Walking The Via Negativa- An Interfaith Reflection

March 5, 2010 - 10:11 am 18 Comments

Lenten Series- The Theological Center of Naples
Luncheon Presentation for the series, In Search of the Holy
“Walking the Via Negativa”

“So for yourselves, seek righteousness, reap then the fruit of steadfast love, break up your fallow ground- for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he might come and rain salvation upon you.” Hosea 12
A Parable Retold
adapted from Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality
Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of Earth, pages 143-45

“In the Gospel of Luke we read the parable of a rich man & a poor man named Lazurus. I propose the following updated version: There was a rich nation whose people used to dress in whatever clothes they wanted every day, and buy whatever cars they wanted which emitted untold amounts of carbon dioxide.
These people ate beef at fast food restaurants whenever they wanted; they created a whole new industry around beef eating by tearing down rain forests where the poor lived, even though it was explained to them how their children depend on these very rain forests so far away for their clean air and their health.
Now at the rich country’s border there lay many poor countries to the south; they were called “The Third World.”
They were covered with the sores of poverty, unemployment, lack of food and medical care, and owed many debts to the rich nation. Much of their land and forests had been stripped bare by the rich nation’s oil and lumber, fruit and meat industries, who supported dictators and their military guards. The “sores” of the “Third World” included 5 hundred million persons starving; 1 billion persons living in abject poverty; 1 billion, 5 hundred thousand persons with no access to basic health care; 1/2 a billion, 5 hundred million with no work and a per capita income of $150 dollars a year; 814 billion illiterate persons; 2 billion people with no dependable water; and no topsoil.
These “sores” were present daily for the rich nations to behold, but they turned their backs and pretended that such suffering was not “newsworthy.” Instead, they built a culture of denial and left the dogs to lick the wounds of the poor.
For years the “Third World” longed to fill itself with the scraps that fell from the rich nation’s table. But most of the assistance that the “Third World” received from the “First World” was in the form of military weapons and money to support the dictators and their armies because those armies were needed to keep the poor people from rebelling. The rich nation would train the poor armies in methods of effective torture. The rich nations then could continue to receive the fruit, the coffee, the sugar, and the cocoa and eventually all the cocaine and the other drugs that fed the rich nation’s insatiable needs.
And then, the poor nations died, and were carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich nation also died and was buried and sent to fires of Hades. In its torment in Hades, the rich nation looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with the “Third World” beginning to rise from the dead straight out of Abraham’s bosom. So it cried out, “Father Abraham, pity us and send the “Third World” to dip the tip of its finger in water and cool our tongue, for we are in agony in these flames.”
” My child,” said Father Abraham, “remember that during your life good things came your way, whereas you dealt the bad things to the “Third World. Therefore there is a great chasm that lies between us, and it is a gulf that is fixed to stop anyone who tries to cross over it.”
So the First World begged that Abraham send the Third World to the other rich nations of First World and give them a warning so that they do not wind up here in eternal torment.
“They have had Moses, & the prophets, let them listen to them!” Then Abraham said to the rich nation, “If they will not listen to Moses, or to the prophets or to Jesus, they would not be convinced even if someone would rise and return from the dead.”

Good afternoon… Today it is my privilege to present some thoughts on the Lenten season from a dissenting Christian and ecumenical perspective known as Creation Spirituality.
Creation Spirituality is a parallel path to the more commonly held Fall/Redemption Theology of Christianity. It also dates itself to Biblical origins and there are Biblical passages that support its teachings, so it is nothing new, just an alternative approach to our Western spiritual heritage that looks at the nature of humanity and the creation more inclusively and optimistically.
There are four paths or directions in which the Spirit moves in us and directs our attention towards God, humanity, community, and the allness of the creation. The first is the Via Positiva- often seen as the season of an expanded Advent. This first path is a profound Yes to life. It is the way of the Mystic and focuses on the affirmation of our Original Blessings, rather than becoming preoccupied by our Original Sins…..
The second path is the Via Negativa- which understood as the season of Lent- It can be understood as the way of the Prophet who calls us to social judgment and to a heartfelt, self-empting kenosis; to a life of simplicity and sincerity, that question our motives, and reflects on our ethics and authenticity before God.
The Third and fourth paths are the Via Creativa- which is Pentecost- The way of the Artist and the fourth is the Via Transformativa- which is the way of the Healer or the time and energy needed for the transformation for the community.

