wisdom is intense enough, it will begin to pay off sooner or later. For most of us it’s later, but that is better than not at all.

And now a word about the wise. Consider yourself fortunate if you find yourself connecting to an older person who has learned wisdom along life’s way. Especially if it is someone with enough passion left to make that wisdom available to you. Lap it up! Ask questions. Engage in dialogue. Watch how that person makes wisdom felt in the world. Learn. Apply. Integrate. By so doing, chances are that you may embrace wisdom before the passion of youth consumes you. Blessed is the one who is granted a chapter of life in which passion and wisdom are pulling equal weight.

But know this – wisdom is usually found residing with those who are still passionately searching for it. With those who are driving the team called Passion and Wisdom.