On 2 October 2006 Charles Roberts locked himself in an Amish schoolhouse after ordering the boys and adults out. Then he tied up and shot 10 girls between the ages of 6 and 13 – killing 5 and wounding the others before shooting himself.
The Amish responded with forgiveness.
They embraced Roberts’ parents as part of their community, and cared for them when they were in need. At the private funeral Roberts’ parents held for their son, the Amish made a circle around them so media cameras could not intrude. According to researcher Steven Nolt, the Amish choose forgiveness first and then wrestle with their emotions.
How many of us wish we had the capacity to respond to the tragedies, crises, and struggles of our lives with such grace and strength. That’s what spiritual practice offers to teach us.
Author and priest Matthew Fox describes two paths in the spiritual life: The Via Positiva (positive way) and the Via Negativa (negative way).
THE VIA POSITIVA
The Via Positiva is characterised by the love of life. This is the way of:
Authentic spirituality is about developing our capacity to notice, celebrate, and participate in anything that brings life, goodness, and creativity into the world. It turns us into passionate Lovers.
Internally, we learn to claim our unique beauty and capacity for creativity. As Marianne Williamson wrote,
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
Externally, we seek to become investigators of goodness, learning to:
- Applaud whatever is good, true and beautiful;
- Use our energy and resources to feed whatever brings life and creativity into the world;
- Help each other to notice the good we observe.
The practice of the Via Positiva magnifies goodness, truth and beauty in our world – as the Amish did when they chose love and forgiveness.
THE VIA NEGATIVA
The Via Negativa is characterised by resisting anything that loves death. This is the way of:
- Standing against systemic and personal evil.
Authentic spirituality is about developing our resistance to abuses of power, exploitation of the “least”, and hoarding of resources. It turns us into fierce change-agents.
Internally, we learn to repent – to change our thinking, attitudes, and actions. We identify, and work to disempower, our self-destructiveness and self-hatred. We resist the worst in us that turns us against ourselves and others.
Externally, we seek to stand against injustice, hatred, and destructiveness, learning to:
- Notice when others are being hurt, marginalised, or dehumanised,
- Use our energy and resources to challenge abuses of power, corruption, violence, discrimination, and exploitation.
- Protest, sign petitions, and vote to bring greater justice into the world.
The practice of the Via Negativa diminishes evil, falsehood, and distortion in our world – as the Amish did by wrestling with their anger, and protecting the parents of their children’s attacker.
WALKING BOTH PATHS
A holistic spirituality, that embraces both the positive and the negative way, is a truly transforming force. This is the spirituality that we seek to nurture at EvoFaith. We hope you’ll join us!
Perhaps you’d like to start now by considering:
- What goodness, truth, or beauty can you celebrate and nurture today?
- What evil, falsehood, or distortion can you stand against?
- How can you shift the bias of your attitudes and actions toward the love of life and creativity and away from the love of death and destruction?
- How does this approach to spirituality speak to you, challenge you, or disturb you?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Over to you!
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