Mutual Interdependence in Recovery and Life

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Belonging is the innate human desire to part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown, 2010, Hazelden

Human strength admires autonomy; God’s mystery rests in mutuality. . . We admire needing no one; apparently, the Trinity admires needing. . . Needing everything – total communion with all things and all being . . . We’re practiced at hiding and self-protecting, not at showing all our cards.  God seems to be into total disclosure.

The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr, 2016, Whitaker House, pp. 59-60.

Like much in life, the obvious eludes me for a long period of time, and then it becomes clear. I have known for a while that much of my existence is a process of working out where it is I belong. Brené Brown’s quote, causes me to reflect on my past professional existence in higher education.  I wanted to be part of a team, but with egos, including my own, there was not an interest in team play but only maximizing individual benefit – what tenure track jobs in higher education demand. So, I spent years trying to fit in, but realized if I were going to align with True Self , I needed to go down a different road.

But the belonging of which Brown speaks remains – and where my life in recovery comes into play.  I have long known and thrived on the understanding that in 12-Step meetings, I do belong.  No one is turned away at the door because they have not done a 4th Step, met with their sponsor, relapsed 100 times, and so forth.  In fact, regardless of an person’s sobriety/abstinence, the most common refrain is to “keep coming back.”

Which is where the Richard Rohr quote comes in.  As a practicing addict, I believed I could do it on my own – so long as I could get everyone else to behave according to my plans.  I well recall in 1971, when dropping out of my B.A. program for the third time after accumulating a whopping 0.7 GPA, I told my academic advisor how I did not need his “bourgeois” education, that I would make it on my own.  In 1984, I had enough of my autonomy and made a decision to enter the mutual existence of a detox center for 30 days.

Looking back over the past three decades of 12-Step recovery – of mutual existence – I have begun to learn to live life on life’s terms.  In fact, that simple goal is the primary thing I have in common with the people sitting in 12-Step rooms.  Other than that we are a diverse lot.  The ability to live into that goal has little to do with any piece of demographic data such as age, race, gender, or academic degree.  I experienced a similar common goal when participating in medical or house building missions in Central America.  When I look around the room of those participants, we don’t have much in common beyond the goal of bringing medical care to the underserved.  As an autonomous person, I never got sober nor did I even consider medical care issues in Honduras or Panama.

I recently joined a faith community that nourishes and thrives in that mutuality with a rather simple mission of “Shining the Light of God’s Love and Grace.”  The congregation “is a community of faith and love representing, celebrating, and embracing all God’s children as persons of sacred worth regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, culture, tradition, sexual orientation or gender identity, personal and family history, or station in life.”  So, we do not need to debate all of that.  Rather, as mutual community, we can live into the mission.  There is no debate about the mission, rather consideration of how best to practice the mission.

Mutuality of community around a common mission seems of critical importance as we go forward in the world today.  Gaining debaters points on who did what and who won in electoral politics assures only that we will continue in a quagmire of inaction and decay where innocent people are slaughtered, the environment becomes more toxic and human dignity has no value.  Mutually agreeing on common goals around these issues and working toward the ends seems a more productive path.  The paths may be many, but they will only be accomplished through belonging within a mutually committed community.

Again, Richard Rohr (pp. 80-81):

. . . virtue of hope applies first of all to the collective before the individual . . . It is very hard for individuals to enjoy faith, hope, and love, or even to preach faith, hope, and love – which alone last – unless society itself first enjoys faith, hope, and love in some collective way.  This is much of our problem today; we have not given the world any message of cosmic hope, but only threatening messages of Apocalypse and Armageddon.

 

Asking the Why Question, Part 3

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My late buddy, Buddy.

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.Step 11 of Alcoholics Anonymous

When I got sober a bunch of years ago, the “God thing” was an obstacle to overcome, but I was willing and committed to addressing the issue head-on.  Over the years, I jettisoned the God of my youth for a spiritual path aligned to the basic approach of the 12 steps.  I have not opted for the secular sobriety route of God as a coffee cup, good orderly direction, or similar notions.  I strive for the conscious contact of “God as we understood Him” found in both the Third and Eleventh Steps.  While watching a video featuring Adam Hamilton, a pastor of The United Methodist Church, I was completely blown away to recognize that we each start our day in exactly the same way – simply praying to the “God as we understood” that God to direct our life toward his/her/its will for that day.

