Practicing Resurrection: Introduction 2

Now and then, someone will come up to me after a speech I’ve given or a lesson I’ve taught and ask, hesitantly, “Are you an alcoholic?”

Sometimes that amuses me, and sometimes I want to ask, “What if I say yes?”

I am not an alcoholic, but I have “worked” the Twelve Steps for codependency since before that  dis-ease was a word.

I’ve gotten rewarded for care-giving and care-taking, but I soon learned about “the disease” to please, and how far from authenticity I was, when acting out of that disease.

I’ve been praised for putting others first, but when I began looking at how I’d made idols out of other people, how I’d given my own power and authority away and how I’d allowed fear to control me, I began to see how that much of my people-pleasing, care-taking and codependency issues were all habits, attitudes and behaviors that were more about my surviving in my world then they were authentic caring for others.

I wasn’t proud of that.

In truth, codependency is a defense mechanism.  It is a half-lived life, and it has a whole lot of manipulation, deception, control and duplicity in it.

I’m not proud of that, either.

What I wanted was real love between myself and others, instead of love that was tainted with my own self-concern and fear.  I still want that.

For several years, I worked alone, not telling anyone about “my program”, but then The Program exploded into the collective consciousness through the works of such people as Claudia Black, Anne Wilson Schaef and Pia Mellody.  One of the people who inspired me when I was in college, writer and speaker Keith Miller, had also found the Steps and he and his wife Andrea Miller, began working to move the Steps into churches.

Keith’s Book, Compelled to Control – about obsessive and addictive control issues – and Andrea Miller’s book with Pia Mellody, Breaking Free, became like textbooks for me.  Books with daily readings from the Hazeldon Foundation were like water in a dry desert for me.

Soon, I began to connect with others who understood the issues of codependency, and then, I began to integrate the principles of the program in a Bible study I teach and in spiritual growth groups.

Teaching the Twelve Steps was one of the ways I was learning to integrate them into my own life.  You know that old axiom:  You teach what you want to learn, and that is why the Twelfth Step is absolutely vital in recovery.

***

I wrote in the first blog of this series that it was important to me that what I was doing had truths that resonated with my Christian faith and the biblical principles that had been at the heart of my spiritual formation.   Indeed, the principles of the Twelve Steps opened up new layers of understanding and a depth of meaning for the Bible for me.

Later, my training in Centering Prayer facilitated a deepening of my practice of the Eleventh Step, and in fact, many people in recovery have used my books about contemplative prayer and contemplative praying as a resource for working the Eleventh Step.

Carl Jung is reported to have helped formulate “the Program”, and my study of his work and my own long-time depth analysis have given the fourth leg of what I call the “four-legged stool of my spiritual life.”

Richard Rohr, in his book Breathing Under Water:  Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, has integrated the Good News with the Steps in a brilliant and life-giving way, and so I am using his book in this series as part of the conversation in each blog.

Rohr writes this in his introduction:

“ The New Testament calls it salvation or enlightenment, the Twelve Step Program calls it recovery.”    (p. xv)

Seeing the process of transformation from both a biblical perspective and a program perspective makes sense to me.

The truth of this statement makes me smile:

“The trouble is that most Christians pushed this great liberation off into the next world, and many Twelve Steppers settled for , mere sobriety from a substance instead of a real transformation.”   (pp. xv –xvi)

That makes me smile because one of my favorite things to say and teach is that “salvation is more than staying out of hell and getting into heaven.”

In fact, I kind of get up on my soapbox about religion that focuses only on the sweet by-and-by, ignoring the present moment.

I press the issue that salvation is about the process of becoming whole in this life, and I really make some noise about how it doesn’t make sense and it isn’t very attractive to think you’ve gotten a pass out of hell and a ticket into heaven, and it’s OK to treat other people badly in this earthly realm.

(Those are just some of my pet peeves, from a lifetime of being in and around the religious establishment.   And by the way, I have a well-worn book in my library on toxic faith and religious addiction.)

