We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. – Step One of the Twelve Steps
I am convinced that the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous is going to go down as the significant and authentic American contribution to the history of spirituality. With inspiration from the Holy Spirit, Bill Wilson and all the other founders rediscovered the core teachings of Jesus and formed them into a program that could really change lives. It is a spirituality of imperfection, in contrast to Western Christianity’s emphasis on perfection, performance, and willpower.
I believe Jesus and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary:
- We suffer to get well.
- We surrender to win.
- We die to live.
- We give it away to keep it.
This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be avoided, until it is forced upon us by some reality over which we are powerless—and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.
Both the Gospel and the Twelve Step Program insist that the experience of powerlessness is the absolutely necessary starting point for transformational healing. This is perennial wisdom. Jesus called it the way of the cross, and he told us to follow him on the downward journey into powerlessness. It is there where we will find what is real, what lasts, and what matters. Through the crucifixion, Jesus showed us that powerlessness is the way through. It is not the end, but truly the beginning.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Healthy religion, as the very word re-ligio (“rebinding”) indicates, is the task of putting our divided realities back together again: human and divine, male and female, heaven and earth, sin and salvation, mistake and glory. The mystics–such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, and the author of The Song of Songs in the Bible–are those who put it together very well.
Our task as the body of Christ -the church- is to make things right in the world. Our world is fragmented and divided. In so many ways we are coming undone at the seams. Confusion, violence and evil are our calling cards. Religion no longer speaks to us and we don’t speak to it. The mystics suggest ways that we can rebind our lives to our God. John of the Cross said: “Reveal Thy presence, and let the vision and let Thy beauty kill me.” We are rebound when we invite His presence into our beings and permit that presence to be the primary force of our lives.
People scramble aimlessly to find peace in their lives and never look in the right place. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Isn’t that we what we all need, rested souls. I like to call this “soulrest”. “Soulrest” only come when we develop a supernatural relationship with God through Jesus.
Try to develop way to seek “soulrest”
- Observe a daily practice of silence
- Develop the discipline of sacred reading
- Write with God in mind
- Seek out a spiritual companion
These things and many more can allow us to rebind with our Creator and His creation.
Yesterday for the feast of the Lebanese monk St. Sharbel Makhluf, the homilist at Mass referred to this saint as a fountain of living water in the dry desert where he engaged in spiritual combat with evil. That image sent my imagination back to another memory…
My spiritual director from years ago, whom I quote often, once said to me after I complained of a vapid dryness in my prayer that made me want to cut my prayer time short as it felt like a total ‘waste’:
Don’t quit! That can be your best prayer time if you sit still. Tom, I’ve eaten dust in prayer for 20 years. But for One you love, you’ll do anything for as long as is asked of you. Here’s a secret — the gift of dry prayer is that it’s more selfless, more abandoned than sweet prayer. But it’s whatever God wants. Let…
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Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’
—Abba John the Dwarf
Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught for centuries that silence is a very good avenue to a close relationship to our creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The men and women who went to the desert felt very much the same . Their journey was to escape those things to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.
Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer. Work and prayer are the heart of the monk’s calling. The well-meaning visitor simply wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He had no sense of the way of truly engaging the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple, give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.
Lord help me earn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that is crowds you out. Amen
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
A Brother said to Abba Mateos, ‘Give me a word.’ He said to him, ‘ restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself, in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near.’
—-Abba Mateos of the Desert
The wise Abba tells us to refrain from controversy. Our world is wrought with controversy, because it appears as though we thrive on our divisions. Governments, families, and churches all seem to have a great need to live in a state of conflict. Many people think that this postmodern world is the cause of this state of affairs, but here we see this man of the desert approaching this subject fourteen hundred years ago. He describes controversy as a “spirit,” which says to me that it is a real driving force that wraps itself around us and produces negative results.
Abba Mateos’ advice to his fellow monks, and to us, is for us to have compunction. Which means we have a guilty conscience.We must allow our moral compasses to guide us in the situations that are given to us. Ultimately, it is our choice how we react to any event, statement or accusation. The challenge is to act as though the time to face our God was near. Mateos calls us to be in peace with those that disagree and hold to other beliefs. The compunction, moral code, of the Christian is to have a spirit of harmony. Just as Christ reconciled the world by suffering the cross we, as His followers, are called to stay away from controversy and to embrace His love. Let us strive to develop a spirit of compunction instead of a spirit of controversy.