So here is where this “Why” question raises itself again for me.  I am not an intercessory prayer kind of guy and I really take this prayer business pretty seriously.  I see prayer as very much a commitment to action on my part and not simply some magical God thing.  Prayer is a commitment that I am going to do something about it and be in community with a True Self and get out of my ego-driven False Self.  I see no logic in praying to get a good grade on a test without studying for the test.  That would be just God magic.  Same thing if I prayed to remain sober but took no actions to accomplish same.

My intercessory prayers generally require action on my part.  The night I got sober, I was so wracked with spiritual, emotional, and physical chaos, I distinctly remember looking upward and saying something like “please remove the insanity in my head and the addiction in my body.” Then, as I was raised a Roman Catholic, I decided being on my knees might work better, so I dropped the tool I had in my hand – I didn’t want to be too obvious – knelt down to pick it up and repeated my prayer.  But sobriety has required me to take action and responsibility for recovery.

I don’t mean this all as some self-congratulatory reflection on my spiritual existence.  I still come back to the Why Me? and consider myself incredibly blessed in all aspects of my life.

But then . . . there was the time with intercessory prayer, I was in rural Peru, and got an email that said my favorite dog ever who had grown old was going down hill fast and had not stood up in two days.  I would not be back home for another 2 weeks.  I laid in my sleeping bag that night and asked for Buddy just to hold on until I got home.  The next day he was running around outside again, and lived for another six months.

 

Walking with an Attitude of Gratitude

cdmMy wife tells me that I am truly a creature of habit.  One habit I have gotten into is walking to church on Sunday morning.  At a leisurely pace, the trip takes about 15 minutes.  This past Sunday the sky was overcast and rain seemed likely.  I could have driven but I made arrangements instead to get a ride back home if a typical New Orleans deluge hit.

Despite the rain, I wanted to walk because I have come to value the entire church going process as a big part of my weekly recovery – an opportunity to escape my false self/persona for a bit and explore and live into my true self.

As I walked this Sunday I reflected how I traveled these same streets some 40 years ago as a practicing alcoholic.  Then my frame of mind was on how life sucked, everyone was out to get me, etc. etc. and if you had to deal with all that, you would drink too.  I compared that past with my standard line today – I have not a problem in the world that is not of my own making.  This Sunday, I felt an exceptional rush of gratitude that in retirement I am able to have a second shot at living in my favorite city in North America.  I had the same sense of well-being when I went to the French Quarter last night in the rain for some coffee and beignets, assured the Cafe Du Monde would be reasonably empty of the tourist crowd.  I thought about how my wife and I came to New Orleans on our first trip together, later spent our honeymoon here, and now have been able to return.

And I realize too that all of this only comes through continued recovery and it all goes away if I choose to drink, drug, or live into my addictions today.

For all that, I am truly grateful.

On God Things in Recovery

jayber crowI posted the excerpt below from Wendell Berry‘s novel Jayber Crow before.  I was reminded of this quote once again when the person I loaned the book to a bunch of years ago returned my copy recently.  The excerpt is one of the best God pieces I have read.

For a while again I couldn’t pray. I didn’t dare to. In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal himself in power. I wanted to tell him that it was time for his coming. If there was anything at all to what he had promised, why didn’t he come in glory with angels and lay his hands on the hurt children and awaken the dead soldiers and restore the burned villages and the blasted and poisoned land? Why didn’t he cow to our arrogance?…

But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them. I knew who had thought such thoughts before: “Let Christ the king of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide?

Where did I get my knack for being a fool? If I could advise God, why didn’t I just advise him (like our great preachers and politicians) to be on our side and give us victory? I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself.

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn’t it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn’t he do it? Why hasn’t he done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn’t, he hasn’t, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.

from Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry

The Spirit in Recovery

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Most of the time, our human tendency is to want to grasp, to command, to bring about, to do . .  . but when dealing with the spiritual, the attempt to control or manipulate makes that which we seek, that which we hope for vanish.  We might as well try to capture soap bubbles with a fork.  Awe and control are impossible bedfellows.   – Experiencing Spirituality by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, p. 12

After a brief time in recovery, I began to make peace with the fire and damnation religion of my youth.  But for many years I have tried to figure out how to get my hands around spirituality – What is it I believe? What is my Creed? But my experience with the Spirit is much more in line with the above quote.

