Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County
"Passion and Patience"
Rev. Sam Trumbore October 29th , 1995

From a collection of Ecstatic Poems of Kabir by Robert Bly

I said to the want-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.


Love Sonnet by Pablo Neruda

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.[1]

Becoming a Nun by Erica Jong

On cold days
it is easy to be reasonable,
to button the mouth against kisses,
dust the breasts
with talcum powder
& forget
the red pulp meat
of the heart.

On those days
it beats like a digital clock -
not a beat at all but a steady whirring
chilly as green neon,
luminous as numerals in the dark,
cool as electricity.

& I think:
I can live without it all -
love with its blood pump,
sex with its messy hungers,
men with their peacock strutting,
their silly sexual baggage,
their wet tongues in my ear &
their words like little sugar suckers
with sour centers.

On such days
I am zipped in my body suit,
I am wearing my seven league red suede boots,
I am marching over the cobblestones
as if they were the heads of men,

& I am happy
as a seven-year old virgin
holding Daddy's hand.

Don't touch.
Don't try to tempt me with your ripe persimmons.
Don't threaten me with your volcano.
The sky is clearer when I'm not in heat.
& the poems
are colder.2

Listen now to a speech by Leonato to his brother Antonio in ]Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Leonato's daughter, Hero, has been slandered by Claudio who was deceived into thinking she was untrue right before their wedding:

I pray thee cease thy counsel,
Which falls into mine ears as profitless
As water in a sieve. Give not me counsel,
Nor let no comforter delight mine ear
But such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine.
Bring me a father that so lov'd his child,
Whose joy of her is overwhelm'd like mine,
And bid him speak to me of patience.
Measure his woe the length and breadth of mine,
And let it answer every strain for strain,
As thus for thus, and such a grief for such,
In every lineament, branch, shape, and form.
If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
Bid sorrow wag, cry 'hem' when he should groan,
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters--bring him yet to me,
And I of him will gather patience.
But there is no such man; for, brother, men
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion, which before
Would give perceptual medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread,
Charm ache with air and agony with words.
No, no! 'Tis all men's office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow,
But no man's virtue nor sufficiency
To be so moral when he shall endure
The like himself. Therefore give me no counsel.
My griefs cry louder than advertisement.

Prayer to the Hindu God Krishna by Mata Amritanandamayi

O dark-coloured One,
My eyes are pitifully burning for the sight of
Thy Feet. O lotus-eyed One, come running
With the cows and the music of the flute.

For how many days have I been calling Thee?
Hast Thou not even a bit of compassion?
What great error have I committed?
Art Thou not the Lover of devotees?

Before I fall down crying
deign to come with Thy Flute,
Unable to live as I am without seeing Thee
Who are the sole Reality, come, come…

Fulfiller of desires, Cause of all,
O dark-colored One, come, come…
Without wasting time and increasing my sorrow,
O Embodiment of Compassion, come, come…[3]


The topic, "Passion and Patience," has been the subject of contemplation for me for at least the last eight years, if not a lifetime. It began to take the shape of sermonic form during a class I attended at Starr King School for the Ministry called "Two for Peace." In the class we studied some of the writings of Simone Weil and Hannah Ahrent. A classmate of mine, Wendy Hunter Roberts and I felt a great appreciation of Simone Weil's essays on affliction which Weil, a Jew, understood in Christian terms. Weil thought affliction was suffering which could not be avoided. Even though one was out of control of one's suffering, it could become a vehicle to form a deeper relationship with God, in a sense emulating Jesus. The Christian theology bothered Wendy who understood the experience of suffering as part of the divine relationship to the Greek God Eros, a creative spiritual force in the universe. My understanding of affliction came from my experience of Buddhist meditation and observing the suffering created by the mind's desire to insulate itself from the harmful dimensions of existence and the yearning for pleasant experience.

