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Center for Action and Contemplation

Reclaimed by Something Deeper

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Richard Rohr connects the spiritual journey to how we respond to our suffering.

I believe that only people who have suffered in some way can save one another—exactly as Twelve Step programs have discovered. Deep communion and dear compassion are formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. I do not know why that is true. We’re not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. Jesus says to Peter, “You must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). [1]

Pixie Lighthorse describes the healing process at work in our wounds:

Your wounds are hard at work making their sacred medicine in the hidden spaces below the scars. With loss, there may be nothing satisfying for you to reclaim. If a special person has died, or love went away, what we yearn for most is an impossible return. The sacred task at hand is to let yourself be reclaimed by something deeper than the immediacy of struggle and pain. This something need not be identified or fixated upon, but surrendered to. [2]

Richard continues:

Only those who have tried to breathe under water know how important breathing really is, and will never take it for granted again. They are the ones who do not take shipwreck or drowning lightly. They’re the ones who can name “healing” correctly, the ones who know what they have been saved from, and the only ones who develop the patience and humility to ask the right questions of God and of themselves.

Only the survivors know the full terror of the passage, the arms that held them through it all, and the power of the obstacles that were overcome. All they can do is thank God they made it through! For the rest of us it is mere speculation, salvation theories, and “theology.”

Theirs are no longer the premature requests for mere physical healing, or purely medical cures, as the lepers and the blind in the Gospels first imagined. Those who have passed over are now inside a much bigger picture. People in Twelve Step programs know they are still and forever alcoholics or addicts, but something better has been revealed—and given to them—in the very process of passing over, which they can only know from the other side.

Those who have passed over eventually find a much bigger world of endurance, meaning, hope, self-esteem, deeper and true desire, and, most especially, a bottomless pool of love both within and without. Their treasure hunt is over; they are home, and home free! This deep transformation isn’t achieved by magic or miracles or priestcraft but by a vital spiritual experience that is available to all human beings. It leads to an emotional sobriety, an immense freedom, a natural compassion, and a sense of divine union that is the deepest and most universal meaning of that much-used word salvation. [3]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 10th anniv. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021), 116.

[2] Pixie Lighthorse, The Wound Makes the Medicine: Remediations for Transforming Heartache (Irvine, CA: Row House Publishing, 2023), 13.

[3] Rohr, Breathing under Water, 116–117.

Image credit: Jeremy Bishop, Untitled (detail), Australia, 2016, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

The desert and the new sprout of spring green are part of the journey.

Story from Our Community:  

I am a newly qualified spiritual director, and I have recently hit a hard place in my own spiritual journey. I have experienced financial difficulties, and I ultimately lost my home of over 30 years. At this point in my journey, I am overwhelmed with questions. I’m beginning to understand that the questions I keep asking myself aren’t really necessary—and neither are the answers. At this point in life, I’m particularly moved by contemplative wisdom on mystery, paradox, and being grounded in the abyss.… I feel a sense of contentment knowing that the mystery of God dwells within me and is also propelling me forward towards Divine union. —John K.

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