Rohr’s statement also makes me smile because I have witnessed what happens when a person merely stops using or drinking, stops people-pleasing or obsessing, or tries to stop compulsive behaviors without the hard, laborious process of transformation.  I believe that the Living Christ or, as Thomas Keating says, the Divine Therapist, can transform us, but I also believe that each of us has to work at that process, “helping God help us.”

These scriptures from the Apostle Paul’s writings are vital in my own life:

Be transformed, by the renewing of your mind.  (Romans 12:2)

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for

it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Philippians 2:12)

Those scriptures emphasize the part and the work – the hard work – we recovering people must do, but that work we must do is balanced by these words from Paul:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is

not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not of works, so that no

one can boast.   (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Recovery from any self-destructive behavior takes time, effort, patience and awareness.  It also helps to have other people who are in the process with us, acting as guides or sponsors on the rough path toward wholeness.

***

Richard Rohr also says this:  “The Twelve Step Program parallels, mirrors and makes practical the same messages that Jesus gave us….”  (p. xvi)

My old West Texas friend Jack Goss used to say that “you can be so heavenly that you aren’t any earthly good.”

The Twelve Steps have moved me to face the here and now of living on this earthly plain in a way that has changed my thinking about what it means to be a spiritual being, living an earthly life, and for me, my spirituality has to walk the daily paths of my ordinary, everyday life.  It has to be practical; it has to work, and the practices I practice must be workable in the world in which I pay my bills, care for my home and family, do my work, interact with strangers, acquaintances, friends and family.

We were not made to live in ivory towers, and yet daily life is filled with anxiety and trauma, and sometimes crisis, tragedy and horrors that are almost unbearable.   How are we to live, then, given the realities of such?

To be brought to the program is not about failure, as I see it, but it is about being brought to the point of great need and, as the program puts it, powerlessness over _____________.  (You fill in the blank.)

In our culture, we are good at distracting ourselves away from the difficulties of life, and we are good at denial.  I am amazed at how many ways I can avoid facing something either in myself or in my outer world that is hard or, even, unbearable.   Truthfully, we humans are pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking creatures, and that is not a crime.

***

In his book, Richard Rohr comments that “The Twelve Step Program too often stayed at the problem-solving level, and missed out on the ecstasy itself—trustful intimacy with God, or what Jesus consistently called “the wedding banquet.  The world was left with the difficult task of trying to live with even more difficult “dry drunks”…..”   (p. xx)

That comment resonated with me because I see church members for whom their religious practices has never healed them at a deep level, so that they never get to the hard issues of ego-centricity, control, power, prejudice, hate or anger, fear, jealousy, etc.  As Rohr puts it, “They never went to the inner room where Jesus invited us, and where things his secretly”  (Matthew 6:6)  (p. xxi)

So it is that in these blog posts, my intention is to go deeper into my own experience, inviting that Divine Therapist to move within the places that I have pushed away, blocked, denied and lied about, to bring me to a place of greater inner freedom from the things that keep me from living the abundant life Jesus promised.  (John 10:10)

I want to live with the fruit of the Spirit having full expression in my life.  I want the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that the Living Christ/Holy Spirit gives in my inner life, and manifested in my outer life, and so I return to the Twelve Steps again.

I don’t return because of failure.  I return because I know for sure that Thomas Keating is right when he says that we cannot go to the next level of faith without having the current level challenged.

My current level of faith is being challenged, and I know that that is a nudge and an invitation to go deeper, to discover the places where I am blocked and to experience the healing and transformative grace of the Divine Therapist in ways that are life-giving and life-changing.

My Twelve Step sponsor asked me one time, when I was resisting the next stage with all kinds of rationalizations, justifications, and blah-blah-blah moments, “Would you consider for just a moment that you are just like everyone else, and that this program that has worked for millions just might work for you?”

Ugh.  It was a wake-up call.

I must thank her again for saying that, and for the fire in her eyes when she said it.

What about you?

How do you respond to the invitations to go deeper in faith?

In what ways do you resist or put up a battle?

What kinds of things do you say to yourself to avoid going into the next level of faith?

Do you feel humiliated when you can’t handle something?