I remember meeting Wendy on a beautiful fall day on the lawn of the U.C. Berkeley Campus to share our thoughts on affliction and wrestle with our differences. One of the key differences we discovered was our understanding of passion. Wendy understood passion as the erotic creative force which gave birth to the world and continues to create it right now. It is a divine energy to be worshipped, celebrated and encouraged in all its forms. Wendy was deeply devoted to the erotic dimension of life and the enjoyment of the delights of human form. I, on the other hand, recoiled in abhorrence at the results of letting the passions run their course. Following the Buddhist line, I struggled to clear my mind of passion so I could see the processes of life clearly that I might grow in wisdom and insight. I trembled with fear before my passions that they might enslave me. While for Wendy, passion was a delight, for me it was a hindrance.

This began my inner conversation on passion and patience or wrestling with the impulses of Eros which I'd like to share with you this morning. I sense it is a much larger conversation than just one for Wendy and me. In it are the roots of the struggles of men and women and many of the moral questions of our day.

To begin to open up the meanings of the word passion, we must first understand that it comes from the Latin passio, literally translated as "to suffer". The first meaning in Webster's is "the suffering of Jesus on the cross." The more common way we use it is to describe ardent affection, a strong liking for or devotion to some activity. Clearly they are related when you add a little Christian theology to understand Jesus' suffering on the cross as his ardent affection for all God's people that he would give his life for us. Patience, interestingly, also comes from the Latin pati which means "to suffer". Webster's first definition of patience is "bearing pains or trials calmly or uncompainingly: exhibiting the power to endure hardship or physical or mental distress."

To take us deeper into the meaning of passion, I will now read from the work of Carter Heyward, a widely recognized and appreciated contemporary Christian Feminist theologian:

In Chrisian ecclisiology, "the passion" refers to Jesus' last days of suffering, which were initiated by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and culminated in his death on the cross five days later…But the passion of Jesus must be considered in a far broader sense than that which is denoted by the common ecclesiastical usage of the term. "Passion" is synonymous to "suffering" only in the most all-inclusive meaning of the verb "to suffer" - that is, "to bear up" or "to sustain"; in the case of Jesus, to bear up God in the world…A person of passion endures both the power and the ecstasy of relation and the pain and trauma of broken relation…There is no way to avoid pain. There is only the choice between pain steeped in passion and pain incurred through dispassionate invulnerability to relation. Re-image the passion as the intense suffering of both pain and joy, a passion which Jesus chose, rather than as something that was done to him. Jesus suffered pain not because he was perceived to be too radical, but rather because he was too radical to be accommodated in the present order. Jesus was persecuted and executed not because he was wrongly held to pose a threat to Jewish and Roman stability, but rather because he was rightly-held to be planting revolutionary seeds which, if cultivated, promised to contribute to a transvaluation of values and to undercut basic religious assumptions.[4]

On the other end of the spectrum between passion and patience, for me, is Buddhism. The Buddha spoke of passion as the fiercest fire and patience is an invulnerable armor. Buddhist meditators are unmoved by their passions and sit quietly observing them. To go deeper into the understanding of patience, I'd like to read a passage from a book on Buddhist meditation written by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield called Seeking the Heart of Wisdom:

As we begin to look carefully at the nature of this mind and at the forces that condition it, we begin to see certain patterns: what leads to more suffering, to more pain, to greater tightness and contraction, and what patterns of mind lead to openness and spaciousness, to a free and easy relationship with ourselves and other people. In order to see this clearly, it is necessary to bring to mind some level of stability and steadiness. As long as we're being barraged by our thoughts and emotions, liking this and disliking that, judging, comparing, evaluating, as long as we're caught in the whirlwind of action and reaction, it's very difficult to get a perspective that allows for clear reflection and deep wisdom. And so the first step in understanding is to work in some way to stabilize things, to allow the mind to settle down, to become centered.

