“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (The Epistle of James).
WHATEVER IT’S RIGHT FOR US TO DO, IT’S HELPFUL IF WE DO IT FERVENTLY. Surely there is already enough halfheartedness in the world — can’t we improve upon the status quo by being wholehearted? And since the word “fervency” comes from the Latin verb “to boil,” can’t we boil a little more often and be a little less lukewarm?
Misguided fervency can, of course, be a dangerous evil, and the uninformed zealot is a well-known source of trouble in any society. Zeal, or fervor, without knowledge is rarely anything but destructive, so we need to inform our fervency with things like accurate information and wisdom. In a perfect world, we would never be “all fired up” about anything except on the basis of truth. As William James suggested, “The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure, passion with correctness, this is surely the ideal.”
But the dangers of ignorant or unbalanced zeal shouldn’t scare us away from the rightful use of fervency. We don’t solve the problem of blind fanaticism by never being fervent about anything, but by opening our eyes, double- and triple-checking our facts, and always being willing to be corrected. The person who thinks he is just too intelligent and rational to be fervent is being rather foolish. There is no good reason why a person can’t be a mathematician and a poet too.
The fact is, we honor the ideas that we choose to be fervent about. Julia McFolliard, under whom I studied oil painting as a young boy, taught me by her passion to respect the discipline of art. And Robert Winstead, my high school calculus teacher, pulled me into an admiration for numbers by his eagerness for them. Similarly, we all confer honor upon the causes that we devote ourselves to fervently.
But what can make us fervent about things in life? Well, many forces can move a person to be fervent, but none does it better than love. When we come to love a thing that is worthy of being loved, it is no trouble at all to be fervent about it. Healthy, balanced fervor is simply an outgrowth of having come to love a thing in a truthful way.
“A lover flies, runs, rejoices . . . Love often knows no limits but is fervent beyond measure” (Thomas à Kempis).