Do you ever get frustrated because your talk doesn’t match your walk?

Do you ever feel that your religion or religious practices are empty, meaningless, dry, boring, pointless or even irritating to you?

What is the one thing you don’t want to have to face?

If it is true that which you fear most is the things you must do, what is that thing you most fear?

Are you ashamed about not being “together”?

Do you think your biggest problem is someone else?

Do you ever feel inflated about your own enlightened state, your greater maturity than others, your deeper spirituality?  (How does that work for you?)

Do you keep on doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result?

(Don’t forget:  that is the definition of insanity!)

I’ll end with this beautiful African saying, for they are words full of grace:

Those who love you are not fooled by

mistakes you have made or dark

images you hold about yourself.  They

remember your beauty when you feel

  ugly; your wholeness when you are

broken; your innocence when you feel

guilty; and your purpose when you are

confused.

 Wouldn’t it be incredibly wonderful if one of those who loves you like this is you?

Grace to you –

Jeanie

Practicing Resurrection – Introduction

God uses us to help each other,

lending our minds out.

It was poet Robert Browning who penned those words, and when I quote those lines, I add that God also uses our hearts, our hands, our feet, our checkbooks and our acquired wisdom along the way.

God knows, I need all the help I can get.

God knows that it’s good for me to help others, too.

Nowhere does Browning’s line apply more aptly than in the healing work that goes on among the fellowship of recovering people who are working the Twelve Steps.

Now and then, life has a way of inviting me back to the Twelve Steps.   I wish I could say that I go gladly and eagerly, but the truth is that it is usually a new challenge that pushes me back to a program of recovery that works for me.

(Please know that the word “challenge” in the above paragraph is a euphemism.)

It’s been over four decades since I was first introduced to the Twelve Steps by a friend who had found Al-Anon, pushed there by tragedy and heartache.   She brought the Steps to my house, insisting that I could not tell anyone that I had seen them, for the “anonymous” part of the program of recovery was vital.   She was so insistent on my protection of the anonymity of the program, in fact, that she wasn’t going to let me copy the steps.

However, I instantly felt a resonance with the Steps, and I knew that I had to have a copy of them.    We argued, mildly, but I was as insistent about having the Steps for myself as she was insistent that they belonged only to those in Alcoholics Anonymous.  Finally my friend relented, but I had to promise that I would never tell anyone where I had gotten them.

My friend didn’t think I needed those Steps since substance abuse wasn’t  a problem for me or a family member.   What I saw, however, was that in the declaration of the very first First Step, which declares a powerlessness over alcohol, you could substitute any number of things over which you could be powerless – emotions, relationships, people, habits, behaviors.  Whether my friend initially saw my point or whether I wore her down, I don’t know, but that event changed my life.

So it was that I took those Steps and began to “work” the program every day while my infant daughter napped.

How could my friend and I have known that there would come a time when the Twelve Steps were available for everyone, anywhere?

Google the two words, “Twelve Steps”, and then step back to be amazed at what you can find on the internet!

Who could have imagined that in only a few years, the term “codependency” would be coined to express and define a condition that could taint and torture human relationships?

Who could have foreseen a time when something like “work addiction” would send a person into treatment?   And how did people determine the guidelines for something called “love addiction”?

Who could have imagined that there would be a time when the “recovery” section of any large bookstore would include many shelves of books addressing the issues of addiction to work or love?

Who first used the term “religious addict”, anyway, and what is the line between a healthy or toxic relationship with work, religion or relationships?

My friend finally took me to meet with some of her friends who were in Al-Anon, but I had to promise that I would not divulge that the friends were members of Al-Anon.  I wanted to meet them and talk with them enough that nothing could have made me break my friend’s trust or theirs.   Later, I finally found a sponsor who would work with me, week by week, unpacking the truth of the Steps for my life.

My sponsor, a recovering alcoholic, often lamented that it was easier to work with a drunk, as she put it, than with me – for my “gods” were other people, and serving those gods and serving the god of “good works” is an addiction for which people get rewarded.

