Jun 17 2011
Reason and Passion
by Kahlil Gibran
And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion.
And he answered, saying:
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.
— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran
/ Photo by zabaraorg /
This is such an interesting section of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” especially the way he emphasizes the positive nature of passion. Religious and spiritual traditions, both East and West, have a tendency to want to control or even suppress passion. Passion is sex. Passion in emotion. Passion is powerful, intense, turbulent.
Gibran acknowledges that “passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” Passion, without limitation or conscious guidance, can become a chaotic, consuming force in our lives. But he doesn’t say we should get rid of passion or that reason should subjugate it. He speaks in terms of balanced, integrated use of passion in our lives.
Passion is the engine in our lives. Gibran gives us this image of a ship: passion is the ship’s sails, and reason is the rudder. The sails catch the power of the wind, propelling the ship forward. Passion is power, vitality, life!
But movement without direction is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, can lead us onto rocks. That’s why we need the rudder of reason to intelligently use the power of passion’s movement so that we can reach our destination.
One is not “good” and the other “bad.” Both reason and passion are necessary. They must be understood, brought into harmony, used effectively to balance each other.
This may sound like a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded of the imagery of the Christian nativity. In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not dead or chained. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.
I especially like Kahlil Gibran’s summations at the end–
“God rests in reason.”
“God moves in passion.”
Movement and stillness, when we balance both we have discovered how to dance!
Kahlil Gibran was born to a Maronite Christian family in Besharri, Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).
His father, also named Kahlil Gibran, had drinking problems and accumulated many gambling debts. This led Gibran’s father to leave his job as assistant to his uncle who was a pharmacist, and take work as an ‘enforcer’ for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.
Because of the family’s poverty, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him Arabic and Syriac, as well as the stories of the Bible and infused in him an awareness of the mystical dimensions of Maronite Christianity.
When Gibran was eight, his mother took him, his older half-brother and his two younger sisters to Boston. Although shy, Gibran quickly learned English and, thanks to a scholarship, started to receive more of a formal education.
The boy became fascinated by Boston’s world of art and music, visiting galleries and performances. At age 13, his artistic gifts came to the attention of cultural circles in Boston, where he was further introduced to artistic trends.
Even with some of this early success, Gibran was sent back to Lebanon to complete his education, where he excelled in poetry.
He returned to the United States in 1902 in the midst of a family crisis. His mother had cancer, and his older brother and his fourteen-year-old sister had tuberculosis. His sister soon died. The brother, who had been supporting the family with a small hardware store, moved to Cuba to try to recover his health, leaving the young Gibran in the frustrating position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but he died. The same year, his mother also died.
In the aftermath of so much death, Gibran sold the family business and threw all of his energy into art and writing and perfecting his English. He also reconnected with the Boston cultural benefactors he had known before.
He began to write columns for an Arabic-language newspaper and later collected these writings into his first published books.
In 1909, Gibran went to Paris for two years to broaden his artistic training, and he was particularly influenced by the mystical artistic Symbolist movement.
Returning to America, he began to publish some of his first Arabic prose-poetry collections through a publisher in Egypt. He became active with Arab intellectual and artistic organizations, promoting the rich culture of the Arab-speaking world, while attempting to address its many problems under Western imperial rule.
In 1911, Gibran moved to New York. There he met and was influenced Abdul Baha, the leader of the Bahai Faith movement. He also met Carl Jung and was asked to paint the famous psychologist’s portrait, at which time Gibran became intrigued by Jungian philosophy.
Gibran began to write in his adopted language of English, writing The Madman, though it would be rejected by several publishing houses until a small publisher named Alfred Knopf would take a chance on the work.
When World War I broke out, he worked to free Syria from Ottoman rule, but was frustrated by the messy realities of war and international politics.
In the years following publication of The Prophet, Gibran would gain international notoriety.
He died in 1931.