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Step 2: Trusting a Higher Power

Monday, November 23, 2015

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 2

Step 2: Trusting a Higher Power
Monday, November 23, 2015

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. —Step 2 of the Twelve Steps

You have probably heard it said that most of our problems tend to be psychological, but our solutions are always spiritual. Alcoholics Anonymous insists this is especially true for chronic alcoholics: they are “100 percent hopeless, apart from divine help” as one doctor put it in the Big Book. [1] It is “an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.” [2]

Alcoholics Anonymous is very clear that “a vital spiritual experience” is necessary for recovery. Carl Jung used that term when he told one of his patients that it was his only hope: “Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. . . . Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these people are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.” [3]

This is what I call “an identity transplant,” or as Paul describes it, “I live no longer, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Your life is no longer about you. You are about Life! This unitive encounter is the “cure” for our inherent selfishness and separateness.

A.A. is careful to point out that this “spiritual experience” is not always “sudden and spectacular” as it was in Bill Wilson’s case. “Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the ‘educational variety,’ because they develop slowly over a period of time. . . . With few exceptions, our members find that [over time] they have tapped an unexpected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.” [4]

Step 2 is the necessary longing, delaying, and backsliding that invariably precedes the full leap of faith. The statement wisely uses an active verb to describe the movement: came to believe. The surrender of faith does not happen in one moment, but is an extended journey, a trust walk, a gradual letting go, unlearning, and handing over. No one does it on the first or even second try. Desire and longing must be significantly deepened and broadened.

To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us, all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body. That is the core work of all spirituality—and it is work. Yet, it is finally the work of “a Power greater than ourselves.” [5] All we can do is keep out of the way, note and weep over our defensive behaviors, and open our full selves to God’s presence. The Presence that is surely the Highest Power is then obvious, all embracing, and quickly effective. So it takes us a long time to come to believe—which is the gradual healing and reconnecting of head, heart, and body so they operate as one open field. [6] Without this, many, if not most, people remain religious but not spiritual (which organized religion has been content with for far too long).

Gateway to Silence:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 40.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid., 25-26.

[4] Ibid., 159-160.

[5] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 8.

[6] Ibid., 15.

Image Credit: Femme assise (Melancholy Woman, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, The Detroit Museum of Art.
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