There was an interesting research study that explores the value of patience quoted in the book "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman. This book is a must-read and Philomena and I highly recommend it. In the study, four-year- olds were left in a room by themselves and a marshmallow was placed on the table in front of them. The child was told to wait by the experimenter, as he had a supposed errand to run. If the child would wait patiently, he or she would get two marshmallows if and only if they did not eat the one on the table. The child was left in some cases 15 to 20 minutes alone with the marshmallow, an eternity in four-year-old time. If you were that child, would you have waited for the two marshmallows or would you eat the one on the table? In the experiment, some ate the marshmallow and some did not. Of the non marshmallow eaters, "To sustain themselves in their struggle they covered their eyes so they wouldn't have to stare at temptation, or rested their heads in their arms, talked to themselves, sang, played games with their hands and feet and even tried to go to sleep. These plucky preschoolers got the two-marshmallow reward.[5]" All the children were then sought out as they finished high school. "Those who had resisted temptation at four were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life." They also scored an average of 210 points higher on their SAT tests and got better grades. All from learning to be patient.

From the definitions and this short exploration, we get a clearer picture of passion and patience. Although they both involve suffering, passion can be seen as the active principle, inspired by the desire to move, and patience as the passive principle of disengagement with these forces. Passion takes the inner life and acts on it. Patience refrains from acting, choosing instead to endure.

Clearly both passion and patience are integral components of human existence. Without passion, our lives lack meaning and purpose. Without patience there is no strength in our character. Aristotle has observed, "what is wanted is appropriate emotion, feeling proportionate to circumstance. When emotions are too muted they create dullness and distance; when out of control, too extreme and persistent, they become pathological, as in immobilizing depression, overwhelming anxiety, raging anger, manic agitation.6"

The dilemma for all of us is which way to go when our feelings become enflamed or a situation becomes difficult. Developing one's discernment is critical to greater satisfaction in life.

Unfortunately our choices are rarely this simple. The decision to begin a relationship or end one; the decision to change jobs or careers; the decision to donate our time and money to various organizations appealing to us from our mailbox; the decision to give advice to a child or grandchild or accept it from them; each situation is unique. The asset we do have which we as Unitarian Universalists celebrate is our minds. Fundamental to our faith is the use of reason.

We can use our intellect to clarify the content of our passion and wisely guide us in our action or inaction. Especially when we have mixed emotions about some passion driving us forward, we can pause to investigate the feeling's roots. Passions that come from unwholesome roots of anger, hatred, delusion, and craving are likely to cause harm. Passions that arise from wholesome roots such as compassion, love, generosity, and charity are likely to bring benefit. We can ask ourselves the question, "Does this passion serve and advance the well-being of my family, my community, my country, this planet and the creative process of life?" If we can bring an affirmative answer to this question and the roots the passion are wholesome, it is likely to be worth following. If either the roots are unwholesome or its aim is destructive, it is wise to be patient and allow it to pass by.

What is critical to understand in the choosing process between passion and patience, is that both contain suffering and the content of the suffering is unlikely to be the best guide. Our fears are not the wisest guide to the truth. Too often today people's actions are guided by minimizing risk rather than maximizing love. Love shows us the way much more clearly.

This is one of the sources of the tremendous power that sustains Christianity for all its flaws we Unitarian Universalists are fond of enumerating. Jesus knew he would die if he went to Jerusalem and he went anyway. He followed his passionate love for the poor, the sick and the oppressed of Palestine. There are times when our love for each other moves us to go far beyond our self - interest to serve those we may not even know. It is the challenge of our time, I believe, to find that spirit as we have lost the unifying fear of an external enemy, of the Nazi jack-boot or the Russian Bear to pull us together toward the good of all.

May we follow our wholesome passions to advance the human race closer to the creative love which gives us breath. And may we be patient, as we may not see the results of our actions bear fruit in this lifetime. Jesus sure didn't and I suspect he is still waiting. The Buddha waits too, waits in peace - with a smile, knowing what we truly seek is already within us.


GEESE by Suzanne Bury of Ithaca, New York.

We sat so quietly in the canoe
Watching the flock of noisy geese.
They spelled out a W, a sideways U,
Next a V, then backwards "C's."

Their secret cipher seemed to say,
"Come follow us. Leave. Take flight."
But we'll wait and stay
And watch them fade from sight.

Then I'll wonder, goose or I,
Of the two, which is right?
Should I stay beneath the darkening sky,
Or lift myself, take flight?