The Positive Way

In him (Christ) it has always been “Yes.”                2Cor. 1:19

Throughout history, the spiritual path for many Christians has been largely defined in terms of renunciation of the world or of anything deemed unspiritual.  It is called the via negativa.  Through mortification of the flesh, self denial and abstinence, the spiritual life is understood as primarily against something.  But others have walked a different path that is based much more on attraction than rejection.  It is the via positiva, and St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps the best known example of this disposition.

Francis was motivated in his conversion not so much by what he stood against, but by what he sought.  He fell in love, for instance, with the virtue of humility, welcoming opportunities for relationship with whatever might diminish him.  Instead of suppressing pride he simply exalted humility.  His approach to wealth was similar.  Rather than condemn riches, he cherished the precious pearl of poverty.  He embraced what he called Lady Poverty as one would cleave to a lover.  In all this Francis exemplified the via positiva.   Rather than curse the darkness of his sins, he simply lit the candles of their opposites.  The via positiva affirms in us our desire for the things of God, and asserts our faith that “in Christ, all things are yes.”

Our motivation for the spiritual life should always be a positive one.   It should appeal to our desire for virtue rather than our abhorrence, asking us who we want to be more than who we don’t want to be.  Love for something is a much more positive catalyst for change than the energy spent building up an aversion to the things we wish were different.  This applies both to personal conversion as well as to social change.  When we pursue something we love rather than counter something we hate, our vision is much more sustained in a spirit of hope.  That is why gratitude also plays a key role in helping maintain a positive spiritual direction.  Gratitude focuses our attention on what we affirm rather than what we disdain in our lives.

Francis did not see life as a problem to be solved but more as a hope to be attained.  Humility, in his case, was not simply a way to counter his pride.  He loved it for its own sake.  What difference might it make for you to explore the Franciscan way in your own life—to pursue peace rather than flee turmoil, to seek gentleness and humility rather than rail against your anger and pride, to cherish holiness rather than try to solve the problems of sin in your life?  In other words, how much more fruit would our spiritual lives bear if we let the positive vision of what we desire be our incentive for change more than the negative vision of what we don’t want.  It is easy to see how such an approach to faith would be much more attractive to us, and to others as well.