One of the most illuminating things I have ever read was a story about artist Paul Gauguin, who began working life as a successful businessman and stockbroker in Paris. One day, as the story is told, he said he was leaving.
He rejected the Parisian art and social scene, left his job, wife and five children and moved from Paris to Rouen and began to paint. He continued to create art until he died.
“Every time I stand before his work”, the story teller says, “it makes me cry, and I cry because I’m proud of him, and because I’m happy for him, and because I admire him.”
It is a passion story, a radical one, and I like to come back to it because it’s hard. It doesn’t ignore the more difficult edges of passion’s calling and the reality of the lengths to which it could take me. It confronts my fear that I will not be brave enough to go, especially if I have to go alone.
The 2014 NCYC Yurora festival gave itself over in nature and theme to passion stories like these. Yurora is a Dharug word which means ‘passionate’ and comes from the Burrumattagal peoples, the first people of the land in North Parramatta on which the festival was held in the second week of January.
It is the bringing together of hundreds of young people from across the country and the people who journey with them. It lands resource and ministry people from synods, UCA and Congress elders, volunteers, chaplains, speakers, worship teams, performers and theological reflectors in one place. It is the result of a spectacular amount of co-ordination and dreaming.
It looks more like a creative arts and music festival than anything else. It is full of fun and creative spaces, including one designed by Adrian Greenwood and Drew Hanna who resource youth and young adult ministry in our synod.
People wrestle with ideas of prophetic imagination, climate change, constitutional recognition and reconciliation, poetry, faith at university, vocation, the Basis of Union, comedy and theology, mission and community.
UCA moderators speak of their passions and vulnerabilities in one space while the changing nature of leadership is discussed in another.
It is a passionate gathering. Passion seems to be the reason that anybody there does what they do, or at least it is the place where they began and begin.
For some, like the hearer of the Gauguin story, passion means a kind of drastic uprooting. For others it is something which has brought them great disappointment. It is a daily commitment, or a particular love, or a certain routine, or an experience of suffering.
In the end I think it is the thing we are changed and undone by, and we are either undone by it completely or not at all. This is why we get tired and frustrated and cynical, and why we stop and rest to wait and hope.
If we could live without passion maybe we would know some kind of peace, but we would be hollow, as Joss Whedon wrote. We would be unchanged, unchallenged.
In fact, it is possible that we would be more disappointed by life, living on the outside of risk, than we can find ourselves to be when passion calls us to risk and we fail.
It is a difficult conclusion to live with and that is why we are always living into it.
The storyteller remembers Gauguin: “He filled the hole he had inside … he made beautiful work, beautiful, beautiful work.”
By Bethany Broadstock