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Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

A Universal Addiction

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

A Universal Addiction
Sunday, December 8, 2019

The addiction and overdose crisis . . . does not so much reflect moral failings of individuals as it does reveal a sickness that has infected the country and our collective consciousness. —Timothy McMahan King [1]

Living School alumnus Tim King fairly attributes the United States’ epidemic of addiction to “the failures of religion and of an anemic spirituality.” [2] Thankfully, I believe the Twelve-Step programs are a movement of the Spirit in our time. In creating Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, with typical American pragmatism, designed a truly practical program that really worked to change lives. Twelve-Step spirituality rediscovered the real transformative power that is the core of the Gospel. It is the spirituality of imperfection that Jesus taught, Paul clarified, Francis and Clare of Assisi lived, and Thérèse of Lisieux brought to light for the modern world. Transformation has little to do with intelligence, willpower, or perfection. It has everything to do with honest humility, willingness, and surrender.

Here are four assumptions that I am making about addiction:

We are all addicts. Human beings are addictive by nature. King writes: “The question for each of us is not whether we are addicted but how we are addicted, and to what. Denial of the existence of addiction in your life is not a mark of moral accomplishment but a sign of blindness.” [3] Addiction is a modern name and honest description for what the biblical tradition called “sin” and medieval Christians called “passions” or “attachments.” They both recognized that serious measures or practices were needed to break us out of these illusions and entrapments.

“Stinking thinking” is the universal addiction. Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of thinking and doing. These attachments are at first hidden to us. We cannot heal what we do not first acknowledge.

All societies are addicted to themselves and create deep codependency. There are shared and agreed-upon addictions in every culture and every institution. These are often the hardest to heal because they do not look like addictions—because we have all agreed to be compulsive about the same things and blind to the same problems. In the United States we’re addicted to oil, war, and empire. The church is addicted to its own exceptionalism. The white person is addicted to superiority. The wealthy person is addicted to entitlement and power.

Some form of alternative consciousness is the only freedom from this self and from cultural lies. If the universal addiction is to our own pattern of thinking—which is invariably dualistic—the primary spiritual path must be some form of contemplative practice—or “prayer”—to break down this unhelpful binary system of either-or thinking and superiority/inferiority. Prayer is a form of non-dual resting in “what is”; this contemplative practice eventually changes our whole operating system! This is well recognized in Step Eleven of the Twelve Steps:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. [4]

[1] Timothy McMahan King, Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us (Herald Press: 2019), 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 27.

[4] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55. (A Simple Program is a gender-neutral translation of the original Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (CAC: 2007), MP3 download; and

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), xxii, xxiii-xxiv.

Image credit: Femme Assise (Melancholy Woman) (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-1903, Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit, Michigan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do and find myself doing the very things I hate . . . for although the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not. —Romans 7:15, 18
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