I’ve said on this website and publically that my spirituality and spiritual practices rest on a four-legged stool, and that one of the legs is the Twelve Steps, originally intended for Alcoholics Anonymous.   I am forever indebted to what is called “the program” for providing me the tools and a process of discovering serenity, courage and wisdom.

How could I ever have known, starting out, how important the Serenity Prayer would be in my life, or how much I would rely on the slogans of recovering people, such as  “First Things First,” “Keep It Simple” and “Let Go and Let God” in daily life and in crisis?  How many times have I reminded myself to “do the next thing indicated”?

I’ve learned a lot, working the Twelve Steps over a lifetime, and part of what I have learned is that no plan is perfect, including the Steps. Being a fundamentalist about the Steps is as counterproductive to me as being a fundamentalist in my religious life.  The Steps, like doctrine, point the way to the Source and are not, in and of themselves, the Source, and it is important for me to know that and say it.

You won’t find me saying that the Steps or my ways of practicing my religion are the only ways in which people find their way to wholeness or to God.  However, the Steps have worked well for me, and so it is that I return to them now.

Perhaps the process, written on this blog over the next several weeks, might be meaningful to some of you.

I hope that if it is, you’ll come along, responding if and how and when something resonates within your own life.

In my book on suffering, Sitting Strong: Wrestling with the Ornery God, I wrote that recovery can be compared to the ash heap on which the Old Testament character Job sat, wrestling with his old image of God and a new understanding that was being born within him, an image of God who didn’t demand sacrifices and good deeds so much as God whose presence was within.

It was in that book that I defined different kinds of “Job experiences” and explored the idea of  suffering as “standing under something until you can understand it”.   I posited the idea that we are to carry that which is ours to carry – a sorrow, a tragedy, a character defect, an experience – until we wrest the meaning of that thing which has brought us to our knees or knocked us on our faces.  The recovery process is very much a Job experience, and in working the program, we carry our own process, standing under that which is hard and unmanageable until we understand it — and in doing so, we are transformed.

When I was introduced to the Twelve Steps on that long-ago day, I knew instinctively, intuitively and immediately that the Steps were biblical, and because of my belief system and my own personal values, that was important to me then, and it is now.   It was important to me that the Steps work harmoniously and with integrity with my own Christian faith, which is vitally meaningful and important to me.

I knew in my heart that the Steps were life-giving and in these years of working and teaching the Steps, I have learned that they provide a way in which the mystery of the Living Christ can do for us what Jesus did when he healed, transformed, liberated and empowered persons whom he encountered in his earthly ministry.

So it was that I stepped out on a lifetime journey, knowing at a deep level that the Steps were a sure path, a trustworthy process and a way to do what poet Wendell Berry says when he suggests that we “practice resurrection.”

In the Introduction to Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr writes these words, words he calls “counterintuitive wisdom”:

We suffer to get well.

We surrender to win.

We die to live.

We give it away to keep it.

 I  entitle the series “Practicing Resurrection”, borrowing a challenge from one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, in his poem by that name.

What about you?

Are you curious about the Twelve Steps, or are you committed to them?

Have you been drawn to them before, or are you cautious about them?

Are you sick and tired of some of your own counterproductive or self-destructive habits?

Are you weary of your own character defect?

Is someone else’s character defect, unacknowledged and untreated, wearing you down?

I have some friends who have been turned off by recovery programs, and I have friends who have been turned off by church.  Perhaps you are one of those.  If so, I understand being turned off by zealots or by people who can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

Perhaps, though, there are some of you who, like I, periodically run or drift or fall into something that qualifies as “that thing (person, habit, circumstance) I cannot change” and are struggling to get up and go again, one day at a time.

Perhaps there are some of you who might be curious about what life might look like if you figured out how to practice resurrection.

If so, I invite you to join me in this exploration of the Twelve Steps.  It may take twelve weeks, but I’m guessing it will take longer.

However long it takes, I hope to learn more and more about what it means to practice resurrection.

And I think that practicing resurrection has a whole lot to do with living in a state of grace.

For now, then, and always….grace to you –

Jeanie