Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One
Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

Help from a Higher Power

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

Help from a Higher Power
Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. [1]

Yes, we are carrying our own death warrant with us, but it is teaching us not to rely on ourselves, but on a God whose task is to raise the dead to life. —2 Corinthians 1:9

I’m told that often the people who are most in need of the Twelve-Step program have a very negative attitude toward God that was taught them by immature religion. This can be challenging since the essence of both the spiritual journey and the healing journey of AA is “a movement from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.” [2] Moreover, Bill Wilson insisted on the necessity of a “vital spiritual experience.” Here’s how Thomas Keating explained how AA can handle this challenge. Naturally, Keating, who was one of the original creators of Centering Prayer, would have liked to see contemplation introduced into the program much earlier than the Eleventh Step as an aid to relating to God.

People can harbor very negative feelings about God. For example, “God does not love me; God is a tyrant demanding instant obedience; God is a policeman always on the watch for my least misstep; or, finally, God is a judge who is always ready to bring down upon me the irrevocable verdict of guilty.” Most people in this category will develop corresponding emotions of fear of God. Since you don’t think about God at all in non-conceptual meditation, God has a chance to introduce God as God actually is. And in the silence of meditation . . . it gives the negative feelings or negatively charged thoughts about God a chance to calm down and to be moderated by the experience of a certain peace and calm that ordinarily comes from the interior silence of meditation itself. . . .

In AA you have a chance to get acquainted and there is no great rush. You are just open to the possibility that God is not the way you think God is from your particular cultural background or human experience thus far. In actual fact, God is existence and must be present in everything that is. So instead of thinking of God, you can think of God’s presence, which is the source of everything that is. It is this presence that supports the whole movement of AA. . . .

Many AA people are sponsors helping others in their effort of recovery. God is present in service. God is present in human love. God is present in conjugal relationships. God is present in the flowers, in the sunsets, and in the fields. God is present in all of nature without calling it God. Being open to the Higher Power actually opens us to the fact that all creation is penetrated by a presence that transcends our sensible faculties and introduces us to a world both of mystery and experience. [3]

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55.

[2] Thomas Keating with Tom S., Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps (Lantern Books: 2009), 3.

[3] Ibid., 19, 20.

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
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.