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Asking the clergy: Does Scripture support 'the power of positive thinking'?

Is "the power of positive thinking" a concept that has been borrowed from Scripture, or is it a secular concept that crosses over? This week's clergy delve deeper into the meaning of this oft-used phrase.


The Rev. Penny L. Gadzini, minister and mental health counselor, offices in Northport and Babylon:

I immediately think of one of the passages from Philippians 4:8 (KJV): "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

St. Paul is basically telling his listeners to think about what is beautiful. This is just one passage. But, from Genesis to Revelations, the story encourages us to positive thinking. We could get caught up in how difficult things are, what a mess our lives are, the mess of politics and war. We must remember that God is in charge and will redeem us. God has brought us from terrible places to good places.

If we don't focus our thinking in positive directions, our strength, our power, our capacity to make a positive difference shrinks and withers away. If I am counseling someone who can't get to that place of positive thinking, someone who is stuck in the negative, I advise then to write down on one side of the paper the negative things they're thinking. I find there are usually some recurring thoughts. On the other side of the paper, they write down the positive things to counter the negative thoughts. I have them write them down on a card, and when they have one of those negative thoughts, pull out the card with the positive thought on it.

I also advise praying without ceasing. To pray is to focus in a positive direction. The trick is to find what works for you.

 

Rabbi Todd Chizner, Temple Judea of Manhasset:

While I would not characterize the Torah as a series of one-line motivational quotes, I would say it is the most positive, life-affirming doctrine I know. Each week, I teach about a different passage from the Torah, and without fail its wisdom reveals an illuminating way of seeing the world in which we live.

A very good example is to "choose life." Anytime the Bible presents two opposites, such as life and death, it also means everything in between. So, it doesn't just mean life and death, it means choosing to be positive about all things you do. My children, when they want to complain about something they have to do, will say, "I have to do this." I tell them, "No, you get to do this." Why is that important? Because how you view something makes a difference about how you perform it and the result.

For example, giving to charity or doing charitable works isn't an option. It is what we are required to do. But once you've donated, you feel good about it. As you donate, think about those in need, those who have less than you. Remember that you are part of a community and that in your community many others contribute to support the needy. You then realize that if you ever find yourself in need, there will be others following this same command, and all will be OK.

 

Brother Mark Gregory, staffer, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, Garden City:

Scripture is full of the three Christian virtues: faith, hope and love. I believe Scripture supports the power of realistic thinking, and realistic thinking is hopeful. We worship a God of reality.

There is the reality of the headline, which is about war, murder and negative things. And there is the reality I know is possible when people demonstrate faith, hope and love. The reality of the headline doesn't leave much room for the imagination as evidence of the divine.

New Age thinking often is mistakenly thought of as spirituality. For example, the book "The Secret." I'm not really sure where God is in that book. I think there are those who think God has deserted them because they don't get what they want.

I don't think even God gets everything he wants. We have free will to make choices we want. I know I have made choices that God must have shaken his head at.

In the words of St. Francis of Assisi from the 13th century: "Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, then suddenly you are doing the impossible."

That's the kind of positive thinking I can have faith in.

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