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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Use Love to Curb Teen’s Destructive Spirit

Adolescence innately marks a window of spiritual awakening - a deep urge to experience transcendence, to make a personal connection with the Creator, to know good and evil and join with forces in the universe.

Ideally, this moment of vital searching is guided by a loving parent, relative, mentor or youth leader, serving in a sense as an ambassador of the Creator. However, if we are left without an ambassador to navigate the spiritual path, as adolescents we can go shopping for codes to crack the paradoxes of human experience.

We look for guidance in that which is most vividly provided by mass culture, our school setting and peers - or a destructive mentor. If we buy into the wrong solutions, following an insincere mentor who does not honor the sacred power in the task, we may join with a mounting force of destruction.

Spiritual awakening suggests that in adolescence, if we have departed for forces of life and engaged with destructive forces, we are particularly capable of being refocused or re-engaged toward the way of the Creator. An adolescent on the path of destruction, even the most intense vile destruction, surprisingly may be more easily realigned with the Creator than a disimpassioned adult who, with an inert heart, abides by the law.

Given the inherent necessity for a guide in the course of spiritual development, the spiritual life of the adolescent - when turned toward destruction - is perhaps our collective responsibility as a culture. It is not so difficult to reach the spirit, particularly when done in good faith. The inchoate spirit of the adolescent readily can be fostered through honest questioning and consideration of light and dark forces in the universe, exploration of the universe as guiding and loving, and through the taste of true respectful human love as a taste of that divine love that permeates our universe.

Our scholarly research team at Teachers College, at Columbia University is honored to share in the lives of adolescents who join faith-based initiatives. We have heard the profound stories of poor and oppressed adolescents whose lives have been uplifted by a loving youth minister. A 15-year-old boy, whom I will call Isaiah, told us, "My brother was killed by a gang. It makes me so angry sometimes that my head wants to explode. So I go into my room, shut the door, and pray. It's like ‘ahhh - peace.'"

Another young man, Gabrielle, shares a story of retaliation from his adolescence. "When I was in high school, I was part of a gang and one guy was roughed up really bad. We were going to go get even. It was really bad. I mean ... our plans were really bad. Just as we were getting into the car to go do it, I heard a loud voice, "Don't go!" Nobody else heard it. But it saved my life. I got out of the car. All my friends went ahead, and now they're in jail for a long time. I don't know if the voice was my grandmother who had died, or an angel. Someone was looking out over me."

For an adolescent in the grip of destructive forces, any loving committed adult can serve as ambassador of the Creator. We can share an authentic way to connect with the divine. Every adolescent inherently has this capacity. The darker the crime, the stronger the capacity for engagement with forces in the universe, perhaps the greater the possibility for spiritual transformation.

Gabrielle heard the voice, but his friends did not. Could we have helped them hear the loud voice of Creation before the attack on the rival boy? Or, if we are too late that time, could it still be the work of the Creator to do it afterward? I can think of no greater abdication of this sacred opportunity, and perhaps, responsibility, than simply to rid ourselves of the job.

This editorial appeared on May 12 on ScienceandTheology News.org.

 

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