For example, about 15 years ago, about once per month I traveled north along a two-lane road between Clayton and Sicily Island Louisiana.  On one occasion, there was something about the stretch of road, the time of day, the sun beginning to set over the stubble of picked cotton fields that set me into a euphoric experience of the spirit unlike anything ever achieved in a church or with alcohol or drugs.  The same experience occurred the next month at about the same spot on the road.  This time I pulled over and marveled at the experience of which I am still uncertain.  I called the place Magic Land.  The next month, I came prepared.  I had my 35 mm camera and a cassette tape recorder (pre-digital days) and was ready to fully document the experience.  But nothing happened.  The road was just the road and the cotton field was no different from any other.  Magic Land never occurred again on that drive.  I have come to wonder how many Magic Lands at other places along the road I missed because I was so fixated on experiencing the one between Clayton and Sicily Island.

A few Sunday’s ago was Pentecost – taken from the Jewish tradition of Moses getting the Commandments on Mount Sinai and in the Christian calendar when the Spirit filled the Apostles.  I occupied my normal seat when attending church on Pentecost – centered on the pulpit, about ten rows back.  The preacher, the Rev. John Sewell, preached a sermon that particularly resonated with me that day – in part:

Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible.  The Spirit moves in the risky places.

IN THOSE AREAS OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CREATIVE

The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos.  For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous – what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery.  The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.

I was not expecting that message but welcomed the challenge.  I am committed to finding myself “doing something we (I) would never have dreamed possible.”

Today, that all works for me as the Spirit in recovery.

 

A Final Gift

crop hillisdeI did a six-hour round trip a couple of days ago to attend a funeral.  I was very glad I did.  The funeral was for a gracious gentleman, who along with his wife, had been good friends with my wife and I for a number of years.  My wife had known the couple for many years more than I and as an ordained clergy, she preached the sermon at the funeral.

When we lived in the same city we socialized on a rather regular basis.  We moved to a city a couple hundred miles away about 7 years ago.  About three years ago the friend became afflicted with alzheimers.  When he was in the early stages he commented to his wife one time  “I know we had two really good friends who moved to Memphis, but I cannot remember their names.”   I was greatly saddened when I heard this story because I felt I had never reciprocated as a true good friend should have.  My departed friend was always such a quiet and calm presence that he could seem to fade into the background when drama was being played out on life’s stage.

At the funeral, we were all given a final gift from my parted friend.  The hymns were wonderful, the service full of meaning.  I was so happy to see and embrace his widow and my friend.  My wife preached a wonderful sermon.  But the gift was in the reading of something my departed friend had written some 15 years before:

“What I have learned from my life journey thus far, about God – from my study, reflection and experience – that seems most important to me – that as long as I live I will never be able to answer all the questions about who God is, who created God, why does a good God let bad things happen, is there life after the death of our human bodies, and so forth. So the best thing to me, is not to spend too much time trying to figure out something that’s impossible to do, but to spend your time in community with nature, and other human beings. Continue to read and study and expand your beliefs, but also be kind to others, help them, love them, and do not be self-centered. If after I die, and I encounter God and he, or she, tells me he gave me life and asks how did I use it, I would like to be able to say, wisely, lovingly, compassionately, and of service to others. For truly, in giving you receive great rewards. Whatever we gain in this life, we do not come into the world with it. We are only stewards of our part of the universe while we are here! So, lets do a good job while it’s our watch.”

What an incredible message of life and meaning!

 

Does Prayer Work?

St. LouisSince being in recovery, I have not been a big fan of intercessory prayer.  The idea of pleading to some entity to somehow listen to my selfish needs and produce a result that is favorable to my will is problematic.  The most obvious example is that praying for a specific circumstance (job, victory, decision, etc.) will result in someone else being on the losing end.  Doesn’t quite make sense.

But at the same time, I am profoundly moved by the importance of a prayerful and mindful reflection.  In the religious tradition to which I belong, there is a “Prayers of the People” in every service.  I think of these prayers not that if the reader is particularly enthusiastic in the reading, or the congregation is particularly fervent in the listening, that there is a greater chance of the prayers being “answered” favorably.

I think instead of the power when the community raises their collective need or circumstance that it becomes elevated in the consciousness of the community’s Luminous Web of interconnectivity.  The same is true on an personal level.  I find often times that through prayer and meditation, that which has always been in front of my face, becomes more visible to my conscious self.  For example, before I walk into a classroom to teach, I stop for a few moments and reflect that the next three-hour period is not about my performance but about the needs of the students.  I consider this a form of prayer.  When I do so, the class goes well because I am able to get out of self and consider the needs of others.  Those needs are always there, but I do not always choose to be aware of and act on them.

So, does prayer and meditation “work” for me?  Always, when I choose to take advantage of that opportunity.