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As this is Holy week, and the culmination of the season of Lent begins with Maundy or Holy Thursday tomorrow, I will offer a reflection on our faith and its demands through the eyes of a prophet… While most of the traditional focus for the Lenten season seems to remind us and recommend us towards cultivating our interiority- to understand the need for meditative practices
and to affirm the value the role of prayer in our lives as Rev. Obercresser So avidly and joyfully recommended to us.
There is, however, a warning that any excessive pietism can lead us to passive self absorption so that we can easily forget that to have a complete picture of Jesus and a fuller more dynamic sense of faith is to practice “noisy contemplation”- that prayer when understood is also embodied- prayer leads us to act justly. From this perspective, the prophet who calls us to be faithful and just, earnest and righteous, calls us to fulfill ourselves, and to follow Jesus more completely during this Holy Week and each week of our lives. We are called to follow him in gratitude and with inspiration, to follow him and accompany him through scorn and tribulations, and then to follow him in triumph and transcendence.
You see, we have another Lenten lesson to remember here- Jesus was not crucified because he was too mystical, prayerful, or metaphysical, it was because he was too prophetic- his words, and actions were seen as a threat to the status quo….
So the season of Lent calls us into the question of how best can we work together to realize the Kingdom or Queendom of God as being in us and among us.
There is a constant need in all of us to experience God’s presence more fully for ourselves. As Rev. Harp so cogently put it, regrettably, we know best the absence of God and not the presence…

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As Dr. Kirchner put it, our faith story finds itself inviting us into the unexpected encounter with the Holy- to open ourselves to living out our faith by acting in virtuous, demanding, and exhalting ways.
If we are to set out to benefit from our faith, as we hold to its confessions and convictions, then we have to engage the essential task of the mature devotional life- to move away from the polite but often passive learning about God, and to make ourselves more ready and willing to act prophetically- To know who and what God is, and how those truths manifest and operate in your life.
So the goal of the Lenten season, and the path of Via Negativa, is cultivate the fallow ground of our hearts, remove the tares from our hearts, and to become the ready and ripe wheat & be the good seed that bears witness, bears fruit in our lives.
Miester Eckhart, German mystic of the high Middle ages, and probably the best spokesperson for Creation Spirituality since Jesus, puts it this way:
The seed of God grows into to God….Let yourself go, let God be God be God in you…
What is this ” Letting Go?” It means that we willingly engage in the Lenten spiritual and ethical disciplines that are unselfish and focussed on service to humanity and the earth, such as adopting a standard of living that advocates for a voluntary simplicity…. That when we limit our cravings and release ourselves from promoting a gluttonous, unrealistic standard of living so that others in this same County, in this city, might have access to decent housing, to basic dignity, and receive the necessities for their families. As Meister Eckhart puts it, “Faith is the place in our hearts where the clinging to the material things of our lives ends, and where our true grasp of God begins.”
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In this way, Lent is the season where letting go brings evidence of the grace that truly sustains us. As Rev. Leftkow reminded us, we gain a true holy and ethical perspective when we live out a Christ-like compassion in service to others. For it is true that through selfless service, the Holy often can be faithfully found. What the path of the Via Negativa during Lent teaches us, and challenges us to understand, is that we do not come to this ripeness of the soul- this Beatitude or Blessing way – without first dying to the stale, the trite, the safe, and the secure ways of life and in our religious life.

18 Responses to “Walking The Via Negativa- An Interfaith Reflection”

  1. Pam deMarrais Says:

    Peter, this is such a great lesson. We are often so obsessed with our own lives and personal needs that we ignore those that are so much worse off.
    I think about the lesson Jesus gave in Luke 10 about the requirement for eternal life…to love thy neighbor as thyself. He told a story about a man that had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road…a priest passed him by, then a Levite; then a kind Samaritan stopped to care for the man. You are right; we need to be good Samaritans. It is the way to eternal life.

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