Friday, March 5, 2010

P is for Passion, Pleasure & Peace: The Prodigal’s Party



[Scroll down to read about
the Letters A-N
in A Sinner’s
Lenten Alphabet.]



As an artist and writer, I struggle with the concept of “passion.” I think it’s important to be “passionate” about my work, but I also know that my “passions” can overcome me, whether those passions involve food, drink, sex, money, or just the buzz I get from creative activity. Even if that activity is “spiritual”—like writing icons. And so today’s post is about the Letter P:

P is for

Passion

Pleasure &

Peace… and the

Prodigal’s

Party








Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos (A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain) writes about passion, pleasure and peace:

“Passion: Passion is a repeated action which dominates man. In ascetic theology the movement of the powers of the soul contrary to nature is called passion.”

A repeated action which dominates man.
So, the individual actions of drinking, eating, and creating aren’t bad, but if we allow them to dominate us, to “move the powers of the soul contrary to nature,” they can destroy our peace. Metropolitan Hierotheos continues:

“Pleasure: The pleasure that man feels enjoying an object, an idea etc. There is sensual pleasure and spiritual pleasure corresponding to the body and soul accordingly. The pleasure which derives from God is connected with peace whereas the pleasure which derives from sin and the devil causes disturbance. Also, a pleasure which causes pain and guilt comes from the devil and is connected with the passions.”

I’m a big sensualist. So was Flannery O’Connor. She loved to smell the pages of the National Geographic Magazine when it arrived in the mail. I smell the pages of new books when I open them, and I love to feel fabrics in dress shops and linen stores. I love 600 thread count sheets.



Before taking a bite of food or sip of a drink, I often pause to smell the food or beverage first. I want to experience the height of pleasure in everything. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter, I want "a comfortable bed that won't hurt my back.... Pens that won't run out of ink, cool quiet and time to think... and passionate kisses." This is sensual pleasure.


But I also want to experience the “pleasure which derives from God” which is “connected with peace” rather than with disturbance. I know that feeling of disturbance all too well—when I’ve eaten or drunk too much, or spent too much money, or laughed too loudly and said things I later regretted. But oh, how wonderful is that (for me, rare) feeling of peace that comes from spiritual pleasure—from not allowing our passions to rule us.

I am in Oxford, Mississippi Wednesday through Saturday for the Oxford Conference for the Book. A friend called Tuesday morning and we talked about how the atmosphere at the Conference will be changed due to the sudden death on Monday afternoon of the conference honoree, Oxford writer Barry Hannah. Oh, there will still be workshops and panels, speakers and book signings, dinners with the speakers, drinks on the balcony at City Grocery and parties at Square Books. But there will surely also be a somberness that would not have otherwise been present. Barry was greatly loved and will be missed. (Here’s a good article about Barry in Garden & Gun Magazine, November 2008.)
(And an interview with Barry in The Oxford American.)

Anyway, my friend and I also talked about how different it is to participate in a conference like this during Great Lent. If we’re making an effort to be still—to draw closer to God through fasting and prayer—it’s difficult sometimes to be around crowds of people who are in a festive mood. We were both looking forward to seeing our friends in Oxford, to being together, and to hearing the speakers. But we want to try to hold onto ourselves. I hope we can experience the pleasure that derives from God and be at peace in our souls.

Last Sunday during his homily at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis, Father John Troy Mashburn was talking about the sacrament of confession, also known as the sacrament of forgiveness. At one point he said, “Confession is like the prodigal returning and his father running out to greet him and saying, ‘Let’s have a party!’”


I loved the image he was showing us—that confessing our sins and returning to ourselves is an occasion for joy, not for sadness. And so Great Lent continues as we struggle to find this balance in our lives. By the time this post is published, I will have already finished the writing workshop on Wednesday, the panels on Thursday, Dinner with the Speakers on Thursday night, and probably some time up on the balcony at City Grocery with my writing group buddies. But hopefully I also will have taken a solitary walk on the beautiful Ole Miss campus, spent some time reading or writing up on the balcony at Square Books, and even some time alone back in my hotel room. Maybe I have also made an effort to keep the Fast, and to pray. Yeah, I guess P should also be for Prayer. But most of all, I hope to be at peace with God, myself, and others.

2 comments:

Ali said...

I find it a bit difficult to maintain the Lenten disciplines around some of my close friends. They are strong Evangelical Christians, and they do not always understand some of our practices. I have really tried to limit going out to dinner and spending large sums of money on fancy meals--and sometimes my friends find me to be a stuffed shirt. It is hard for people who are not Orthodox to understand.

Susan Cushman said...

Ali, thanks for reading and commenting. I think it's important to remember that "the greatest of these is love." Love trumps fasting. We fast in private. Can you find some other way to fast that doesn't draw attention to yourself or offend your friends? People who witnessed the first century Christians, who "turned the world upside down," said this about them: "Behold these Christians, how they love one another," not "behold these Christians how they keep the fast." Just a thought.