Lord help me this day, and all the days that you give me, to be a person of peace. Let the Spirit that dwells in me guide my action to be your actions. Block out the temptations that lead me to become arrogant and mean, and to assume that my way is better than your way. I commit myself to live as though you were watching my every move.
The Visit of the Wise Men
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Escape to Egypt
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
The Massacre of the Infants
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
The Beatitudes give us insight into those values that Jesus honors in his followers. We have a glimpse of what meets God’s approval, the attitudes that bring delight in heaven and a smile to the Father. We see God’s personality in these verses. With His sanctifying grace we must make these principles become the essence of our souls as Christians.
Jesus presented to us characteristics of a blessed, holy person. He said that those who are poor inspirit, those who recognize their need for God, and who understand their own spiritual poverty are a part of God’s Kingdom. In their unworthiness, they depend on God for spiritual sufficiency. They will live in heaven.
Jesus spoke of those that mourn, those that have sorrow because of their sin, those that understand they have offended God. These people grieve because they realize their unworthiness and lack of holiness. Jesus promised them comfort in sorrow, healing in pain, and joy in sadness.
Jesus affirmed the meek. He blessed the humble, those who know who they are in relation to who God is. A ready willingness to submit to God brings its permanent reward.
He also promised that those people who hungerand thirst after righteousness will find that righteousness and be spiritually completed with it. When knowing God is one’s driving passion more than eating or drinking, more than being alive, that passion will be satisfied, filled, and honored.
Christ promised those who live life in the spirit ofmercy that they will be blessed by the Father’s mercy. Sowing human mercy brings in a harvest of divine mercy. Those whose hearts are pure, whose motives are honest, who have an inward holiness not just outward piety will see God because they recognize purity when they see it.
The Prince of Peace blessed those who give their lives to the reconciliation of people with each other and with God. He gave peacemakers the special honor of being God’s children, because they look just like their Father.
Jesus also offered blessing and comfort for those who do not hide their faith to avoid persecution. He gave His support to those that bear insults, who are lied about and who watch people turn their backs on them. Jesus said to take each insult, each lie, each isolation, and consider it an honor. Persecution can bring joy when we consider the great faith of all the prophets and saints that have suffered before us. We are in holy company!
Living according to these values that Christ blessed all bring reward, all of them spiritual – the comfort of the spirit, the mercy of the Father, life in the Kingdom, joy in persecution, and an understanding of holiness. Being blessed is being filled with the peace of Christ, living beyond the restlessness of the world, and finally seeing the face of God.
Reflection – Reflect on how to make these eight values part of your spiritual journey.
From Luke 4
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Jesus went home. After ministering in Galilee he decided to go back to Nazareth, to reconnect with those who had known him as a little boy, to visit his mom, to speak at the synagogue that he knew like the back of his hand. At the synagogue, he spoke about his mission. The locals were at first offended and then enraged. They took him to the cliff which marked the edge of town with plans to throw him off. Then the miracle happened. Scripture says, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” One man in an angry mob and “he passed through the midst of them!” He did not call for help or fight his way clear. He just passed through them.
When we think of Jesus’ miracles we consider events like healings, resurrections, calming the sea, walking on water, or turning water into wine. We never see this miracle listed, but I see it as an incredible moment that relates to our journeys so often. How many times have you walked through frightening, dangerous, heartbreaking situations and gone on to live out your life? How many times have you not been able to explain how you did it, how you made it through? How many times have you weathered opposition and hostility and continued to live victoriously? How many times has your broken heart healed? How many times has your mind been calmed by an unexplainable peace? How many times has your soul been restored? How many times have you been at the edge of the cliff sure you were going over, when some Presence led you through the fear and pain and hurt and death? Each of those times was a miracle.
Jesus knows all about standing at the cliff’s edge with other situations or people pushing you over. He knows what it is like to look down at a chasm of hopelessness and despair. He understands the pounding of your heart, the wrenching of your gut, the tears of your hurt. He reaches out his hand and leads you as you pass through the midst of them and go on your way to love and serve Him.
What has Christ helped you pass through?